Critical Mass



Nature achieves the art of ‘mass’ or same-variety, group-planting most effectively.

But in recent years, landscaping trends have also leaned in this direction. This is especially so in municipal gardens and around larger complexes, both private and public.

Home gardeners embraced the trend and modern gardens look quite different to those of my childhood.

Oh, we did have mass plantings then, especially in the ubiquitous vegetable garden. But mostly same variety groupings took the form of rose beds or cottage gardens with swathes of annual and perennial flowers like petunias and even old fashioned dahlias that are now enjoying a resurgence. Hedged plants like lavender and various types of box were, by definition, mass planted to achieve the formality hedging required.


Mass planting of crocus


So mass planting is not really a new thing, just altered in its expression. Sometimes it’s done well, imitating Nature. Other times the monochromatic effect and rigidity of style is stultifying.

Even in a space as small as my courtyard it’s possible to achieve an eye-pleasing effect with mass planting. It’s a question of balance, which I’ve tried to achieve by mixing up the ground covers in the foreground with taller gingers and heliconias in the middle-distance. I really think plants do better when in the company of others, especially of the same ilk. They form a kind of ‘society of plants’.


Zoysia or No Mow Grass planted en masse


So where does the ‘critical‘ come into my ruminations of mass?

I’m enthralled by the way people follow fashions, trends, and even the behaviour of salient members in our society (think of the celebrity phenomenon), heavily influenced by the now global ‘mass’ media and the capitalist system. That’s the basis of culture after all: learned ways of being, of doing things, shared ideas and value systems, can collectively be defined as ‘culture’. It’s a system always in flux, constantly shifting and being renewed by a diffusion of other cultures and the demands of changing human needs and desires.

I think it’s absolutely ‘critical’ to take a discerning look at new cultural trends just as we might evaluate garden trends. Some just seem to look and feel right. They sit well aesthetically and are morally cognisant of social and environmental impacts. Others deserve no more or less than uprooting and being thrown on the cultural compost heap to be recycled and remade into something useful.


“It’s not about what it is, it’s about what it can become.”
Dr. Seuss, The Lorax


24 responses to “Critical Mass

  1. Mass plantings can look effective – there’s something special about naturalised daffodils or bluebells that pop up every year and provide a sweep of colour. But I also like the element of surprise in cottage gardens and what can appear as the result of self-seeding, or a passing bird. I wonder what that says about the cultures I’m comfortable with!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A great mass of plants in a group can look very effective and pretty. Great masses of snowdrops or daffodils are always a very welcome sight for me early in the year because they make me think that better weather will be on the way soon. As for cultural trends, I agree that there are some which are much more welcome than others.


    • I agree Bun. We look to the natural world as a harbinger of the seasons. When I lived in more temperate climes waited for the daffodils and other flowering bulbs to tell me winter was over. In our subtropical climate we actually have to put our bulbs into the fridge to trick them into believing it’s winter and thus trigger the process toward flowering. Winter here is a beautiful time of the year. One of the cultural trends I struggle with is celebrity worship for no other reason than being famous for being famous.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I can’t wait to start buying plants again when I move to my new house with a garden. I fear it aint big enough for all my ideas, but I shall have a lot of fun ‘playing’.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think of the classic Kiwi garden before the notion of “designing” a garden took hold in the suburbs, which was virtually yesterday. Basically, you swapped or received or stole cuttings of any plant you liked. Then you poked it into the soil wherever you saw a vacancy. A geranium here, an ice plant there, a rose here, a granny bonnet there — and so it went. No plant ever gained in grace from its companions. But of course it was fun, and if you accidentally stuck a plant in an appropriate corner, what a surprise! But mass plantings? Even three of the same? Only my great-aunt did that … and she had half an acre on a city hill.

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    • That’s right Rachel. I remember walking with my mother who would take random cuttings from plants overhanging fences and shove them in her pockets to strike when we got home. I have carried on the tradition only asking permission of the owner is present. Most are only too happy to share. Of course the odd one has been a fist shaker but that never deterred any gardener worth her salt.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. In the United States, right now, we can only hope that the cultural “bully” trends being expressed by many of our pathetic politicians do not start a future trend in political posturing styles. My gardens are a mishmash from one year to the next.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Clare, I understand how the political situation in the United States at the moment grieves you. To think that some of these people have support from the general population is upsetting. I’m often surprised by people I believe I know who suddenly become unfathomable when it comes to politics.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Every day reality TV at its worse! In New England, it’s not as bad as some of the southern states, but then there’s always TV to bring it all right into your living room. I tend to watch the BBC for my daily news.


  6. Good strategy. I’m more selective too when it comes to the trash some media served up. The disturbing thing is that it’s so pervasive. What does it say about us as a society?


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