Matrix Plant Design

By Cheri Stringer and Will Oberlander

Imagine a beautiful meadow; layers of natural plantings and grasses intermixed with delicate wildflowers, medicinal herbs, and native perennials. This is the new wave of perennial-focused planting, inspired by the works of Piet Oudouf and Roy Diblik, and master plantsmen, Rick Darke and Adam Woodruff. Matrix planting honors the eb and flow of plant development and allows for natural self-maintenance within a garden. It has become a powerful approach for designers, gardeners, and environmentalists in modern design. Matrix planting design allows for natural self-maintenance within a garden of differing plant varieties that mass together.

A dense variety of perennials, grasses and shrubs at TLC’s “Flatiron Terrace”

The perennial-focused matrix layout emphasizes the incorporation of sustainable plants in a style that allows for the complete immersion of the plant palettes, a healthy biome of interspecies, and integration and supports for diverse entomology (benefits insects). It also protects the watershed and provides for migrating birds and thriving ecosystems. The opportunities which matrix plantings present are being implemented through TLC Garden’s recent projects, as our passion for creating beautiful, diverse, productive, and stable landscapes is amplified with the benefits that come with planting matrix gardens. The challenge is to implement this at a higher altitude,  such as to create a diverse culture of plants and lower maintenance landscapes for our clients.

TLC Garden’s design team developing the perennial- focused garden and irrigation system at Foothills Matrix.

The matrix style is characterized by high density, high species- variety, and a detailed implementation which echoes the ways in which the natural world grows. The seasonal life cycle of matrix palettes allow for a constantly changing spectrum of colors and textures, which can be choreographed to create endless beauty throughout the year. This unique scheme not only allows for exciting opportunities in aesthetic beauty, it also solves many challenges which homeowners and gardeners both face. A carefully selected array of perennials and grasses will work together to fill in empty space, blocking out weeds and preventing a species’ excessive dominance. This natural cycle translates to a reduction in the use of pesticides and maintenance for the home’s owners. Native plant-scapes are far more efficient in their water usage than many of the introduced plant species which is traditionally used. The matrix design further maximizes a gardens irrigation efficiency by utilizing the density at which plant material is placed, limiting the need for wood mulch and fabric typically used in perennial beds. Irrigation lines must be laid in a grid pattern in order to ensure this approaches’ success, displayed in our plan on the left.

TLC’s Foothills Matrix begins to come together as perennials and grasses go in the ground!

At TLC Gardens, we believe this level of conscious landscape design should be the standard for the future. We put these concepts to work in Boulder County, where our team is currently on site, realizing a matrix planting scheme for a residential project named “Foothills Matrix.” The plan was designed with the goal of bringing plant diversity, native colors, and textures into the families’ outdoor living space, thus reflecting the gorgeous borrowed landscape of the Colorado foothills. In the these construction-photos from Foothills Matrix, we can see the high density and high variety of plugs planted throughout the site. As this garden grows in, the interlocking layout will create a loose, unexpected, natural appearance, reminiscent to the surrounding landscape. In a smaller site such as this one, the depth created by our matrix scheme will be crucial in establishing the feeling of space.

On larger sites, the Matrix schemes are also  equally  as effective. Our Song Ranch project features acres of redesigned space, culminating with a rich and complex garden system. Again, a high variety, high density application was used, this time however, to provide structure, flow and focal points throughout the space. As one walks the site, the dense shapes of color and texture influence their movement and attention, directing them to their destination through an ever-changing, natural journey.

                   The pathways of TLC’s Song Ranch project, being line with a beautiful array of ground over.

Designers and plantsmen are taking this style to new heights and depths in their work all over the world. These carefully curated landscapes represent a special kind of synergy between human design and the design of nature. It is the kind of harmony that can only be achieved by having incredible knowledge of, and practice with, the behavior and life cycles of plants, and the ecosystems which we emulate. Each species’ tendencies are mapped and collaged together to create an elaborate show which takes a full year to complete. The changing environment strikes chords within us, prompting an emotional connection to the landscape as seen here in these Spring and Fall photos from Peit Oudolf’s “Oudolf Hummelo.”

Peit Oudolf’s incredible matrix design work: “Oudolf Hummelo” shows us the beautiful color, texture and depth that is achievable, even during dormant months.