In this era of computers, there is an app for everything. When it comes to doing your own design for the garden around your new home, or making improvements to an existing garden, there are an enormous number of apps that set out to help you. From professional garden design software to simple free apps, it’s relatively easy to create a plan of your space and layout the features you want to have. You can be given ideas for surfaces and plants, and it’s no longer difficult to come up with – and implement – a layout for any space. How successful it is going to be in the longer term, and if you will be happy with the outcome – that’s a different story.
How to Succeed with a New Garden
Success in creating a garden depends on a few key points. The first thing to remember is that garden design if fundamentally different from interior design, and planning your living room or kitchen. The big difference is that when you set out the new furniture and hang the pictures in your new living room, you are done. When you set out a garden, you are only just beginning. A garden plan is only an initial guide to layout – the plants have to do the work from then on, with successes, failures and replacements. Ultimately a garden is grown, not planned. Nature has her way and your climate, local weather, soil type, light levels, water supply and the care the garden receives all determine what it will look like. That is where choosing the right plants and knowing how to care for them becomes important, and on our site you will already find lots of blogs on the theory and practice of gardening – as well as our detailed plant descriptions, that make it so much easier to make the right choices.
And Yet. . .
But after all this, something is still missing. That something is the question, “What exactly do you want your garden to look like?” Take a look at the enormous variety of gardens out there, and you quickly realize that a garden can look like many different things. No app is going to show you how to do that, because you need some knowledge of what it is that generates that ‘look’. Without a sense of where you are going, and what look you are striving for, your new garden is going to be an experiment, and one that is more likely to end up disappointing you than satisfying you.
Every successful garden design has a distinctive ‘look’ that is often called the garden’s ‘style’. Once you know a bit you can often see the hand of a specific designer in a garden, or see when it was probably laid out. [Personally I hate the word ‘style’ for a garden, and maybe ‘theme’ or ‘look’ are better – but for better or worse that is the word most widely used, so I will use it too!)
These styles didn’t just drop out of space – they are the creation of specific cultures (Japanese gardens, Moorish gardens); specific talented people who created a whole new look during some specific period (Garden designers, famous garden owners); and specific climates that create constraints on planting, which in turn generates a certain look (Mediterranean gardens, Xeric gardens, city gardens).
So what I am going to start today is a series of blogs that look at different garden styles, not just as pretty pictures, but taking them apart, and seeing what elements there are, what plants are used, and how to create that ‘look’ in your own space. As I add a new one I will come back here and put in a link, so depending on when you read this, how many pieces you can access will vary! Once I am done I will edit this, so if you are reading these words there are more pieces to come 😊 Right now there is the Classic American Garden, the New American Garden and the English Flower Garden available. You can also see how to make a Japanese Style Garden around your house. Keep an eye out for more. . .
Choosing a Garden Style
Now of course you can make your garden look like anything you want, but there are a couple of things you might want to take into account, so let’s take a look at those.
This is a major consideration, pretty obviously, because you can’t have a palm tree tropical garden in Maine, and you can’t have a lush rhododendron garden in Arizona. What plants you can (or can’t) grow depends on winter minimums, annual rainfall, summer heat, soil type, just to name a few obvious ones, and plant choices in turn influence garden style – although a certain look can often be created from a wide variety of plants, giving more flexibility.
A word designers like is ‘vernacular’. They mean what has already been done in your neighborhood, and how it already looks. The age and architecture of the neighborhood is important, and while we Americans are all bold individuals, sometimes it makes sense to bend a little to the look of our neighborhood, and create a garden in a style to can already be found around you. After all, your neighbors and the people who owned these homes before have already learned to adapt to local conditions, and their choices may be wise ones. . .
We can add the same thing about your own home. I would suggest that a garden is an extension of the house – a growing out of your home into the natural world around it. The famous garden designer Russell Page says that the planting and layout closer to a home should be more formal, becoming more natural as you move away from built structures. This is good advice, and almost always the wise thing to do. This is why smaller gardens look best with more structure, while bigger ones can have more natural planting around the edges.
As well, a Japanese garden around an Arts and Crafts home is inevitably going to look ‘odd’ against such a home. Houses of that period call out for a classic look, especially directly around the house. The same is true of a mid-century home, which is likely to look out of place surrounded by a garden that looks perfect around a 19th century home. Of course you can make any garden you want, but this is something worth considering.
Don’t Forget to Sign Your Work
Don’t worry, your name in flowers on the lawn is not what I mean! One way to recognize the work of famous gardeners is their tendency to use particular favorite plants. Do the same in your garden. If you have a plant you love, don’t be afraid to plant lots of them – be they roses, lilacs, daylilies or unique conifers. Repeating a particular plant – a variety of Hosta for example – helps tie your beds and your garden together and give it a unified look. It’s a ‘designer’s secret’ to creating a coherent whole out of a bunch of different plants and elements.
Now to Work
Once you have chosen a style for your garden, that will guide you in how to lay it out, and in selecting the plants to use. Choosing a style will open the gate to the garden of your dreams. Now you can use that useful app to turn your ideas into reality on the ground – style is everything!