Design School: Massing One Plant for Impact

Design School: Massing One Plant for Impact

If you follow this blog, you hear us talk often about how great this or that plant looks “in mass” or “massed.” You might wonder just what we mean by that–what exactly is massing plants and why do we recommend this design option?

Massing uses broad bands of color to achieve spectacular results and is one of garden designers’ best secrets (and nature is the queen of massing!). By closely planting a large stand of one type of plant, you can achieve visual impact and landscape balance or proportion that are not so easy to come by if a garden is planted with a bit of this and a bit of that. Massing creates form, color and texture, and as a side benefit, massing plants reduces maintenance. Finally, when you consider that your yard is surrounded by objects with lots of size and height–your house and other building, mature trees, etc.–you’re going to need something pretty powerful with plenty of volume, height, scale to compete for attention.

So, how many of one plant constitutes “massing”? Experts will say that six of one plant is where you start; where you go from there is up to you. This technique works well for woody shrubs, grasses, groundcovers, sturdy perennials, and even annuals. You can even group 5 – 6 planted pots together and get the look.

Here are a few examples of what massing looks like (such as the eye-catching stand of flowering hydrangea above). If you have an area that you would like to be a focal point, but not a maintenance headache, consider bundling together large swathes of color, form and texture to create drama and excitement.

Long and lush border garden

What could be easier than this? 

This long, lush border of catmint (Nepeta) makes the point very well about how powerful even the simplest, most common of plants can be when they are massed. Catmints (and also lavender) are excellent choices for massing because they look good over a long period and when they’re done for the season, can be cut back and pretty much disappear. They are also bee magnets and the when planted this densely help to create a habit for all sorts of pollinators who need places to rest and nest.

Plants made for shade

Made for shade

Nowhere does nature do the power of one thing better than in shade. Plants such as ferns are ideal candidates for massing because for the most part, they tend to spread out and so fill in fast. Take a walk in the woods to get the idea of how to create a cool green scene.

A mass of color

Sea of Bold Color? Massing does it.

Picture a blank border or bed in your yard. Now in your mind fill it with lots of different plants–a few shrubs, some annuals, maybe a few perennials. It’s probably gorgeous, but it’s likely that it doesn’t provide a strong focal point for the eye to find and get gobsmacked over. Now, fill that bed with a stand of flowering plants like these black-eyed Susans (or Flower Carpet roses or compact hydrangeas if you prefer shrubs) and you have a vista from which you simply cannot look away. We loved mixed borders, but pick a spot or two and try massing for this effect.

Massed ground cover

Massed groundcovers will floor you.

There is a sort of “magic carpet” effect that you get when you mass a flowering (or even non-flowering) groundcover whether in shade or sun like this oceanside example. The thing about so many groundcovers is that their natural inclination is to spread in all directions–basically Mother Nature does the massing for you. Massing is very often used for height and scale, but this shows very well, the impact of one plant grouped tightly.

Smaller Shrubs

 What about smaller shrubs? 

Massing doesn’t have to mean packed in with no room to spare. It can also be used in an application like these boxwood shrubs that have been tightly pruned into orbs. This would also work for other smaller shrubs such as germander and rosemary. It would difficult to look away from the undulating effect of a group like this!

Course Grasses

Well, yes, of course grasses. 

Where you have a large, open space such as a long wall, a property line where you don’t want a fence or a huge lawn that needs something amazing to break it up, perhaps no plant shines in a mass application like ornamental grasses. Here, many different types have been grouped but the effect is the same. The eye is drawn to all that movement, height, and color. You just can’t look away.

Image credits:

(top) Original source unknown

(1) Landscape Renovations ; (2) Monrovia; (3) Monrovia; (4) Lankford Associates ;  (5) Katia Goffin ; (6)  Monrovia

Plants Perfect for Massing

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