Architectural Plants: What They Are and Why Choose Them
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Published by TOP4 Team
What architectural plants are
The term “architectural plants” is most commonly applied to sharply textured, sometimes spiky plants, many of which seem to be dominating modern garden at the moment. Some popular examples include the yucca (with its sharp, spiky foliage), the New Zealand flaxes, native iris and flax lily characterized by strap-like foliage, and any of the needle-like ornamental grasses.
An architectural plant is one that has a significant sculptural shape or distinct outline (growth habit). A simple way to illustrate the difference is by comparing a solid-shaped shrub, such as a Mexican orange blossom (Choisya) with the harsh, spiky outline of a yucca. The Choisya can certainly be clipped and shaped, but it will continue to look like an amorphous blob and it’s only at very close inspection that one can see the foliage texture (that is, the individual leaves). The yucca, on the other hand, has large, strap-like leaves projecting at angles from its trunk (or trunks) and this spiky outline can be seen from a distance.
It’s possible to use solid-shape plants in an architectural way by planting and spacing them so they will appear as separate units. Think of a series of tightly foliaged conifers planted as a row of “columns” against a wall.
Why you should consider architectural plants for your garden
Many architectural plants are best used as stand-alone specimens, by virtue of their distinctive bold outlines. In most cases their sculptural beauty is not reliant on flowers as in the case with Dragon Blood Tree, so they often provide a long season of interest.
Whether placed in pots or garden beds, the architectural agave is one of the easiest plants to establish and types of soil. When mixed with plants of a “softer” and less-defined form, the agave will really stand out.
Some look good placed in a simple container, while others can be shown to best advantage when planted in the ground and surrounded with a milch of pebbles or gravel, such as the yucca. Always check each plant’s individual cultivation requirements and adhere to them.
Grass trees, with their distinctive trunks and spiky mop tops, draw attention to the timber screen without obscuring it. At the same time, the brown tones of the screen and the brick wall behind act as a backdrop for the striking outline of the plants.
The dominance of these plant types in gardens today is in response to two vital factors
- Modern residential architecture lends itself to sharp, silhouetted accent planting that enhances the contemporary building materials without screening or blocking the view.
- The drought has heightened interest in drought-tolerant plants and many of the more eye-catching, water-wise species have spiky or striking leaf forms.
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