It's getting late in the gardening year and my garden still has some big holes where I ripped out plants early in the season. I've spent the better part of the summer trying to decided how to reconstruct those areas with no definite conclusion. I can look at the garden and easily point to the areas that work and those that are not successful. But putting it all into words can often be difficult — and, for me, it is with words that the solution to such garden dilemmas begin.
Linden Hawthorne (what a great name for a garden designer) has a vocabulary designed to solve this problem. I discovered Hawthorne and her book, "Gardening with Shape, Line and Texture: A Plant Design Sourcebook," on the Timber Press website. Luckily the public library had a copy on their new book shelf. Hawthorne looks at over 800 plants based on their design characteristics. These characteristics are how I typically try to combine plants in my garden, but it's usually been a subliminal process. Hawthorne has given me a language to make the process easier.
She considers gardens an art form where you "paint with plants," which she divides into five categories: horizontals and tiers, verticals and diagonals, arcs and fountains, clumps and mounds, and clouds and transparencies. When I looked at the plants in each group I could immediately see that my garden has twice the number of clump formers as clouds. Tiers and verticals are neck-and-neck but still significantly behind clumps. Using Hawthorne's terms it is easy to see what I've unconsciously felt the garden was lacking. It's gardening, not math, so I won't be trying to even up the numbers — just leaven all those earth-bound clumps!
You can get a good sense of Hawthorne's book and her concept here — as well as seeing lots of helpful images.