A GROWING CONCERN: Think about size to keep perspective

I AM STILL under more than 8 inches of compacted melting snow after more than 36 inches of white stuff fell upon me over the last two weeks.

Even though I hardly gardened, all that shoveling and firewood chopping kept my workload the same.

In fact, one could say my calorie count was bigger than normal. But bigger isn’t always better! Nor is smaller necessarily economical, the smaller they are, easier they die.

We will continue to talk about size and how it relates to the perspective of your yard.

In 2022, many of you are planning future yards, gardens, patios, decks, ponds, berms, flower beds or even just a new plant or two around the home.

I hope then that many of you will be out painting lines in the lawn or laying down hoses and ropes as perimeters in order to visualize that future project. Your yard is only so big, and it can be a puzzle to fit everything in and have it function correctly as intended.

I almost never see a patio or deck sized correctly to comfortably entertain the small parties and dinner gatherings it was meant to accommodate.

So, practically speaking, how does size work in your landscape?

If you want a dry creek or a flowing stream for a water feature, size is essential to the look.

Several years ago, a dry creek bed was ordered by First Federal Savings and Loan for its Sequim branch which took seven grades of rainbow rock.

Nature is extremely material intensive, so when attempting to emulate it, you must also be material intensive.

From large boulders to very fine pea gravel with all gradations in between, all sizes were poured in among each other, then weathered, dried river wood was scattered about, jetting from the stream bed or holding back the river bank. These pieces were sized from a 16-foot long log with a very nice skyward jetting root wad, which added perspective and whose massive size directs the eye to that particular bend in the creek, to 2- and 3-inch chunks of beautifully water-worn pieces thrown behind large boulders as they would have been naturally washed over in a spring thaw.

Micro scene

When these tiny pieces of wood become landscape with clumps of short sedums, a whole “micro” scene is created under the root wad, apparent to those who wish to explore the design’s complexity.

Let’s look at size as related to a berm. It is important for a variety of reasons.

Too small, and it’s just a silly little dirt pile that looks goofier the farther away you view it — as though you could only afford a 5 yard load of soil.

Too big, and it dominates the view and the yard, as though it were a wall or fence.

And the shape is the real trick. Do not make it just a teardrop or simple kidney shape. These are overdone and show no creativity. Besides, when do you see that shape in nature?

In fact, with nature, you will have little gullies and alluvial flows reflecting the natural shaping by weather. The height will flow up and down with a different off-centered peak, and a level plateau or outcrop here and there. It could be quite wide with an interior walkway or slowly trickle out to a long, windy ridge through the grass.

In plants, size variation gives an instant age and natural look if coordinated correctly.

When I was at the nursery picking out paper bark birch trees for a grove to be planted, great care was given to selecting size. I love going to this big, 194-acre wholesale nursery because I can walk down several rows of any given type of tree and then choose from a multitude of different grades or sizes. I could just use one grade, such as the largest or most cost effective for price and size, and then pick the best ones out of two or three hundred. But this would create the opposite effect of a grove which has, as a primary feature, plants of various ages, height and shape.

So, I was wise to select one from the largest group, make it single stem to really beef up the aged look, and for taking several hours of walking back and forth to get the biggest and best one. Then select two multi-stem types, which increases the trunk count dramatically, and secure them from the next size down.

Follow this with one multi-stem from the next grade down — but always look for the knockout plant.

Round out collection

Finally, look for a small, numerous-stemmed clumpy, twisted or leaning one perfect to jam in between big and small rocks for an outgrowth effect to round out the collection.

When planted together, the specimen plants of various sizes and characters give a great perspective in the yard.

Continuing with size of plants as a dominant feature, make sure you add plants of all different sizes, with 1- to 3-inch pots of sedum or moss. Get 1-gallon plants, a few 2-gallon ones and then splurge on a nice big b & b item.

Think about mature height and coordinate tall shade trees, big evergreens, low bushes and lower shrubs in order to have the eye and mind flow around and through the yard.

Finally, put large items up close and then far away for a superb depth of field view and effect.

As you start to develop your plans and prepare for some nice projects around your home, make sure that you begin to combine size of overall dimensions to the supplies and materials purchased.

Paint areas in first so you can see size and proportion.

Many times, seeing or looking for a cool item can drive the design itself as you work to fit it in perspective.

At the Port Angeles welcome sign, I will never forget stumbling across an amazing stump of gigantic proportions! The stump in this case allowed the project to take on its own magnitude and to focus one’s attention to the “welcome” part of the sign (the main purpose) while giving grandeur and proportion to the pond and mountains representing the Peninsula.

It was the size, in perfect proportion to the scope of the project, plus it’s unique shape and texture that finished perfectly the desired purpose of this project.

Think about size, proportion and movement as you plan any project.

With that said, now go out and spray paint in your yard some rocks, a big tree, a gazebo, a pond or a patio and keep size always in mind.

And always — stay well all!


Andrew May is a freelance writer and ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

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