This may be an unfamiliar term for a familiar method of . As leaves fall and soft green plants die back we are able to see the structure of a planting scheme and the rigid elements that are present through the winter too. We talk about the ‘bones’ of the garden and this is a good way to think of structural planting: the skeleton of the garden. And as with skeletons there are two different forms.
External: hedges, shrubs and woody plants provide a ‘container’ for bulbs and cottage garden plants to fill with soft foliage and colour. An herbaceous border backed by a Yew hedge is a good example, especially if the path is lined with Lavender or evenly spaced clipped evergreen balls. Such schemes can include the very formal and geometric Parterre gardens where low Box hedges form patterns even without any flowering plants inside.
Internal: typical of a mixed border and generally less formal. A combination of evergreen and deciduous shrubs form a backbone for a mixture of bulbs, herbaceous, smaller shrubs and ground cover. The planting plan does not have to be geometric or symmetrical but the structural elements should be spaced fairly evenly through the border. There is of course a huge number of shrubs and small trees to choose from but deciding on a colour scheme narrows the choice down. Then you want a balance of evergreen for winter form and deciduous for autumn colour, include one or two with decorative stems or berries and add a splash with something variegated. Remember too that larger grasses such as Miscanthus remain upright through the winter.
Think of structural planting as the furniture in a room – get it right first and then fill in the gaps to create style and colour all year round.