What is Plant Layering?
Plant layering is an art form to create different storeys of planting, filling all the gaps between differently shaped plants. It's fantastic for so many reasons, namely it blocks gaps in soils which is brilliant for crowding out weeds. It's also a way to introduce different heights to a planting scheme which adds a sense of rhythm, as well as filling the garden with plants that flower at different times. It means one small patch of earth can become a never ending succession of gorgeous flowering beauty from February to first frosts. Lets take a look at how a narrow border can be transformed by using plant layering. In plan view (from above) this narrow border is well planted using good plant spacing between these Echinacea plants, but it's clear there are many gaps in the soil.
Looking straight on we can see the repetition of this Echinacea is a bit one dimensional and flat looking.
Going back to plan view, lets fill in all the gaps in the soil, it's fine to see a bit of overlapping on the plants. Here we've added a lavender hedge at the lawn side, giving good mid to late summer flowering and fragrance. Some grasses, Stipa Tenuissima for shape and movement, two Verbena Bonariensis for height and a large white Leucanthemum to complement the daisy shape of the Echinacea.
Now we can see a more dynamic planting scheme with height and rhythm. This will give flower and scent for an extended time and the biggest bonus, there is far less room for weeds to take over.
This is going to look nice in summer, but apart from the grasses all these plants will disappear into the ground for winter. But please do not worry! This is where an 'all year bloom' garden comes into it's own.
The addition of a Bulb Lasagne creates a patch of earth that will flower for months starting in January/February right through to summer. Not only beautiful in their own right, they are lifesavers for our precious pollinators who often emerge on a mild spring day to find nothing in flower. Looking in plan view again we can see that the early flowering Crocus and Dwarf Iris (Iris Reticulata) emerge before we start cutting the grass this means we can extend their planting into the lawn. They will have disappeared before we are ready to start the mowing regime again.
Digging in those bulbs in winter to give you spring flowers is a job you'll never regret. The joy of those first flowers after a long dark winter is salvation for the soul. They signal the end of winter and for that they are the most welcome flowers in any garden. Plus you've had your blonde grasses tossing their golden locks about all winter, more than earning their keep. Never forget to add grasses.
Jan to March
March to May
As your tulip foliage dies back the emergence of your summer flowering plants start to return to disguise this. The addition of large Alliums and Lily bulbs add so much more to a garden border and are well worth including. Bulbs grow around other plants so they don't take up much space at all. Check out our Bulb Lasagne page for more inspiration on using bulbs.
The wider the border the more interest it can have but with gardens getting ever smaller it's not always possible to have metre wide borders. I hope this helps to demonstrate that even narrow borders can be transformed using the power of plant layering. Remember too gaps between plants lend themselves easily to using direct sow annuals so check our page on the best and easiest 'throw and grow' seeds.