Garden Design

Garden design –

Garden design is the art and process of designing and creating plans for layout and planting of gardens and landscapes. Garden design may be done by the garden owner themselves, or by professionals of varying levels of experience and expertise. Most professional garden designers are trained in principles of design and in horticulture, and have an expert knowledge and experience of using plants. Some professional garden designers are also landscape architects, a more formal level of training that usually requires an advanced degree and often a state license. Many amateur gardeners also attain a high level of experience from extensive hours working in their own gardens, through casual study, serious study in Master Gardener Programs, or by joining gardening clubs. For examples of the latter see The Gardeners of America/Men’s Garden Clubs of America and National Garden Clubs. Many gardeners in the United States join the American Horticultural Society.

Garden owners have shown an increasing interest in garden design during the late twentieth century, both as enthusiasts of gardening as a hobby, as well as an expansion in the use of professional garden designers.

Elements of garden design

Whether a garden is designed by a professional or an amateur, certain principles form the basis of effective garden design, resulting in the creation of gardens to meet the needs, goals and desires of the users or owners of the gardens.

Elements of garden design include the layout of hard landscape, such as paths, walls, water features, sitting areas and decking; as well as the plants themselves, with consideration for their horticultural requirements, their season-to-season appearance, lifespan, growth habit, size, speed of growth, and combinations with other plants and landscape features. Consideration is also given to the maintenance needs of the garden, including the time or funds available for regular maintenance, which can affect the choices of plants regarding speed of growth, spreading or self-seeding of the plants, whether annual or perennial, and bloom-time, and many other characteristics.

The most important consideration in garden design is how the garden will be used, followed closely by the desired stylistic genres, and the way the garden space will connect to the home or other structures in the surrounding areas. All of these considerations are subject to the limitations of the budgetary concerns for the particular project and time. Budget limitations can be addressed by a simpler more basic garden style with fewer plants and less costly hardscape materials, seeds rather than sod for lawns, and plants that grow quickly; alternately, garden owners may choose to create their garden over time, area by area, putting more into each section than could be handled all at once.


A garden’s location has a substantial influence on the garden design. Many of the great gardens of history and today possess a location that is topographically significant and has a suitable microclimate for plants, a well-designed connection to water, and rich soil. However, a good garden design, one that is well-planned and constructed, can increase the value of the garden more than its location.


The quality of a garden’s soil often has a significant influence on the success of the garden. Soil influences the availability of water and nutrients, the activity of beneficial soil organisms, and a wide variety of other factors important to plant growth.

Traditionally, garden soil is improved by amendment, the process of adding beneficial materials to the excavated native subsoil and topsoil. The materials, which may consist of compost, peat, sand, mineral dust, or manure, among others, are mixed with the excavated soil. The amount and type of amendment may depend on the ratio of clay to humus, and on the soil acidity or alkalinity. One source states that, “conditioning the soil thoroughly before planting enables the plants to establish themselves quickly and so play their part in the design.”[1]

Recommendations regarding the scope of soil amendment may vary. One rule of thumb suggests that the gardener till and amend an area twice the size high and wide of any plant container.

However, not all gardens are, or should be, amended in this manner. Since “many native plants prefer an impoverished soil, and the closer to their natural habitat they are in the garden, the better”. In this case, poor soil is better than a rich soil that has been artificially enriched.[2]

As well, some authorities recommend against the amendment of soil for woody plants.[3]


The look of the garden can be influenced strongly by the boundary impinges. Planting can be used to modify the boundary line or a line between an area of rough grass and smooth, depending on the size of the plot. Introducing internal boundaries, perhaps in the form of hedges or group of shrubs, can help break up a garden.

Hedges vary their colors throughout the seasons dramatically. Hedges, being strong features in a garden, are often used to divide sections of the garden. However, since they use the moisture and nutrient from the garden soil to grow as well as other plants, they may not be a good choice and may bring a negative effect to the other plants.

Besides the boundaries that are made up of plants like the hedges, walls made up of various materials can be built between regions. There are broadly three types of walling material: stone, either random or coursed, brick, and concrete in its various forms. It is good to determine what color, size, and texture will be most appropriate for the garden before actually building the wall.

According to Brookes, fencing can offer an alternative solution, is the walls are too solid for the region of the garden. There are several numbers of fence types that can be used for a garden: animal-proof fence for country situations, peep-proof fences for the suburbs, and urban fences that provide shelter from the winds in exposed roof-top gardens and create internal barriers.

Alternative Surfacing

Usually, a smooth expanse of lawn is often considered essential to a garden. However, a textured surface “made up of loose gravel, small pebbles, or wood chips is much more satisfactory visually” than a smooth surface.[4] According to Brookes, creating a relaxed feel to a garden is often done by loose surfacing made up of bark chips, pebbles, gravels; also, the various textures, shapes, sizes, colors, and materials of many different paving elements can contribute to making a garden plan pattern and texture, if they are mixed successfully.

Planting design

Planting design requires design judgement combined with a good level of horticultural, ecological and cultural knowledge. It includes two major systems: formal planting design and naturalistic planting design.
Planting design

The history of planting design is an aspect of the history of gardening and the history of landscape architecture. Planting in ancient gardens was often a mix of herbs for medicinal use, vegetables for consumption and flowers for decoration. Purely aesthetic planting layouts seem to have developed after the renaissance and are clearly shown in late-renaissance paintings and plans. The designs were geometrical and plants were used to form patterns. In the East, naturalistic planting design originated as early as around 200 B.C. in China. In the West, the arrangement of plants in informal groups developed as part of the landscape garden style and was strongly influenced by the picturesque.

A planting plan gives specific instructions, often for a contractor about how the soil is to be prepared, what species are to be planted, what size and spacing is to be used and what maintenance operations are to be carried out under the contract. Owners of private gardens may also use planting plans, not for contractual purposes, as an aid to thinking about a design and as a record of what has been planted. A planting strategy is a long term strategy for the design, establishment and management of different types of vegetation in a landscape or garden.

Planting can be established by directly employed gardeners and horticulturalists or it can be established by a landscape contractor (also known as a landscape gardener). Landscape contractors work to drawings and specifications prepared by garden designers or landscape architects.

Garden furniture

Garden furniture may range from a patio set consisting of a table, four or six chairs and a parasol, through benches, swings, various lighting, to stunning artifacts in brutal concrete or weathered oak.[5] Patio heaters, that run on bottled butane or propane, are often used to enable people to sit outside at night or in cold weather. A picnic table, is used for the purpose of eating a meal outdoors such as in a garden.

The materials used to manufacture modern patio furniture include stones, metals, vinyl, plastics, resins, glass, and treated woods.


While sunlight is not always easily controlled by the gardener, it is an important element of garden design. The amount of available light is a critical factor in determining what plants may be grown. Sunlight will, therefore, have a substantial influence on the character of the garden. For example, a rose garden is generally not successful in full shade, while a garden of hostas may not thrive in hot sun. As another example, a vegetable garden may need to be placed in a sunny location, and if that location is not ideal for the overall garden design goals, the designer may need to change other aspects of the garden.

In some cases, the amount of available sunlight can be influenced by the gardener. The location of trees, other shade plants, garden structures, or, when designing an entire property, even buildings, might be selected or changed based on their influence in increasing or reducing the amount of sunlight provided to various areas of the property.

In other cases, the amount of sunlight is not under the gardener’s control. Nearby buildings, plants on other properties, or simply the climate of the local area, may limit the available sunlight. Or, substantial changes in the light conditions of the garden may not be within the gardener’s means. In this case, it is important to plan a garden that is compatible with the existing light conditions.

Light regulates three major plant processes: photosynthesis, phototropism, and photoperiodism.

Photosynthesis provides the energy required to produce the energy source of plants.

Phototropism is the effect of light on plant growth that causes the plant to grow toward or away from the light.[6] Photoperiodism is a plant’s response or capacity to respond to photoperiod, a recurring cycle of light and dark periods of constant length.[7]


Garden lighting can be an important aspect of garden design. In most cases, various types of lighting techniques may be classified and defined by heights: safety lighting, uplighting, and downlighting. Safety lighting is the most practical application. However, it is more important to determine the type of lamps and fittings needed to create the desired effects.

Types of gardens

Formal garden
French formal parterre at Villandry in the Loire Valley

A formal garden in the Western gardening tradition[8] is a neat and ordered garden laid out in carefully planned geometric and symmetric lines. Lawns and hedges in a formal garden must always be kept neatly clipped. Trees, shrubs, subshrubs and other foliage are carefully arranged, shaped and continually trimmed. A French garden or Garden à la française, is a specific kind of formal garden, laid out in the manner of André Le Nôtre; it is centered on the façade of a building, with radiating avenues and paths of gravel, lawns, parterres and pools (bassins) of reflective water enclosed in geometric shapes by stone coping, with fountains and sculpture.

The simplest formal garden would be a box-trimmed hedge lining or enclosing a carefully laid out flowerbed or garden bed of simple geometric shape, such as a knot garden. The most elaborate formal gardens contain pathways, statuary, fountains and beds on differing levels.

The Garden à la française had its origins in sixteenth-century Italian gardens such as Boboli Gardens behind Palazzo Pitti, Florence, laid out by a series of architect-designers for the Grand Duchess Eleanor of Toledo. The formal parterre of clipped evergreens was transferred to France, where some of the earliest formal parterres were those laid out at Anet. Claude Mollet, the founder of a dynasty of nurserymen-designers that lasted deep into the 18th century, introduced the formal parterre. (See also Gardens of the French Renaissance.)
Formal garden laid out at the Abbaye de Valloires, Picardy, by Gilles Clément, 1987

Features of a formal garden:

* terrace
* topiary
* statuary
* hedge
* bosquet
* parterre
* sylvan theater
* pergola
* pavilion
* landscaping

Jardin de Saxe

Formal gardens were a feature of the stately homes of England from the introduction of the parterre at Wilton House in the 1630s until such geometries were swept away by the naturalistic landscape gardens of the 1730s, but perhaps the best-known example of a formal garden of gravel, stone, water, turf and trees with sculpture is at Versailles, which is actually many different gardens, laid out by André Le Nôtre. In the early eighteenth century, the publication of Dezallier d’Argenville, La théorie et la pratique du jardinage (1709) was translated into English and German, and was the central document for the later formal gardens of Continental Europe.

Formal gardening in the French manner was reintroduced at the turn of the twentieth century: Beatrix Farrand’s formal gardens at Dumbarton Oaks, Washington DC and Achille Duchêne’s restored water parterre at Blenheim Palace are examples of the modern formal garden. New York City’s Central Park features a formal garden in the Conservatory Garden at the northern sector.

Cottage garden

A cottage garden uses an informal design, traditional materials, dense plantings, and a mixture of ornamental and edible plants. Cottage gardens go back many centuries, but their popularity grew in 1870s England in response to the more structured English estate gardens that used formal designs and massed colours of brilliant greenhouse annuals. They are more casual by design, depending on grace and charm rather than grandeur and formal structure.[9]

The earliest cottage gardens were far more practical than their modern descendants—with an emphasis on vegetables and herbs, along with some fruit trees, perhaps a beehive, and even livestock. Flowers were used to fill any spaces in between. Over time, flowers became more dominant.[10] Modern day cottage gardens include countless regional and personal variations of the more traditional English cottage garden.[11]

Residential garden

A residential or domestic garden, is the most common form of garden and is generally found in proximity to a residence, such as the front or back garden. The front garden may be a formal and semi-public space and so subject to the constraints of convention and law. While typically found in the yard of the residence, a garden may also be established on a roof, in an atrium, on a balcony, in windowboxes, or on a patio. Residential gardens are typically designed at human scale, as they are most often intended for private use. However, the garden of a great house, castle or a large estate may be larger than a public park in a village, and may produce foodstuffs as well.

Residential gardens may feature specialized gardens, such as those for exhibiting one particular type of plant, or special features, such as rockery or water features. They are also used for growing herbs and vegetables and are thus an important element of sustainability.

Kitchen garden or potager

The traditional kitchen garden, also known as a potager, is a seasonally used space separate from the rest of the residential garden – the ornamental plants and lawn areas. Most vegetable gardens are still miniature versions of old family farm plots with square or rectangular beds, but the kitchen garden is different not only in its history, but also its design.

The kitchen garden may be a landscape feature that can be the central feature of an ornamental, all-season landscape, but can be little more than a humble vegetable plot. It is a source of herbs, vegetables, fruits, and flowers, but it is also a structured garden space, a design based on repetitive geometric patterns.

The kitchen garden has year-round visual appeal and can incorporate permanent perennials or woody plantings around (or among) the annual plants.

Shakespeare garden

A Shakespeare garden is a themed garden that cultivates plants mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare. In English-speaking countries, particularly the United States, these are often public gardens associated with parks, universities, and Shakespeare festivals. Shakespeare gardens are sites of cultural, educational, and romantic interest and can be locations for outdoor weddings.

Signs near the plants usually provide relevant quotations. A Shakespeare garden usually includes several dozen species, either in herbaceous profusion or in a geometric layout with boxwood dividers. Typical amenities are walkways and benches and a weather-resistant bust of Shakespeare. Shakespeare gardens may accompany reproductions of Elizabethan architecture. Some Shakespeare gardens also grow species typical of the Elizabethan period but not mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays or poetry.

Rock garden

A rock garden, also known as a rockery or an alpine garden, is a type of garden that features extensive use of rocks or stones, along with plants native to rocky or alpine environments.
Rock garden in Chandigarh, India.

Rock garden plants tend to be small, both because many of the species are naturally small, and so as not to cover up the rocks. They may be grown in troughs (containers), or in the ground. The plants will usually be types that prefer well-drained soil and less water.

The usual form of a rock garden is a pile of rocks, large and small, esthetically arranged, and with small gaps between, where the plants will be rooted. Some rock gardens incorporate bonsai.

Some rock gardens are designed and built to look like natural outcrops of bedrock. Stones are aligned to suggest a bedding plane and plants are often used to conceal the joints between the stones. This type of rockery was popular in Victorian times, often designed and built by professional landscape architects. The same approach is sometimes used in modern campus or commercial landscaping, but can also be applied in smaller private gardens.

The Japanese rock garden, in the west often referred to as Zen garden, is a special kind of rock garden with hardly any plants. The Rock Garden is a sculpture garden in Chandigarh, India. Spread over an area of forty-acre (160,000 m²), it is completely built of industrial & home waste and thrown-away items.

Japanese garden

Japanese gardens can be found at private homes, in neighborhood or city parks, and at historical landmarks such as Buddhist temples and old castles. Some of the Japanese gardens most famous in the West, and within Japan as well, are dry gardens or rock gardens, karesansui. The tradition of the Tea masters has produced highly refined Japanese gardens of quite another style, evoking rural simplicity. In Japanese culture, garden-making is a high art, intimately related to the linked arts of calligraphy and ink painting. Since the end of the 19th century, Japanese gardens have also been adapted to Western settings. Japanese gardens were developed under the influences of the distinctive and stylized Chinese gardens.[12]

Contemporary garden

The contemporary style garden has become very popular in the UK in the last 10 years. This is partly due to the increase of modern housing with small gardens as well as the cultural shift towards contemporary design. This style of garden can be defined by the use ‘clean’ design lines, with focus on hard landscaping materials: stone, hardwood, rendered walls. Planting style is bold but simple with the use of drifts of one or two plants that repeat throughout the design. Grasses are a very popular choice for this style of design. Lighting effects also play an integral role in the modern garden. Subtle lighting effects can be achieved with the use of carefully placed low voltage LED lights incorporated into paving and walls.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *