Layer Your Plantings

Part three in a series

In our last article, we helped you layout your new landscape. In this article we'll explore which plants to put where and what makes an effective landscape.

If you think of your landscape as a stage, you can easily imagine the basics of layout. On a stage, you have a nice background or backdrop in the back. The backdrop is usually large and fills your entire view. In front of the backdrop, you have some smaller items that set the scene. These may be small pieces of furniture. And then in the very front you have your actors?your stars. They take the front and center to get the most attention. So, looking from back to front, you have your backdrop, your accent pieces, and finally your stars.

Laying out a good landscape uses the same principles: we start with a backdrop in the very back, then we add some accents, then finally, our stars!

The Backdrop

The backdrop can be any number of things but the basic principle is that the backdrop simply serves to show off the items in front of it, and can also be used to hide things behind it. A good backdrop could be something as simple as a wall or fence, or something as elaborate as a planting of evergreens. As long as the evergreens have one common element (perhaps they have the same color or same texture), they will serve as a good backdrop.

The Accents

Your accent pieces are plants that help to dress the set. These work well if planted in groupings of at least three. For example, a clump of bushes off to the left of your "set" and a clump or flowering plants on the right. Or perhaps some clumps of grasses would serve as a good accent.

The Stars

Now for the stars! Taking center stage are your accents. And they don't have to be centered! As long as they are different from your backdrop and accents plants, they will become your stars. For example, an evergreen backdrop with some grasses used as an accent set up a nice monochromatic green image. Place some white flowering plants in front and they become the stars of your landscape. Because of their different color from the rest of your "set", they will stand out.

You can create multiple "sets" in your landscape. Just break up your landscape into smaller mini-scapes. As long as each area is separated by backdrops and accents, you can easily achieve a beautiful look.

Dean Novosat is an avid gardener and landscaper. He has transformed many boring yards into beautiful landscapes. He has several websites including and

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