Designing Your Garden – What Makes a Good Garden?

Garden design is a very personal thing and is often an expression of your personality. What I like you, you may not and vise versa. Some people like neat and tidy gardens where there are no surprises, others love the thrill of windy paths, lots of different plant material and not knowing what is around the corner. There are three main styles of gardens formal, semi formal and informal. They can then be divided into many types of gardens and that depends on what you would like. Garden design can be intimately tidied to the style of your house as in example of the grand french chateaux where the geometric patterns of the garden mimic the geometric construction of the house or it can have no connection to your house at all.

Some people are lucky and have this innate gift of knowing how to design space, making it a pleasing place to be in. Others don’t have this gene and find it very difficult to visualise how the space will work. To create a good design it is important you understand that design is about managing space and people moving around it. The core of good garden design centres round patterns and the space within these patterns. By using geometrical shapes, circles, triangles, rectangles etc. you can achieve a unified feel to your garden. So you need to think about ground patterns and movement around your garden. Where would you like people to go? Ground patterns can be achieved with the use of bricks, paving and plant material such as cut grass etc.

Formal gardens are symmetrical and geometrical and are strict in terms of repeating patterns and plant materials on either side. It is very controlled, plants are clipped, shaped, manipulated regularly and today is often suitable for small gardens like court yards. Urns, balustrades, stone, gravel paths, parterres, formal pools and framed views are all part of the formal garden. There are no surprises, you know what to expect.

Informal designs are asymmetrical and not as regimented. Plant material is allowed to spill over the structural elements such as walls, steps and paths. Plant material is allowed to self-seed and wander around the garden. Informal garden design is softer, full of surprises thus you don’t know what to expect.

And semi formal is the combination of the above two. Usually it is the built structures such as retaining walls, paths and steps that are formal and the informal element is the plant material which is allowed to spill over them, softening their hard outlines.

Within these three types, there are many different styles of gardens to choose from such as contemporary, Japanese, Mediterranean, cottage, courtyard, kitchen garden or secret garden.

Contemporary is a modern style that likes to reflect the surrounding but also use a wide range of plant material. Form and texture of foliage are as important as flowers. Hard landscaping is woven into geometrical shaped buildings; all of which flow into the wider landscape. Plants are used as focal points to highlight the architectural forms.

Cottage was a late nineteenth-century ideal to return to the simple cottages of the country. They were planted with hardy bulbs, flowers, fruit bushes and herbs and vegetables. They were geometric, colours were harmonised and luxurious as plants grew well as they were heavily manured regularly.

Mediterranean is not limited to one particular area but are defined according to hot summers and low rainfall. They encompass entertaining areas, shade, good views and dramatic shadows. Hot colourful plants are used and lots of lush green foliage plants to create a cool atmosphere. Plants need to be drought tolerant. Evergreen plants are popular because they cast shade on hot days. Walls are white washed to reflect the sun, pergolas built to create shade and use terracotta pots. There is often a water feature and water provides cooling vibes.

Japanese gardens encompasses religion and Japan’s cultural history. Japanese gardens are very symbolic often the symbols relate to nature. Plants are ‘tamed’ and there is an emphasis on evergreen trees and shrubs. They are very controlled and often minimalist. True Japanese gardens are contemplative a place of meditation and great calm.

Planning

If you feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start when designing your garden, I suggest you break it up into areas called rooms thus dividing one big space into several smaller spaces. For example: there is the front garden, the side garden and the back garden. Once you have decided where they begin and end you can then divide each of those areas up again. For example in the back garden you could have the entertaining area, the grass/children’s area, the utilities area (includes the compost heap and shed), the pool area and the vegetable/orchard area. Once you have defined the areas/rooms you can tackle one at a time, thus making a huge project into several smaller projects.

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