A landscape anchor is a plant that brings structure and definition to a particular bed, border or area. The anchor can be a statuesque specimen plant strategically placed or a group of plants used as a boundary. It can be a plant type that is repeated regularly in a specific area, tying all other landscaping elements together. Anchor plants can be woody or herbaceous, evergreen or deciduous, large or small (though small anchors are generally used in groups).
Evergreens for Everything
Evergreens make great anchors, especially in formal gardens. Because their foliage stays green all winter and can often be clipped into various shapes, they add permanent structure. A good example of a garden with strong evergreen anchors is Hidcote Manor, the English home of famed twentieth century gardener Lawrence Johnston. Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens), hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 8; and English yew (Taxus baccata), hardy in USDA zones 6 through 7, are used repeatedly as boundary hedges, accents and topiaries. They tie together mixed planting schemes and bring unity to the whole.
In vegetable or kitchen gardens, where the majority of landscape elements are low-growing, vertical plants can serve as anchors. Examples of this include dwarf fruit trees that are often placed at the four corners of traditional monastic gardens. Standard roses (Rosa spp), generally hardy in USDA zones 5 through 9, can also be used for this purpose, positioned either in the center of a rectilinear bed, at each of the four corners or in short rows at the sides of the main beds.
Plants that might be attractive but relatively insignificant singly, like purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), hardy in USDA zones 3 through 8, can become landscape anchors when they are used in swathes or large drifts. This style has been used by many famous gardeners, most recently by Dutch plantsman Piet Oudolf. Sizes of the drifts are scaled to the size of the garden as a whole and the plants chosen are selected for flower and foliage color and architectural qualities. These anchor plants provide interest with seedheads or dramatic stalks even when they are out of flower.
Another way to use plant groups as anchors is to create color-themed beds. This is most effective when the beds are relatively small or combine a main color, like white, with a secondary accent color, like blue. In such cases, the brighter color tends to become the real anchor because it draws the observer's eye. In landscapes where color is the anchor, no one plant species or shape dominates, but subtle gradations of hue provide the interest.
- Classic Garden Plans; David Stuart
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Plant Finder -- Taxus Baccata
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Plant Finder -- Buxus Sempervirens
- The American Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers; Christopher Brickell, Editor-in-Chief
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Plant Finder -- Echinacea Purpurea
- Photo Credit Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images