Japanese garden design offers a good example of how to create spaces in the garden. Picture: Loren Shirley-Carr

Johannesburg - The decision on whether to fill a space in the garden or to leave it needs careful consideration. In garden design, there is a need every so often for a pause – a space – where the viewer is able to rest and absorb what he is seeing.

The amount of space should be relative to the size of the garden and to the homeowner’s needs. It is about personalising your garden to suit your lifestyle, and creating outdoor spaces where you can relax and entertain, where there is space to walk, to sit, to read and to daydream.

Identify spaces

A useful way to identify whether to fill or leave a space is to look at black and white photographs of different sections of the garden. These photographs are best because colour tends to dominate visually, and it is the garden’s design that is the important factor in deciding how to alter or integrate different spaces.

Centuries-old traditional Japanese gardens emphasised the importance of space; where careful consideration and symbolic meaning were given to the positioning of each stone and every plant.

The idea of using objects economically, whether outdoor accessories, garden features or plant material, and having only what is either useful or beautiful, is not new.

In 1938, Christopher Tunnard, the spokesman for both the Modern Movement and at that time the new profession of landscape architecture in England, stressed the importance of understanding that gardens, like houses, are built of space.

With today’s smaller properties, this perception of space has become increasingly important in both interior design and landscaping, and designers visualise and use space as a sculptural concept, where the emphasis is on clean lines and pure form.

Types of space

Space in a garden is relative. It can be defined as great as the distance between the house and the boundary, or as small as the area between two plants. It may take the form of a paved area with spaces left for plants, a boma for entertaining, a pool, or even a sandpit for children. There is space between two upright shrubs and between an avenue of trees.

Spaces are important in all gardens to a lesser or greater degree, depending on the style of the garden.

Spaces can direct you to a sculpture, a view or a particular plant. In a formal garden, space remains more or less constant, because hedges and topiary are used to create spaces and plants are restricted by trimming and pruning.

The opposite applies in a cottage-style garden, where the emphasis is on an abundant, generous look. In this garden, spaces may take the form of a structure, such as a pergola, an arch, or even a gap cut in a hedge.

Vertical space

Vertical planting is especially suited to small gardens, where not only does this free up more ground space to make room for lower growing plants, it adds a further dimension to the landscape, creating screens for privacy, defining boundaries and entrances, and taking colour skywards.

Trellis is one of the most popular materials for growing plants vertically. Pillars and posts on verandas and patios offer vertical support, as do internal fences that separate parts of the garden.

Arches should have restrained climbers, rather than ones that will need continual cutting back, while arbours can have stronger growing varieties. Beware of climbers that have a rampant growth habit or your garden will lose definition.

Filling spaces

Plants that fill spaces in the garden also have an important role to play. They may reinforce or highlight a particular colour scene, clothe bare stems of plants, or cover soil.

“See-through” plants help define and create spaces in a garden. These plants are so airy and spacious that they don’t cast heavy shadows and so introduce subtle depth in a border; so sheer that other plants in the back-ground are visible through them.

Short-lived shrubs such as lavenders and daisy bushes are useful for filling spaces in a newly planted garden while waiting for permanent plants to grow.

Disposable fillers are those that cover temporary spaces among permanent plantings of perennials and shrubs. These usually consist of annuals that can be relied on to compliment a particular colour scheme or to provide seasonal interest.

The potential of vegetables as temporary fillers in the flower garden is often overlooked. Use plain or frilly leafed lettuce in shades of green and red to fill gaps in the front of a border. Cabbages can also be used as temporary fillers in a flower border.

Plant red-purple cabbages in a red border or with grey foliage plants. Blue-green cabbages introduce a contrast in form and texture, especially attractive when used in a white colour scheme of iceberg roses, dianthus and nutmeg geraniums.



* In cold gardens, finish watering by mid-morning so plants can dry out and the soil can warm up before nightfall.

* For a bright display of indigenous spring flowers, sow African daisy, orange venidium, nemesia and mauve wild cineraria (Senecio elegans) seeds. Plant in their permanent position, in full sun, and in ordinary garden soil.

* Plant a wide border of pansies along paths, in bold groups in the front of borders, and in containers. You have a choice of single colours, pastel or rich shades. Remove fallen leaves around the young plants as they prevent air, light and water from reaching them. Combine pansies of brilliant orange and black for a dramatic colour scheme.

* Do you grow plectranthus to add shades of pink, mauve and purple in your autumn garden? They provide a long-lasting display in autumn on low-growing, medium and tall shrubs in light shade. Another worthwhile autumn-flowering shrub that can take more sun is the lilac-flowered ribbon bush (Hypoestes aristata). - Saturday Star