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Demystifying garden design

by Timber Press on January 15, 2019

in Design, Gardening

Elevated on a pedestal in the garden, this pink-themed container pops. The variety of texture and habit—from the arching Fireworks red fountain grass to the Superbena Sparkling Ruby—add interest and drama.

How do you choose the garden designs best suited to your yard? The answer, of course, depends on your personal style. The secret to creating a space in which you are comfortable is to make your yard an honest expression of who you are and what you like.

This is also the key to giving your landscape the sort of personal flavor that makes it interesting to others. you may find in these pages just the recipes you need, but you should also feel free to treat them as starting points, extracting ideas that you incorporate into your own original design. Also remember that you don’t have to limit yourself to a single style. You may, for example, adopt a more formal design for the front yard entrance to your home, and an informal one to frame the backyard terrace where you like to entertain. Similarly, a planting of tropical exuberance may seem best suited poolside; closer to the house, you may want something more restrained. As you leaf through the recipes and find the ones that suit your fancy, keep these design basics in mind.

Surround bird-related accessories such as birdhouses or birdbaths with plants that provide cover, nesting space, or berries. This attractive birdbath, which makes a statement without overwhelming the planting, is a welcome addition to a garden designed to attract songbirds. Dark cherry pink bee balm, white summer snapdragons, and golden-colored perennial sunflowers are among the features.

Easy Clues
Design is a word that intimidates most home landscapers—having never thought of themselves as designers, they don’t know where to begin. But the fact is that you, like everyone else, have already developed a personal style. First, look in your clothes closet, and you’ll see which colors you favor. Do you prefer soft pastels or bold, bright hues? Do you like clothes with a daring, innovative cut, or do you prefer the timeless appeal of traditional styles? Take these preferences into the landscape and the result will fit you as well as your favorite suit—or jeans.

Another clue to garden design lies in taking a good look around your home. How have you furnished your house? Do you lean toward the clean simple lines of Scandinavian-modern furniture? Then a stripped-down minimalist look is likely to be the one for your garden. Or do you prefer the cozy exuberance of a country look? You’ll probably feel most comfortable with a colorful and informal planting. If you feel at home with a French Provincial–style living room, consider similar formality in your garden. Reflecting your individual style in your garden or container will elevate it from the routine to the personal.

If your landscaping efforts complement the style of your house, they will have far more impact. For example, a simple four-square pattern of beds provides a historically authentic entrance to a colonial; a cottage-garden-style potpourri of flowers enhances the intimate charm of a bungalow or Cape Cod house. On the other hand, a formal Japanese-style garden would clash with a historic cottage, though it may perfectly suit the spare aesthetic of contemporary architecture.

An additional point to keep in mind as you work on your design is what you hope to gain from your garden. Do you want lots of flowers to cut for the house? Then be sure you have space for a cutting garden. Do you want to entertain on a back porch decorated with flashy tropical plants or long-blooming annuals in hanging baskets? Go for it. Are you a budding or accomplished chef? You will probably want an herb garden near the kitchen door, or a container of culinary herbs by the back door or alongside the barbeque grill. Remember that this is your garden, and it should reflect your preferences.

The pink blooms in the featured container (Supertunia Vista Bubblegum) are repeated in the cluster of additional planters on the far side of the pool, uniting the scene.

Practical Matters
Few of us possess unlimited budgets, and so designing the landscape becomes a matter of figuring out what we can do with what we’ve got. Here are a few important points to consider while planning your landscape.

One way to create a luxurious landscape on a limited financial budget is to divide the property into a number of separate manageable projects—such as front yard, backyard, side yard, deck, or patio. Some people prefer to start by working on the most visible area, such as the front entryway, embarking on other projects as money becomes available. Alternatively, you may want to hold off on the bigger, more visible areas until you’ve gained more experience and confidence, and tackle the less-prominent areas first.

In your enthusiasm for having a garden, it can be easy to go overboard, designing a space that you don’t have enough time or energy to care for. Before you begin, make an honest and conservative assessment of the time you will have available on a regular basis for maintenance. If small children and a demanding job leave you with very little leisure, consider limiting your plantings to containers and hanging baskets, which, after installation, require only a few minutes daily for watering and other maintenance. By starting small you will avoid planting a garden that becomes a chore, or worse, an eyesore.

Working with What’s There
Use the existing shrubbery and trees as a framework for your design. Tucking colorful flowers in the ground or in containers around and among your foundation plants can give the entryway a look of instant maturity. You can also provide established shrubs with a new look (if desired) by selective pruning. Clipped azaleas gain a more natural profile by snipping out branches here and there, and allowing the remaining ones to grow freely.

Conversely, you can give a shaggy evergreen a more formal look by trimming it to a symmetrical profile with hedge clippers. For new plantings, always consider the mature size of the plants. It is not uncommon to see overgrown foundation shrub plantings that have almost swallowed the residence. Pruning takes time, or money to hire professionals, so select shrubs and trees to be in scale for their chosen spots.


Ruth Rogers Clausen has received the GWA Gold Award, and she was the horticulture editor for Country Living Gardener for more than seven years.




Thomas Christopher writes about horticulture for The New York Times, The Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society, and Horticulture Magazine. He is also a columnist for House & Garden and a contributing editor at Martha Stewart Living.



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