4 Rules for a Spectacular Garden

Folks often stop and remark on my garden.  It’s fairly young – going on 3 years – with lots and lots left to do.  But by thinking through the 4 rules, below, the garden feels much more mature than its years.

Garden-Art "The Devil"
This “Devil Man” has guarded my gardens for the past 12 years as it did my Mother’s for almost 30 years


1.  Think Style & Maintenance before Digging or Buying Plants
Sun versus Shade; Formal versus Casual; Modern vs. Traditional; Symmetrical vs. Balanced, Summer vs. Spring, Alfresco Dining vs. View From the Window,
High Maintenance or Self-Caring, Dogs & Children vs. Delicate Plantings, Food Production vs. Views.

These are not all mutually exclusive but just like any home remodeling project —  you need to start with your goals, lifestyle, and aesthetics.  Your answers will dramatically change what you plant and where you plant.   For example, the classic boxwood will rarely look as comfortable in a casual garden than a formal one.  And self-seeding annuals and perennials will make a cottage garden dramatically easier but will be the bane of a gardener who wants order.  Pressure-treated lumber works well in a casual garden as does irregular flagstone but concrete, painted wood and regular flagstone are more suited to a very modern garden.

Garden Art and Structure
The Decking, Fence, Walls & Stone River were installed Before Plantings


2.  Think Structure before Plants
Structure refers walks, decks, patios, pergolas and other built items often referred to as “hardscape”.  It also refers to plants and the planting structure.

Three examples:  First, think about planting on a hill.  Somewhat counter intuitively, your yard will feel more balanced if the plants get taller as they move up the hill.  Recognizing this requires you to select the plants you’re going to use before buying or planting any of them.

Second, also counter intuitively, breaking up a small (or large) garden into separate (but visually integrated) areas will make it feel larger.  In all gardens, the area will feel larger and more balanced if you think structurally about foreground, mid-ground and background.  Start with this structure before you start planting.  For example, I installed a low (36”) fence inset from the sidewalk on my very small front yard in order to make it feel larger.  If I had decided to do this after I planted, I would need to remove and reinstall plants.

Third, installing patios and other “hardscape” disturbs roots.  Ideally, you want to plan and build all your structures before starting you planting – or leave at least 8-10 feet so that you won’t need to disturb your roots while building.

And of course, plants grow.  You need to think about the mature size of plants when planting shrubs and trees.  While they’re growing you can fill in with annuals or self-seeding or spreading perennials.  For example, in the border garden depicted in the images 2-4 below, I purposefully planted several rapidly spreading perennials (a mum, a euphorbia, and a Caryopteris) to help take over the large swaths of former lawn while the shrubs and other perennials could establish themselves.  I’m now starting to pull out (and either move or give away) the excess as other plants come in.  With this strategy, the area looks good and I have less weeding to do in the garden’s early years.

Garden Art & Structure
Plants Grow over and around Fencing & Walkways; Notice Also Different Leaf Types


3.  Think Foliage before Flowers
Flowers on trees, shrubs and perennials last only weeks while foliage is visible and prominent all year – or for 7-9 months depending on your zone.   Between foliage color, texture and form, you can create dramatic vignettes without any flowers at all.  When you think foliage, you can also more easily create a year-round garden rather than one that looks terrific only 1- 3 months of the year.  Also consider what works in your climate and sun exposure.  There are lots of plants that wilt or mildew in Washington DC’s hot humid summers.  Similarly, there are plants that do well in Washington’s shade but will burn-up or become diseasedin the sun.  For example, Euonymous is a wonderful plant for the Shade but will become overrun by scale in the sun.  On the other hand, many plants will look scraggly or fail to bloom without enough sun.  Unless you want a lot of work, think about what works in your climate and sun exposure.

Garden Art & Foliage
Variations in Foliage Form and Color Can Substitute for Flowers


Garden Art & Foliage
Notice How the Rocks and Fence Also Add to the Drama of the Vignette


Garden Art & Foliage
Foliage Variation is Just as Important and Dramatic in the Sun

4.  Now Decorate Your Garden!
A decorated garden can fit within any style.  Rocks, Found-Objects, and Sculpture are wonderful foils for plants.  And they make your garden truly one-of-a-kind.  And you can re-decorate your garden just as you do your home.  Enjoy!

Garden Art - Glass
Rejects From My Glass Studio Help Decorate the Garden As Faux Fungus Forms


Garden Ar - Ducks
Bath Tub Ducks Migrated to the Rocks Around the Pond


Garden Art - Stained Glass
Stained Glass in the Garden


Garden Art - Abstract
Abstract Art – Notice the Layers of Foliage Interest


Photo Taken by chris5aw — see her photo stream on Flickr

Garden Art - Modern Garden
Color, Structure, Foliage and Art is Equally Vital in the Modern Garden


Photo Taken by Aimee Quiggle, See Her Photo Stream on Flickr

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