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.
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’.
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,