Symmetry is a popular design technique in residential landscapes – to be fair, perhaps more so with do-it-yourselfers than with professional designers. Symmetry is the act of balancing the left and the right so that they are equal. The definition from The Free Dictionary is: “Exact correspondence of form and constituent configuration on opposite sides of a dividing line or plane or about a center or an axis.”
I think that symmetry limits your plant palette, however, and I advocate that we set ourselves free from it. Most of us don’t have unlimited space in the yard, so why limit yourself to matching plants?
Why have two pruned hollies when you could have one weeping yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria ‘Pendula’) opposite a wax myrtle (Morella cerifera)? Both are evergreen and both have small leaves, but the shades of green are different, the forms are different and they attract and support different birds and critters.
One side might be sunnier than other – another perfect opportunity to plant different things. Use the sunny side to plant a showy flowering shrub such as Fothergilla major. Or plant a collection of flowering perennials, choosing a half dozen species staged to bloom in succession from spring to fall. Just imagine all the choices you could make!
Where would you start? First of all, evaluate your landscape. Do you have matching plants at the end of the driveway or even, gasp, lawn?
The driveway is perfect place to start. Often one of the sunniest areas, imagine how it would look if you could steal just one of the sides. Is it hot and dry?
Think of Penstemon for spring, coneflowers (Echinacea, Rubeckia) for summer and clumping goldenrods (Solidago) and asters (Symphyotrichum) for fall. If I had a choice I’d change the side with the mailbox so you don’t have to mow around it.
Ready to tackle something bigger? Transform one side of the front door while you leave the other one unchanged. If one side is not thriving, choose that one.
Evaluate anew the conditions that side has now (it may have changed since your initial planting): sunny, shady, dry, moist? Now the fun begins – research new plants!
If you are looking to transition into more using native plants in your landscape, I also think that maintaining the formal look that symmetry evokes is a plan that works against the concept. Native plants are most often at their best when they are not sheared, are arranged in loose groups, and are mixed up with different plants.
Some of my best-blooming native azaleas are in my foundation planting because of the perfect morning sun conditions there. Around their feet are ferns, arching Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) and dainty foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia).
So set yourself free from symmetry and expand your choices. I think you’ll have a lot of fun with it.
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