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Arrange Plants In Your Garden – 4 Simple Ways

Arranging plants in your garden… It’s one of those things that many beginner gardeners really, really struggle with. But today I’m going to show you three simple ways that you can arrange plants in your landscape for that beautiful layered look that you want. Use these methods to create a more professional and organic looking garden at home. 

In this video, learn my 4 simple ways to arrange plants in your garden (with lots of examples)

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1- Arrange Plants in Drifts (Groups)

drifts of purple, green and white plants along a path
In this photo, the purple geraniums are planted in drifts. There is a massing of at least 3 geranium plants on the right side of the path. In addition, the groupings of geraniums are distributed all the way down the path in 7 separate drifts.

One of the easiest ways to arrange plants in your garden is by grouping your plants. This is also known as planting in drifts. Drifts are groups of plants that are arranged in an organic way in your landscape. Usually when planting and drifts, it’s recommended that you do so in odd numbers like 3, 5, or 7

Arrange plants in drifts of 3 5 or 7
Drifts of plants create more impact than single plants. Illustration by PrettyPurpleDoor.

When you arrange plants in drifts it gives a bigger impact to your landscape. No more buying just one plant. You should buy several of the same type of plant so that you can make a grouping of them. This will give you a better overall look to your garden.

Quick Tip: If you like the idea of creating drifts of plants, you’ll also really enjoy my article all about landscape layering

cactus and agave plant grouping
Here’s an example of a drift planting with only 3 plants. Havin 3 of the same plant provides more impact than just having one or two here and there. From Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, PA. Photo by Pretty Purple Door.

Why Do Odd Numbers in Planting Design Work?

Peaceful garden space with benches under a tree
These clipped pyramidal-shaped evergreens are planted in a grouping of 3 to create an impact.

Why use odd numbers, you may be wondering? It’s because our brains are wired to categorize things into equal/even groups. It’s actually much easier/faster for our brains to process even numbers. When we plant in odd groups, it takes a bit longer for our brains to process, which can make a planting stand out.

Large drifts of plants are also beneficial in creating a statement. If you like one plant, you’ll definitely like the look of 7 of the same plant clustered together.

This trick will create more drama and impact in your design.

When Should You Use Even Numbers in Planting Design?

formal garden design using symmetry and even numbers
Hidcote Manor Garden (NT) has a very formal style and using a lot of even numbers in plantings creates symmetry and enhances its formal look. Designed by Lawrence Johnston and photographed by Dave Catchpole (CC BY 2.0), via Flickr.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Even numbers are easier for our brains to process because they bring symmetry. Because of this, even numbers don’t stand out as much. So, if you DON’T want to accentuate or bring attention to an area of your garden, planting in even numbers may do the trick.

Another reason you may consider using even numbers is if you have a traditional-style garden. Even numbers in planting design will give your garden a very symmetrical and formal style.

So, if that’s the look you’re going for, don’t shy away from even numbers!

By the way, here’s an article will tons of different garden styles you can use in your home garden (including the traditional style).

Does it Ever NOT Matter if you Plant Even or Odd Groupings?

Yes. After about 7 objects (or plants), our brains really can’t determine the individual number of objects that make up the group. So, the even/odd design trick is no longer important after about 7 plants in the drift.

Here’s an example of a drift planting where there are more than 7 plants. How many plants are there? I’m not sure… and it doesn’t really matter at this point. It looks nice but the number is unimportant once you reach about 7 plants.

When planting in large drifts, the goal is to make the grouping look like one large statement instead of separate plants. So, plant closer together than you typically would to get your plants to mesh together.

2-  Create a Focal Point in your Garden Bed 

fun container surrounded by plants
This adorable container creates a bold focal point in the garden when surrounded by pale blue-purple flowers. Photo by KRiemer (CC0 1.0), via Pixabay

Another way that you can arrange plants in your landscape is by creating a focal point. Pick a superstar plant that you love or even position a sculpture or other object as the focus of your garden bed. Then arrange plants around the focal point to bring it all together.

create a focal point and arrange plants around it
Try arranging a group of plants around a focal point, like a pot, statue or even a vibrant plant. Illustration by PrettyPurpleDoor.

Quick Tip: Another great way to create a focal point is by using a contrasting color in the garden. Check out this article on garden color schemes to learn how to use color in your garden.

3-  Arrange your Plants in Rows

Photo of white hydrangeas at Phipps Conservatory
In this landscape border at Phipps Conservatory in Pittburgh, PA, plants are arranged in neat and tidy rows from tallest in the back to shortest in the front. Photo by Pretty Purple Door.

Creating rows in the garden is another simple way to arrange plants when you aren’t sure what to do. Arrange the tallest plants in the back, the medium-sized plants in the center and the lowest growing plants in the front to create a foreground, middle-ground and a background in your garden. 

By arranging in straight rows you’ll be creating more of a traditional or formal look for your garden. This is a really nice and clean layout that lots of gardeners enjoy using.

make 3 rows of plants in your garden
It may seem simple, but creating 3 rows to form a foreground, middle-ground and background is very effective. Illustration by PrettyPurpleDoor.

Quick Tip: Not sure if your style is formal or informal? Learn more about different garden styles and the characteristics of each in this article.

4- Weave Plants In and Out of the Rows for a More Casual Design

cottage style mixed border planting
In this mixed border, you can see that different groups of plants are weaved in and out of the rows. This is especially evident where the sedum and lavender drifts are weaved in and out of the front row of the border. This gives the planting a more casual or cottage feel.

If you’re looking for a more informal look to your garden and you don’t want to just create three straight rows. Instead, try mixing the rows of plants together for a more casual and carefree look. 

Create a foreground, middle-ground and background with your plants, then weave the plants in and out of each row. That medium-sized plants can be pulled forward to the front row and smaller plants can be pulled back into the middle row. 

Master the Mixed Border Guide & Checklist

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Weave plants in and out of the 3 rows of your garden
Weaving your plants in and out of their original rows creates a more casual look. Illustration by PrettyPurpleDoor.

You can also experiment with bringing larger plants from the back row to the middle row and putting middle row plants in the background. Think about this kind of like you would braid your hair. We are mixing the 3 different rows together to tie the garden together.

This will give you a more informal and casual look for your layered garden bed.

Quick Tip: If you need some more help with weaving plants in and out of the garden, check out this article for 5 ways to create unity and flow in your landscape.

Wrapping Up

Using these four simple methods will give you a more cohesive and put together garden layout.

If you liked this article, you’ll love these tips for arranging plants in containers.

To arrange your plants in your landscape, first think about planting in drifts of 3, 5, or 7 plants. No more stopping at the garden center to pick up one single plant! We are now going to plant for impact!

Second, create a focal point in your garden using a standout plant, shrub or even a statue or other structure. Then surround your focal point with a drift of other plants that complement it. 

Finally, try arranging your plants into 3 rows; a foreground, middle-ground and background row. This will give you a more traditional and formal look to your garden.

In our bonus tip we discussed weaving plants from the foreground to the middle ground, from the middle ground to the foreground and from the background and the middle ground. By weaving the plants in each row together, you’ll introduce a more informal look to your garden bed.

Finally, if you loved this post and you’re looking for more great information about flower gardening, I’d recommend that you check out my free gardening video training, where I cover the 3 secrets to success with your garden!

  1. Secret 1: Avoid the two biggest mistakes that will prevent you from creating your 4-season dream garden.
  2. Secret 2: Discover why creativity has NOTHING to do with designing your dream garden (and what does).
  3. Secret 3: Learn the key to unlocking your garden’s potential even if you have less than idea conditions.

Sign up for the training right now! You’ll also get a relay emailed right to your inbox in case you can’t watch it right this minute 🙂

Arrange Plants in the Garden Infographic

Everyone loves visuals – here’s an infographic that summarizes all of the plant arrangement information in this post. You’re welcome to share this with your friends and/or save it to Pinterest.

3 Simple Ways To Arrange Plants in Your Garden Beds
Illustration by PrettyPurpleDoor.

Quick Tip: If you enjoyed the tips and tricks in this post, you may want to check out my article about landscaping from scratch in 7 simple steps.

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  1. Hi! Just stumbled upon your site as I’m researching how to plant for my yard. How do your techniques work for tiered planter boxes (in L-shape –if facing it, in the direction of a “7”), along a fence?

    I can picture a focal point in the corner, and spreading out from there. But, each tier of the box is only 18″ wide, so doesn’t leave much room for layering and I’m guessing only 2-3 anchor plants along the L.

    Any suggestions? Thanks!

    1. Hi Mimi this post is really for arranging plants in garden beds. I hadn’t really thought about applying it to a tiered planter to be honest. I would say you’d need at least 4′ of depth to implement any layering in the space. Is it possible that the planter box IS the focal point? My only other suggestion would be to place the focal point where the two points touch (the corner). So, something bright orange in the corner then purple plants on either side, or something like that. This week on my youtube channel I’ll be sharing a video about designing containers for fall — so that video may be helpful to you as well. How to Arrange Plants in Containers – 7 Design Tips -Amy

  2. Love reading and watching it! Now that I’m already 81years old my gardening is already limited. The backyard and side yard that I let someone did it make it easier for me but sorry it was not done yet due to lockdown. I wanted to have a small tropical garden, I started to plant some cannas at the backyard, and maybe a dwarf palm tree if I could find one at Lowe’s. Every morning when the weather is good, I love the setting and drinking my coffee, and enjoy the sun.

    Thank you for sharing!

    1. Well I appreciate you following along! It’s nice to meet you. Where do you live? I’m in zone 6 (northeast PA) so almost everything tropical looking is an annual here. Sounds beautiful though!

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