Monday, July 02, 2012

Accentuate

Accentuate the positive and the negative. Mass and void.

Back to the nicely-designed landscape at Univision's corporate offices in Phoenix. Forget their novelas or variety shows with women in clothing a couple sizes too small. Think instead of ample room.

This view looks dense, but...


These mature plants cover <50% of the crushed granite groundplane.

With the dark wall and vertical accents as a backdrop, a broad area of granite gravel (negative space / void) keeps the budget for plants (positive space / mass) and their water usage lower. It is visually more powerful than if no ground showed.


Same area, but at a 90 degree angle to the above image:

Same thing...masses of purple Santa Rita Prickly Pear / Opuntia santa-rita 'Tubac' L, Desert Prickly Pear / Opuntia engelmannii R, other plantings and trees, and plenty of groundplane. Another note - that negative space or void between plant masses does not just make the plants visually pop-out better, but it allows for easier maintenance! Important among cacti.

We all like the sound of water in the desert, so note the negative space of paving in front, then positive space of the water feature and related walls, then negative space beyond that, then positive space(s) beyond that with the Saguaro cactus / Carnegia gigantea grouping, Gray Brittlebush / Encelia farinosa, Creosote Bush / Larrea tridentata, and other plants.























Alternating layers of positive and negative spaces read well, too.

Chuparosa / Justicia californica, a native Sonoran Desert plant, beckons what it is named after, a hummingbird to pollinate it.


Hummingbirds are known as chuparosas in Spanish. Even wildlife appreciates some negative space - some openness allows them to see predators, while they enjoy the sweet blooms of a favorite plant.

Where I live, roadrunners (correcaminos or paisanos in local Spanish) often hide and pick off hummingbirds as they feed.

So, use negative space - a good thing for all who are in our gardens.

32 comments:

  1. Our industry is geared to sell the voids until they are not voids.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

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    1. And they create bigger voids in search of filling it in.

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  2. Certainly, that is the problem with horticulture and gardening practices and the whole industrial culture in USA. Following blindly without criteria.

    How can any rational person tolerate and understand the manufacture of those Hummers, pick up trucks, Fords 150, Chevrolets and Tundras as big as war tank, with similar gas mileage after the USA automobile industry lost the power and influence it had for decades and lost forever?

    Now Korea is selling more cars than Japan!

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    1. I hear "US" is an acrynym for "unserviceable" in the UK. Not the US my parents immigrated to! Bigger is not better...

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  3. Those beautiful garden spaces certainly do compete with their eye-popping TV--at least for garden designers. The color of the O. santa-rita really pops against the neutral gravel.

    Negative space is difficult for a gardener because there are so many plants we love. I try to leave negative space in the front here to highlight the more xeric look.

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    1. I will post on what the negative spaces might be for various different climates/ecoregions/places. And probably different spaces...how to abstract. That Univision is a big place...

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  4. Agreeing with Shirley...it's hard to leave negative space when your garden is small and there are so many plants to love!

    But these photos however illustrate your point quite well, as usual.

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    1. True, and being both of you have similar backgrounds, it might pay to revisit what works. Even if you have to design all your plants into others' gardens...the good clients' gardens become your gardens, too!!!

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  5. I like negative spaces in the garden. Sometimes...to me...too close plantings looks a bit 'weedy'.
    But then, if you only have so much room, negative space loses out.
    I really like that Santa Rita...

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    1. Yes...too crowded = too weedy looking. And you are right, since if you go too minimalist = sterile. Santa Rita really likes sun, rock, and low water...the purple is amazing in cool weather.

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  6. One thing I hate about most planting design theory (even practice sometimes) is based on completely covering the groundplane. In the desert that is dang near impossible. There is sometimes too much of an emphasis on making all the plants "touch". A lot of times the form is lost whenever everything merges into one.

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    1. I used to work with some folks, or get to see daily others, who all do what you say is taught. Never thinking for themselves, they don't get it...in Abq, the whole freeway system and CABQ medians...gag me (quoting 1980's valley girl-ese).

      Balance...you got it!

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  7. Wow, I really love all the southwestern desert landscape pics. I just came back from Silkeborg Dänemark and need some catch up. I've been conducting some pea family desert plant progagation-germination experiments just days before I left and what an explosion of growth.

    I have poinciana Mex Bird-Paradise which I expected a faster growth and Paolverde. All these seeds I collected from the Canary Islands. For the moment dreaming of getting back there is all I have.

    I live those architectural scenes about as well. What is it about elements of Frank Lloyd Wright patterns that work perfectly in southwestern scenes ? Maybe Frank copied southwestern geology and didn't tell us!

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    1. Glad to help you feel more homesick, or get some eye relief!! What really separates from Sonoran from other SW deserts are the large columnar cacti and other tree forms like elephant or paloverde trees. I wish we could truly do those, especially higher up in elevation.

      Sounds like you are on your way to grow some plants to bring back when you finally return. I think you are right on FLW using geology patterns, as I think many here do!

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  8. There are many interesting elements to this design but I really appreciate the creativity of the vertical pieces. Very nice. I didn't realize the roadrunners eat hummers...we have a roadrunner that lurks around the back of our property...didn't realize he was a danger to the smaller birds. Good to know.

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    1. Great you noticed those - when I was there, they just looked nice. When I posted this, they looked like abstracted saguaros!

      Roadrunners are amazing, and I'm glad they aren't bigger, or we'd have to be careful around them! Seems habitat is a balance of cover and openness, whether for small creatures or humans?

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  9. Hey there, I really enjoyed this post. I struggle with this exact thing! I like spaces btwn my plants a lot...but keep going back and forth, back and forth, with ground cover ideas. Mostly because it is taking much patience to allow things to grown into their own. Sheared Texas sage among other sheared plants DRIVE ME NUTS! I love the natural form of plants and this post reminded me of something very important! PATIENCE. So I will wait....although tempted to fill that ground I am not gonna lie. I always go back and forth on this! Needed this reminder. Thank you!

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    1. I think your feathergrass is the negative space, and will be really nice. The only thing I hated about Univision was the totally unnecessary (makes them ugly, out of context to rest of natural forms), counterproductive shearing (less blooms) of TX sage...

      Yes, give a space a few months with grasses, or even 2 years with other plants, and then you won't add in.

      I must post on other aspects of Univision, as well as what negative space might mean in different places.

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    2. I would love to see other examples of negative space -pllleeeease :)

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    3. Will do, and in a couple different ways...stay tuned!

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  10. Those are some stunning photos. The negative space is absolutely beautiful. I am soo bad with that. The wheels in my head start spinning about all the "treasures" I could plant. Then again, left unchecked my yard would turn into jungle bush! You might even need a machete.

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    1. Thanks, it was quite the surprise to see that landscape enroute to a nearby appointment! I wonder if some of this negative space is scale of the landscape or garden, as well as the density one's ecology will sustain?

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  11. I love the first photo, the building and shade sails and plantings look so dramatic. I love the gravel, I have one space that isn't finished and I keep picturing it with gravel in the middle, still not quite sure exactly what to do though...
    The prickly pear reminded me of something, last summer hubby and I drove around some of the local industrial areas shopping for bits and pieces for the house, and in one region I noticed quite a few plants like that, almost like it had been the style in that era to landscape parking areas with them. They are not commonly used plants here at all and they had fruit which made them more noticeable and I was quite intrigued by it.

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    1. Thanks; glad you enjoyed those scenes like I did. It really grabbed me driving by, and I'm so glad I turned around and went back to take photos.

      I know some of the cactus plants from the SW US have been used in Australia, though I would have sworn some became invasive, too. Would be interesting to see the landscapes you are speaking of...with all your interesting shrubs and trees, it must be stunning!

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  12. I had no idea roadrunners would attack humming birds. I have always thought that humming birds were too fast to have any predators hence the fact that will come so close.And besides roadrunners look too stupid to catch anything!

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    1. They do look a bit stupid, but I guess they have the killer instinct! Almost like some prehistoric dinosaur... I recall a neighbor also telling me one would hang out by a tree branch just beyond his feeder, and it would pick off hummingbirds. They are quite fast, and the way they can strike a snake or lizard, then beat it over a rock to kill it, is amazing.

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  13. Great post about design and plants. Compelling gardens have both. We bloggers seldom articulate how design contributes to a successful garden. Your photos do a great job of illustrating your point.

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    1. Thanks so much...I need to find out who the designer was, and see where they were coming from.

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  14. I think it is beautiful and I like the empty spaces. I need some of that in my garden.

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    1. I agree, and you can pull off everything they did, just something other than saguaro, etc. Like Cereus peruvianus...and negative space. I really can't wait to explore what negative vs. positive space is in different environments...

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  15. Love this post. A beautiful landscape. My garden needs more negative space, but it's very hard to do the major removals that would require. Food for thought...

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    1. Thanks so much! It was stunning in it's simplicity, and I think the desert lends itself to negative space easier than a woodland environment. Though it seems like your urban garden has negative space, though?

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