Power of THREE: Useful Tips from Garden Designers…


A contemporary garden, with only 3 main materials…

So, as the saying goes; ‘Three’s a crowd’ well, not in my book, and not in the eyes of most other designers. For, ever since the beginning of time, we have understood the power of groupings of three (well, ok, slight exaggeration perhaps, but you get my drift!).

It is the secret weapon of designers the world over. Stop. Take a look. And you will see.  The Power of Three.

Plant THREE Large Containers

There is nothing more pleasing to the eye than a grouping of three large Urns, positioned absolutely exquisitely for maximum impact.  Add to this, the very simple idea of planting with the SAME species – et voila! You have designer-impact in your garden, worthy of Chelsea.

Andy Sturgeon is the master of this – demonstrated perfectly in his 2010 Daily Telegraph garden …. 3 exquisite oversized shallow bowls planted with equally exquisite irises:


The simplicity of 3 beautiful oversized pots filled with irises, and 3 large slabs of limestone.

Of course, for this to work, it must be THREE OF A KIND – the repeat impact is divine. 3 urns, pots, containers…of the same size, material, dimensions…..planted with the same species, same colour, same height. Pure perfection.

PLANT in Groups of THREE


These plants have knitted together beautifully, but started in life as groups of 3!

Planting in groups of three is the perfect scenario for any border.

There is something that just feels ‘right’ about odd number groupings – 2 is too linear and too refined.  4 feels like ‘ducks in a row’, but 3 OF A KIND; planted with enough space to grow, but definitely ‘together as a group’ – sits comfortably with the mind and pleases the eye.

Planting in Three’s allows the group to be ‘staggered’ – free from rigid constraints; just as nature intended.  Plants should sprawl, mingle and intertwine, not be lined up like soldiers or tied up in straight jackets.

Stick to THREE Different Materials


slate, stone and crisp clean walls – that is all!

This is a golden rule that I stick to religiously.  Never, ever, use more than 3 different types of materials in your garden.

3 gives a nice contrast of finishes – you can introduce different texture and pattern to your surfaces. Lovely effect.

Add more, and soon you have a mishmash of materials, a hodgepodge of effects and an assault to the senses.

Stick to the rule of three and you will not go wrong.

The Rule of Thirds – Break away from Perfect Symmetry!


Long gardens look so much better divided into three!

Finally, there is a rule of 3 that has long since puzzled me, and will perhaps remain a mystery, but you just know it’s ‘right’.  In garden design, often particularly wide or particularly long spaces just look better divided into three.

There is a general design rule; used by designers of all kinds, known as the RULE OF THIRDS. There is something that is aesthetically pleasing to us about the PROPORTIONS of thirds; it sits comfortably with the mind and just looks, well…right!

Create 3 zones in your garden….use planting areas to divide up your large area of lawn by pinching in the sides, or create 3 distinct areas using different ground cover material (patio for dining, lawn, relaxed lounging area) or use low hedging or trellis screen panels to break up and divide your space.

However it’s done, as soon as 3 designated areas are created – all is well in the world once more.

There is something that puts the viewer to rest with the power of 3 in the world of design…

OR, as De La Soul would say, ‘Three..is the magic number’..!

Have you divided your own garden into thirds?

Need some help and step-by-step instructions on how to do it for your size and shape garden? Then do check out our great range of online garden design courses!

Or do you prefer done for you?

Do you need some help designing your garden? If you’d like garden designers Ali and Rachel to design your garden, please take a look at our postal garden design service.



About Ali Conway

Professional Garden Designer with over 15 years experience, working for Successful Garden Design offering design layout plans, perspective sketches and full planting plans to clients all over the world. RHS Chelsea Flower Show silver medalist, blogger and contributor to the Design Show. Take a look at our Postal Design Service for more info.


  1. These are some great tips, and I appreciate your advice to plant things in groups of three to make your garden more visually appealing. My husband and I just moved into our first house, and I really want to make our landscape look as nice as possible. I'll definitely keep the rule of three in mind, and I'll make sure to plant in clusters of three. Thanks for the great post! http://lmfinegardens.com/profile.html

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