5 Keys to a Well Designed Garden
1. A Plan
Picture yourself in the evening, walking around outside your home, a cup of coffee or glass of wine in your hand. What do you notice about your yard? Does it fill you with a sense of peace and wellbeing, do its bright colours lift your mood? Do you remember happy moments with people you love that happened right where you are standing? These are just a few of the intangible benefits that come with having a well planned landscape. You are able to enjoy being outside rather than stressing out about all the things that need to be changed or fixed.
Having a landscape plan, whether it is the vision you have in your mind’s eye or a professional landscape design allows you to avoid mistakes before they happen.
The best landscapes are thought out in fine detail, resulting in a welcoming, easy feeling as you experience them. It becomes evident that everything in it has been arranged with care. There is a flow from the inside to outside and outdoor living areas are conveniently located. Pretty paths direct you as you move throughout the property and all the plants are interesting and harmonious.
Think through how you would like to use your own space. Is there a logical place for sitting? Will you have a bbq? Do you want irrigation? What colours do you love? Do you want your landscape to be a place of energy or of calm? So many questions to consider and a good landscape plan addresses them all.
2. A Focal Point
Sometimes we need to be told where to look. A sweet statue tucked into a corner makes the eye stop and consider what it is seeing. A gate invites us to go beyond. A focal point can be large and architectural like a large fountain, a pergola or door. It could can also be simple, like a bird bath or bird house, a pretty container, an old wheelbarrow planted with flowers, even just a pretty plant. Focal points are one of the best ways to bring personality to your garden.
Because focal points are designed to draw our attention, they are best placed where they on an axis. Notice how the path in the above photo directs your eye to the large pot. The size of the pot is approximately one third of the height of the pink flowering tree that frames this composition. As a result, he gravel path seems much longer than it is due to this forced perspective.
When you are sitting outside in your favourite nook, there should be a focal point directly opposite. As I sit here and type, the view outside my closest window is a very tall cedar hedge. It is one big green wall and it feels a little claustrophobic. I have decided that I will look for a birdhouse on a tall stand to go in front of the hedge, high enough that I can see it from where I sit. This changes the hedge from simply being a wall to acting as a backdrop for the bird house. It will give my gaze somewhere to linger as I stare out the window for inspiration.
One of the best things you can do when designing your garden is to look out your windows. What do you see? Is there something pretty to catch your eye each time you walk past? If not, join me and get cracking.
These focal points ground us in the garden and contribute to our sense of place. They underscore the intentionality of the design and offer food for thought. Don't let your garden be without them.
The key to a cohesive landscape is repetition. In the same way interior designers repeat wall colours and accent colours throughout a house, landscape designers use repetition of colour, texture, and materials to create a great landscape.
Let’s look at some examples, shall we? In the photo below, a well meaning homeowner tried to follow the repetition rule. There are a few things to note: repetition is not a substitute for mass planting; when you look at a mass planting, your eyes view the plants as one unit. This repetition of the petunias (?) feels rather choppy. Did you notice the repetition of the pavers in the distant raised planter as well as in the path and patio? Repetition points there. Savvy readers will also notice the repetition of the green colour in the boldly painted bistro set.
This next picture is a great example of repetition. The dark purple salvia stands out, but more importantly it draws your eye all the way to the end of the path where there is a great little trough (focal point) with purple flowers spilling out of it. The rounded boxwood shrubs anchor the space and provide a lovely backdrop for the salvia. The smaller lavender coloured flowers along the edge of the path underscore the purple pallet and serve to soften the whole look. Notice the subtle white blooms all the way along. This is also clever repetition at work.
4. Seasonal Interest
Having spent over a decade living in Edmonton, Alberta, the need for seasonal interest is entrenched in my heart. Winter in Victoria means something entirely different from winter in Alberta. Regardless of where you live, your landscape needs to look lovely year round.
Here on the island, we get beautiful fall colours. In this photo above, you'll see repetition in the fall colour as well as a focal point on an axis. The texture of plants are highlighted and the whole feeling is a little dreamy, as if we have found ourselves in a story book. The vibrant reds and yellows the come early in the fall have faded to more muted versions later in the season. It is at this point in the year when form and texture become the stars of the landscape. We notice the shape of the leaves more, especially when they stand out from the neighbouring plant. After the perennials have finished, grasses stand tall, now as bleached out architectural features amongst the shrubs. Winter heathers are a pretty contrast to the grey days, and in January, a blooming witch hazel’s scented yellow blossoms are breathtaking.
In Alberta, snow for halloween was guaranteed and spring didn’t really start until May. (Anything that grew in April was bonus and at risk of a surprise snowstorm.) That is a lot of time to be without green. What do you do when snow covers everything? You make sure that the foundation is interesting. Shrubs of different heights create soft mounds and curves when covered a foot of snow. Trellises, arbors and pergolas take on new significance and provide creative opportunities for twinkling lights. Dogwoods with their red, yellow and chartreuse bark are great respite from all the white. And don’t forget trees with berries that brighten up any landscape.
The best gardens have secrets, a little mystery that rewards the visitor. Something tucked away, not immediately visible, but perhaps hinted at. It could be a little nook or enclosed space, like a pergola covered with vines, or a pretty bench nestled in behind a shrub.
Often, especially in new developments, homeowners have a small, fenced in yard that offers little to no natural mystery. In these situations, creating a path that curves around a large shrub or tree can help to highlight the unknown. We are hardwired to wonder where a path goes... to the left, to the right, to adventure? This subtle mystery enhances our experience in the landscape.
What about those with particularly small gardens, apartment balconies, rooftop gardens, or even just some containers by a door? When mystery is not an option surprise and delight become the goal. Get creative with your containers. I love these tool box and truck planters! So cute, and what a great way to get kids involved.
If you remember these five basics: a plan, focal points, repetition, seasonal interest and secrets, you'll be on your way to your dream landscape.