This Garden Has Rhythm...

...and harmonizes plants for shade and light.

By Shirley Remes

Photography by Lee Anne White


Designing a garden with music in mindA Quiet Concert
The walkway passes under a lattice arch and into a dining courtyard. Here is where the levels begin to change, like graduated tempos, in the yard. A granite wall holds back the slope, creating a sunken enclosure.

"I wanted the feeling of an amphitheater, that you are surrounded by plants, with the illusion of privacy and no sense of neighbors," says Sheldon. Morning sun and evening shade allow for wake-up breakfasts and relaxing dinners. A medley of plants—Japanese maples, variegated grasses, and smoke tree—get enough sun from half-day rays but don't have to tolerate the heat of the front yard. On the side of the courtyard, a small water feature under crape myrtles muffles intruding sounds and cools the air.

Stone steps in one corner lead to the upper back yard, a shady enclave. Beyond a curved patch of lawn lies a kidney-shaped pond rimmed with stones the homeowners collected while traveling. In this hotweather retreat, the soothing colors and textures of ferns, carex, coralbells, and hostas sound the quietest notes in the garden.

To establish a sense of rhythm in the garden, you must have movement and repetition of plants, says Sheldon. "You have to garden in layers, to have some vertical elements and contrasting shapes: rounded, conical, spikes, to name a few."

Most of all, a garden must be in tune with the gardener, says Sheldon. "You have to learn your sense of self and place. Your garden is a strong definition of who you are. It has to be appropriate to you and to where you live."

Composing a Landscape
Anne Sheldon's tips for perfect pitch in the garden:

  • Entry spaces, to the garden and to the home, should be clearly visible.
  • Use fragrance, sound, and visual cues to entice visitors to move through the yard.
  • When buying a home, be sure to check the views from inside the house.
  • In a small garden, give the illusion of tucked-away larger spaces through the use of paths, framed views, and entry points.
  • Mistakes can be serendipitous. Something new will happen in the garden tomorrow, so don't worry about today's mistakes.
  • Color in the garden is influenced by the available light. Hot sun demands hot colors; shade prefers cooler, subdued tones.
  • A plant color palette should relate to the color of the house. Be consistent in choosing colors for accents. Sheldon uses chartreuse, red, and blue.
  • Fill planters primarily with perennials for easy care, then add annuals as seasonal accents.

This article originally appeared in the August/September 2010 issue of Organic Gardening magazine.