DesignMeaning in Planting Design

Meaning in Planting Design

There is a growing trend in landscape architecture when it comes to planting design. More and more, Landscape Architecture Magazine and landscape design social media feeds are filled with sublime, flowing meadows, containing a symphony of softly mounding grasses, interspersed with a wild yet refined mixture of seasonal perennial interest. Yet, more substantive than trends of previous eras, this movement embodies a shift in our relationship with place and nature. It signifies a yearning for meaning and context within the broader landscape.

In our practice, we refer to this approach as matrix planting or meadow planting, depending on the application. The ‘matrix’ consists of generally lower, rounded, perennials or grasses that maintain a fairly uniform appearance throughout the growing season as the predominant vegetation. This matrix provides visual continuity and structural support for taller, skinnier perennials that might otherwise tend to flop over. These can also hide plants that have finished their short but glorious solo performances.  This is in stark contrast to earlier trends with large swaths of colorful perennials and uniform monoculture (one type of plant) to achieve a bold, yet short-lived display.

The Healy House’s native & waterwise matrix planting in full bloom during the spring.

In the fall, the right matrix plantings will undergo the seasonal transitions elegantly. A well-designed plant palette will be ecologically functional, resilient, and provide year-round interest.

The matrix planting movement represents a broader shift toward local ecologies. There’s also a deep-seated desire for a sense of psychological comfort and connection in outdoor space. The difference between a showy yet short-lived, high-maintenance, color-block planting and the subtle orchestra of a matrix composition is in many ways a metaphor for life. What we’re seeing in our post-COVID world is a desire for less. Less stress, less ‘keeping up with the Joneses,’ less pressure to look a thousand percent amazing, a thousand percent of the time. More and more people are waking up to the fact that this desire for constant epic-ness is ultimately artificial, emotionally draining, and devoid of personal satisfaction.  

The plants lining the garden pathway at The Healy House have an impressionist appeal, with a balanced composition of cultivation as well as organic complexity.

The matrix approach may seem complex at first. But it reflects a life anchored in the consistent rhythms of small, positive habits, resulting in a satisfying overall flow. In the same way that constant daily routines help alleviate the stress of every individual decision, a matrix approach to planting design is founded on the initial mix and composition. The secret is to choose a mix of plants that literally grow together in native ecosystems. One or several mixes are then organically applied to the landscape in a painterly fashion. Rather than multiple, individual plants fighting for your attention, the resulting composition is visually cohesive.  
Matrix plantings provide a much deeper sense of meaning that extends beyond a single planter bed, or even an individual site.  This is more than a trend  it’s a social and cultural movement. Our shifting cultural relationship with nature, embodied in plant composition.


To read more on how to plant meadow grasses, click here.


To purchase our astrology-inspired matrix planting plans for intermountain park strips (and many other planting plans), visit our Etsy shop. 

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