Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"Expressing the Verticality of the Space"

When I was studying landscape architecture at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, all of us students fell into the trap of "design speak." You couldn't just say "I've designed a plaza." It was a "vernacular space intended to inculcate a sense of tranquility and mindfulness" or some such crap. The most memorable was a student who, when designing a project between two tall buildings, admonished us not to "deny the verticality of the space."

Plants with a strong vertical architecture are my favorite device for injecting excitement and dynamism into the gardens I design. Depending on how these plants are grouped with others, they can be singular explosions—like fireworks going off amid a placid setting of gently mounding cloud-like plants—or part of a continuum of other vertical plants—like combining various grasses, sedges and reeds, each one contributing slight variations on the theme.

Then you’ve got your variations on vertical: there are the Viagrically emphatic, dare I say phallic players like bamboo. No doubt about it; these guys have their pumps primed and are in 24-hour readiness. Shallow, but effective.

Or there are those that start off with good intentions but seem to lose enthusiasm, like some of the big Miscanthus species that leap from the ground, then flag a bit, tips drooping dejectedly back at the ground.

[Dang – where is this going?]

Anyway, if you want to create a little excitement in your garden, pick from a few of the star players pictured above. If you can’t grow these in your garden, find some substitutes. But read the caution label: “If your verticality last more than four hours, please call your physician and don’t try to operate a vehicle with a steering wheel.”

I gotcha verticality right here, buster.

Clockwise from the upper left:
Top row: Senecio; Dasylirion & Euphorbia; fence from recycled lumber and bamboo
Middle row: Equisetum & Scirpus; Anigozanthos; Lavandula & Heuchera
Bottom row: Bamboo; Chondropetalum; Miscanthus 'Morning Light'


Robert Sarkisian said...

Billy, this is a great way to display many specimen examples at once. Love the bamboo with the yellow stripe. Have been getting my vertical on with some new bamboo plantings in my garden.

Susy said...

Lovely! I like to use foxglove & hollyhocks in my cottage garden for vertical elements. This year I added some ornamental grasses as well. I would love to get some hardy bamboo.

Garden Wise Guy said...

Susy - I wish I knew more about hardy bamboos - you might check out Mad Man Bamboo ( for some advice. He's in northern California, but probably has information that's universal.

Robert: back atcha, SoCal dude. Love your "getting my vertical on". Very quotable for this freelance writer. I wouldn't be surprised if it shows up an article sometime soon.