Designing the Garden Style

After the structure of your landscape is designed it is time to decide on a design style


Whether you are working on a complete landscape design, reworking elements of an existing landscape, or just adding planting areas or gardens, climate conditions and growing conditions need to be evaluated before any planting can begin.  You also need to choose a garden style that harmonizes with anything that currently exists on the property, including the home itself.  Remember that the style and colors you choose will also be viewed from inside your home, think of your outdoor spaces as an extension of your home.  Just like coordinating rooms within your home to work well together in color and style, you will want to extend some coordination to the landscape as well.  Using a wide range of colors in your gardens is perfectly acceptable, if not encouraged.  But if the interior of your home is primarily in a palette of eggplant, you may not want all your color elements seen from the inside to be red.  Just make a point to incorporate colors from inside your home into the elements outside.  Use some of your interior colors primarily closer to the house, for example patio furniture, foundation plantings and window boxes. They can provide a nice transition to other colors further into the property.


But first, a basic understanding of garden and landscape style is helpful.  Style will help you achieve harmony and balance with the elements of your landscape.  Just like the elements you have incorporated  into the structural design need to make sense with your lifestyle and how you will use them, the visual design needs to make sense.  Everything should be coordinated into a similar style.  If you have a colonial style home, an oriental style garden or even just accents will not make sense.  On the other hand, a very formal architecture does not necessarily demand a very formal landscape design.  Something leaning toward a more casual English or Romantic style that includes the balance of a formal garden will harmonize nicely.

Formal Garden Style


A strictly formal garden is designed mathematically.  Everything, whether a plant, structure, or accent, is incorporated in even numbers and is evenly spaced.  Perfect symmetry is created by placing identical items of identical size in mirror images flanking a structure, such as an entryway, driveway, or patio.  The hallmarks of a formal garden are long axial views (meaning that you can draw a line down the middle and everything on either side will be identical), clipped hedges and circular or square shapes, no curves.  A strictly formal landscaping style conveys power, control, and yes, wealth.  Plants typically used in a formal garden are clipped privet and boxwood hedges, pruned topiary, roses and herbs.  Shrubs and trees are placed in hedge-like rows.  Accents and structural elements may include sundials, fountains, and statues.

Formal gardens are most commonly designed with those principles used only as guidelines.  Balance is achieved not with symmetry, but by using elements of dissimilar size and form.  Perhaps a birdbath on one side of a bench, and an ornamental tree on the other side.  Symmetrical  views and hedges are replaced by winding paths through gardens of flowering shrubs and trees, roses, and annual and perennial beds.  Japanese gardens are very formal with perfectly pruned trees, shrubs and topiaries, yet are completely asymmetrical and full of curves.

If you prefer a more formal design, adding a few formal elements to an informal design will likely achieve the results you want.  The front of your home is the ideal place to add formal touches:  pruned hedges; balanced or symmetrical plantings flanking the front entry; a single topiary; identical urns at the front door.

Oriental Garden Design


An oriental garden, though appearing to be informal in many ways, is in fact dictated by very rigid rules of formality.  Shrubs and trees are clipped, and water, rocks and plants are meticulously placed to create a serene space.  Flowers are not generally used, but rather rocks, bridges, waterfalls, and ponds filled with koi fish.  Oriental gardens are created for quiet reflection and meditation in nature.  An oriental style can work well with a contemporary style home.  Plants often used are small flowering fruit trees, bamboo, dwarf evergreens and Japanese maples.  Accents and structural elements may include lanterns, bamboo fences, serenity gardens of raked sand or a bed of stones.  Creating a well designed oriental garden requires substantial knowledge of the design principles, and are filled with symbolism.  Start studying, or hire a professional

English Garden Design


It is difficult to concisely define English gardening, but it is based on a simplicity that blends the gardens into the natural landscape.  The primary elements in an English Garden are a mixture of perennials, roses, climbing vines and herbs, all blended into the natural surroundings.  Long views of lawn bordered by the lush plantings is common.  Ambling paths, reflection ponds, and sitting areas with iron furniture to enjoy “tea”, as well as Palladian structures and statuary are incorporated into the design.  The style can be both relaxed and relaxing, full of curves and overflowing garden beds.  But just as often English Gardens can be quite formal, and dominated by straight lines and rectangular spaces.  Cottage Gardens are the most informal of English gardens.

Cottage Garden Design


A cottage garden is an unassuming, diverse mass of plants, “placed” haphazardly.  The style is unquestionably informal.  The cottage garden embraces all that is “homey” and humble; small picket fences, porches, and small cozy spaces.  Colorful perennials placed in artful patches throughout the small landscape are often edged with brick and connected with pathways.  All manner of geometric shapes are used to enhance the planting areas.  Rose bushes are used in abundance, as well as vine covered structures.  Whimsical accents are gaily strewn throughout the design.  A kitchen garden with herbs and vegetables is common.  Since Cottage Gardens are generally created for small properties, there is generally little space left for lawn.


Because of a strong attachment to large lawn areas, American landscapes are generally some mix of design styles tailored to the individual.  Symmetry is rarely employed, other than perhaps for the front of a more formal home.  A formal-leaning balance of elements combined with the loosely styled casual elements of English gardens is most often the choice of homeowners.  This combination is easy to conform to personal taste.  But do avoid mixing up too many diverse elements of style, your landscape will become disjointed and not result in the harmony that creates comfort.

Sharon DwyerComment