A garden (and a story) can be a thing of beauty, or your worst nightmare-and sometimes both. This year I’ve been challenged by heat, weeds and unrealistic expectations in my garden. (I always buy too many new flowers in the spring.) Still, I love to see plants coming back to life and filling in to reveal the layers I’ve created.
Yes, you can layer a garden. Arrange the tallest plants in back of your flower beds, so your smaller specimens can be appreciated. However, there are times when plants will volunteer at the front, and need to be moved. Right now I have a clematis that has decided to grow at the end of my driveway and climb a columbine. Not a wise choice, as the trellis (columbine) will die back by mid-summer, leaving the vine to flounder.
Next, you can use the textures of various plants to add interest. For instance, I love ferns. When paired with the big leaves of hostas and patches of moss, they can make an area feel cool and inviting, even in the summer’s heat. It’s fun to contrast dissimilar plants. Try placing a fern-leaf peony next to the sword leaves of an iris, or nestle tulips among your crocosmia. (As an added benefit, the grass-like foliage will cover the dying tulip leaves.)
Gardeners try to plant groupings of flowers whose colors will blend, creating a beautiful bouquet. This is not as easy as it sounds. You have to consider the bloom time of each plant. (And, take it from me, they don’t always bloom the same time each year.) Sometimes, color combinations will surprise you, so be creative.
Stories are much like gardens. As an author, I need to layer in elements, adding interest to characters and the plot. What mannerisms will my hero have and why? How do I show the reader that the hero is perfect for the heroine? Before I start a story, I know a great deal about my characters, but not every element belongs in the book, just as I can’t put every plant in my garden.
I need to make many decisions during the writing process, but much of the layering happens during revisions. Both a garden and a book are works in progress. (The only difference, eventually I have to consider my book finished and send it out into the world.)
So, the next time you admire the beauty of a garden, or a really good book, remember they didn’t just happen, most take planning-and a little bit of luck.
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