What you notice in your garden is usually a visual impression. You see that the lawn has recently been mowed or that the rose is blooming. But these are fleeting impressions.
This second mindfulness practice in the series uses soft focus viewing to increase your awareness of the natural shapes of plants in three steps. Think of globes, vases, spikes, fountains, mats, and mounds.
1. Start with trees.
It’s obvious that trees have two kinds of shapes, right? Evergreen trees are cone-shaped, and deciduous trees are a mound on top of a stick – the trunk. So, begin there. Step back and squint your eyes a bit. Notice the shapes of the trees in your yard and your neighbors’ yards. Some are upright, with rounded symmetrical canopies of leaves, such as the northern red oak. The cedar elm may have an oval shape when young, with branches spreading to a vase shape as it matures. That mass on the top of a stick? It could be many shapes.
Fascinating, isn’t it? When you take the far view to look at the overall shape of the trees against the sky, you can discern definite differences. Depending on where you live, you can also compare weeping trees. Mesquite, huisache, palo verde, and willows all have branches that arc downward, with the willow noticeably sweeping the ground.
2. Check the shrubs.
A shrub may be deliberately pruned into a globe for impact in the landscape. But what about natural shapes? It’s fun to soften your focus and enjoy that round shape compared with softer mounding shapes in shrubs. What other shapes can you find in your shrubs? Besides mounds, shrub shapes can be upright, rounded, conical, even weeping.
If you include big ornamental grasses in your shrub category, it’s easy to see fountain shapes. Often the base of the grass clump rises like a vase. Then, as the leaves elongate, they curve over, like fountain spray.
3. Focus on the perennials, annuals and ground covers.
Still looking at ornamental grasses, consider the smaller ones. Little bluestem cultivars have been bred to stay in an upright bundle, almost a spike shape. Also providing a vertical shape might be the blades of an iris. And what about daylilies, if you have them? The leaves are wider, but they are fountain-like as they bend toward the earth after shooting upward.
Then consider the woody lilies – agave, yuccas, and their kin. If you have a dasylirion acrotriche or a Blue Glow agave, you might call it round. Some yuccas might be entirely upright, holding leaves stiffly. Others are a mound. A well-grown Agave weberi? Definitely round to me! What does it look like to you?
And a variety of plant shapes can be found even in ground covers. Yes, some are mats, such as Blue Rug juniper. Vines like Virginia creeper are mats when left to fill ground space rather than decorate a trellis or wall. Carex, a large family of very small grasses, are lovely mounded shapes, while blue fescues are cute dwarf balls.
Enjoy flower shapes, too. Alliums, those ornamental onions, can be wonderful purple or pink globes when in bloom, shifting to tan globes when they go to seed. And some plants are all airy, floriferous clouds, like this lovely Gaura Lindheimeri. Is it spiky? Is it upright? Is it round? The shape is up to your observant eye.
As you spend a mindful afternoon gazing at the shapes of the plants in your garden, consider the wondrous offering that nature gives us in this diversity. Even out of bloom or without leaves, in all seasons, plant shapes can be spellbinding.