My idea of sheetcake has nothing to do with cooking batter in a pan. It has everything to do with the idea of planting shrubs in masses. There are those times and places where planting out in rows has its place. Field rows of corn, asparagus, peonies or cutting flowers can be an astonishing sight. Many years ago I designed just such a garden for a client who tithed the use of the land surrounding his house to his church. This, the intersection of agriculture and landscape. Some years later I dicovered the work of the Spanish landscape architect, Fernando Caruncho. His gardens explore the idea of agrarian based landscape design on a grand scale. His landscape, Mas De Les Voltes, I admire as much as any landscape I have ever seen. But my intent with the above pictured landscape was to suggest that a drivecourt had been carved out of a mass of taxus. Though most of the mass is actually drivecourt, the suggestion of great mass remains. Shrubs planted formally en mass-I call this a sheetcake.
Caruncho had designed a garden in Madrid, La Florida, in which four giant rectangles of escallonia macrantha have been formally pruned into flat “tables” twenty inches high. I have never forgotten this gesture. There is another way to conceptualize this; the shrub is actually a a very tall groundcover. Describing the effect of such a planting as a sheetcake enables anyone to visualize exactly what it looks like. The now large English oaks set in squares of pachysandra rain leaves onto the yew sheetcakes in the fall. Weather working on the landscape provides something new to look at almost every day.
Very small urban properties can be sheetcaked to good success. One has to choose as few gestures from many possibilities, given a small space. Too much going on in a small space dilutes the impact of the landscape. In this case saying less truly is more.
A very flat piece of land achieves a change of level with the interaction of two plant materials of different heights.
The dusting of fall leaves provides another dimension as the limelights are fading.
A sheetcake garden is an effective way to showcase abrupt changes in grade. I am all for celebrating any unusual characteristic of the land. One client had a low lying front yard, and an active artesian spring. I dug the ground deeper, and created a pond. The sidewalk to the front door was actually a boardwalk over the pond; you get the idea. The artesian spring was treated as an asset, rather than a nuisance. Accommodating nature helps produce a successful project.
A tree inset into a sheetcake provides another layer of interest. I have talked about the spent magnolia petals on these boxwood in the spring-it is a sight for my gardening eyes.
A sheetcake garden; it sounds good, doesn’t it?