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The “5 Fs” of great garden design

The “5 Fs” of garden design are used by garden designers to take into account the many aspects needed in a successful planting plan. A garden designer uses live trees, shrubs, and plants to realize the homeowner’s vision for the space, whether this is the front garden, the backyard, or a side yard. Garden designers use the “5Fs” to consider the characteristics of each plant and their role in the overall garden design.

In smaller gardens, all plants have to do double or triple duty. In other words, garden designers opt for trees, shrubs and plants that have 2 out of 5, 3 out of 5, or 4 out of 5 of the plant characteristics, below.

Form – Shape (round, conical, fan, cylindrical, spreading); size; density (tight or loose branches); character of stem or trunk, and branches or twigs (think of the white of a birch, the red bark of the Japanese maple ‘Sango Kaku’ and the red-twigged dogwoods, the cinnamon-coloured bark of the paperbark maple, or the mottled and peeling bark of a sycamore tree).

Foliage – Evergreen or deciduous (in garden design, evergreens count as “hardscape” because they are still visible in the winter and are part of the “bones” of a garden); size and shape of leaves (even in a small space, a large-leaved shrub can be effective); texture of leaves (fine, coarse, shiny, matte, fuzzy); colour of leaves (dark green, acid green, silver, burgundy, yellow, or variegated); colour (fall colour is important, but there are also many plants that change colour from spring to summer leaf colours).

Flowers – Shape, size and colour of flowers. What month do flowers open? What is the length of blooming period? After flowering, are there attractive seed heads, or do spent flowers need pruning? The seed heads of the ornamental grasses, for example, rustle in the wind and provide the added dimension of sound to your garden.

Fruit – Colour, form, and size of fruit. Is fruit edible by birds? Does the fruit persist into the winter (red berries add winter colour). Birds love mulberries; what falls to the ground can be messy. Some trees and shrubs can be messy to clean up in the very early spring, if birds did not eat all the fruit over the winter.

Fragrance – Time of year, duration, and type of fragrance.

Thanks to Canadian Gardening Magazine (1997) for inspiring this post.

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