Creating impact is one thing, doing it well is another. Visit the very best gardens for inspiration, see how they do things, use their best ideas, then inject some of your own. Forget all about taste and fashion. You could use color-graded schemes, starting off with soft hues and building up to hot reds in the center, then tapering away into pale pinks and grays. Alternatively, there is no reason at all why you can not add a touch of Van Gogh to your garden, using a riot of clashing reds and yellows. The key point is that impact is not an individual, separate entity. It is the effect of something reacting with or against something else. Impact is created by color or shape. In a new, bare garden that means spending as much time on the background as on creating the colorful mix of â€œfireworksâ€.
Containers are perfect for mixing a variety of plants, colors, textures, and shapes; plant them individually then mass them together to create a floral explosion. Donâ€™t forget your walls and empty spaces; hanging baskets add an extra dimension.
IMPACT BY NUMBERS
LEFT: The success of this simple scheme has two bases. One is the bold use of strong reds and pinks against a white background, the other is the grouping of bushy baskets to create aerial mounds.
RIGHT: If you want to give a courtyard inpact, pack it with color. Everything here is growing in containers. The scheme includes ageratum, petunias, cosmos, pelargoniums, lobelia, and plenty of nicotiana.
LEFT: To decide where a new plant will have most impact, walk round the garden with it, seeing where it stands out. This red hydrange makes a nice contrast against a wall of cool green.
IMPACT WITH HANGING BASKETS
RIGHT: If your front door needs a lift, give it a flash of yellow Bidens ferulifolia. The impact is always sensational. The red begonia on the step, and the pink roses, neatly fill out the scene.
BELOW LEFT: Yellows always look dramatic against dark backgrounds. This clever, tiered spring group includes auriculas at the front, with daffodils and wallflowers, dicentra in the center, and forget-me-nots to the sides.
Creating impact with color requires plants with a big display. One plant that has got what it takes is the tender crimson bottlebrush. It pumps out a great mass of bright red cylindrical flowers, on the end of long stems, and keeps performing through early summer. It looks startling with yellow nasturtiums. Another strong summer yellow is Lilium â€œCitronellaâ€ which sends flowers up to 5 ft (1.5 m), looking like tropical butterflies. Use them as the pinnacle for a summer scheme with blue teasels, white marguerites, and the gay Helichrysum petiolare. For a no-nonsense fall scarlet try Fuchsia â€œRiccartoniiâ€ which stands out when most other plants have faded, and for the really exotic, use South American summer cannas and late summer dahlias.
Plants with shapely impact need space around them to stand out. Do not engulf them in a blur of colors. One of the best is Yucca recurvifolia, which has a strong rosette of bent, swordlike leaves, and thrusts up a 6 ft (1.8 m) stem packed with scores of white flowers. It is a great dramatic event. If you need more height, the Verbascum bombyciferum grows to 8 ft (2.5 m), with wonderful fleshy leaves and great spires with yellow flowers. But to be really outrageous you need the cardoon, Cynara cardunculus, which is just like a giant thistle, 5 ft (1.5 m), with blue flowers. The taller mahonias, such as Mahonia x media â€œBucklandâ€, are essential for winter interest. They have a statuesque presence, shiny green leaves, and scented yellow flowers. Judicious pruning imposes shape on the shapeless. For other strong shapes use agaves, banana trees, cordylines, and olive trees. All guarantee you success and a real impact.
BIG POTS FOR BIG DISPLAYS
LEFT: This enormous display mixes the spiky leaves of a cordyline with red salvias, a yellow abutilon, gold bidens, and yellow marguerites.
BELOW: Astelia nervosa, from New Zealand, is a clump-forming perennial.
THE MEXICAN TOUCH
LEFT: Agave americana â€œMarginataâ€, from Mexico, has such an oustanding shape it stands out in most situations.
RIGHT: This bright combination of plants and colors is given extra drama and impact by the inclusion of the vivid blue chair.
LEFT: Leymus arenarius is ideal for pots because in the border it can spread and spread. It is a terrific plant, with stiff, blue-green foliage Carex is to either side.
THE CURTAIN EFFECT
RIGHT: Plants such as this trailing catmint are just what you need with a brand new urn. If its newness looks out of place, half-hide it under a curtain of leaves.
BELOW: Every garden need its quiet moment. This Pelargonium â€œVancouver Centennialâ€ is a miniature amongst some giants.