Repetition is one of a handful of often cited design principles that, when properly applied while garden planning, makes a landscape more pleasing to look at. Repeating certain elements in the landscape — a plant colour, a shape, a container style, a hardscape material, even a tree — turns what might otherwise be a chaotic collection of dissimilar plants and objects into a more cohesive whole.

It’s a design principle widely used in artistic disciplines with similar outcomes. It is even used in the paragraphs and pages of this printed material: consistently spaced headlines and bold print fonts are more likely to capture the reader’s eye because they are easier to read; pages appear orderly and unified.

It is often touted by gardening professionals (myself included) to plant perennials in groups of threes, fives or nines for nicer effect, or to plant in ‘drifts’. Consistent, familiar places for your eye to rest and return to, as it turns out, is a good design. At its most basic level, repetition requires duplicating same plants whether designing a single container planting or a large suburban landscape. Still, care should be taken to achieve the desired effect or risk it looking rigid or unnatural.

If your own garden is lacking unity, one way to increase your plant stock, particularly if your perennials are outgrowing their allotted garden space, is through division. Mature perennials that seem to lack vigour or are no longer flowering are beckoning you to rejuvenate them by dividing. Dividing a perennial requires lifting it out of the soil with the help of a sharp spade then separating chunks of roots into several pieces, ensuring each piece has a growing point. Divisions can then be planted into new garden spaces that have been amended with fresh compost then watered.

Although most plants can be successfully divided anytime during the growing season with a little TLC afterward, spring and fall are more conducive to dividing plants when days are cooler, and the ground is warm.

Ornamental grasses are best divided before growth starts next spring and other perennials with single taproots or stems resent being divided altogether so avoid dividing baptisia, lavender, and butterfly weed. Perennials with fibrous roots, such as hostas and daylilies and many ground covers that form offsets, are easy enough to divide by hand once lifted.

Peonies and other fleshy rooted, clump forming perennials should be divided once growth slows down in fall, but peonies will grow for many years before requiring dividing. There is still time for divisions to grow new roots and become established before winter freeze up if done this month. So grab a shovel and get out there.

If your perennials, or you, are not ready for dividing, other ways to increase your plant stocks include tip or root cuttings and growing new plants from seed. Perennials differ in the best propagation method so do a little research and know their root type before getting started.

One great thing about perennials is that when properly sited, you get a return on your investment after just a few years. A little patience and considerable hard labour when lifting and dividing may be necessary, but you will be rewarded with new plants for free that you grew yourself and perhaps even have a garden that finally looks pulled together.

Elaine Sanders can be reached at

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