Garden Of Colorful Flowers And Stones
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(Image credit: Cuyahoga jco)

A well-designed garden can provide an attractive frame for the home and surrounding landscape. It can also create a warm, friendly atmosphere and offer a sense of privacy. There are numerous types of garden designs, but regardless of how many gardeners choose the same design scheme, no two gardens are ever the same. Most gardens are based on the gardener's personal preference and level of expertise. Let's take a look at how to design a garden.

Design Tips for a Beautiful Garden

The first step to any garden design is having a plan and putting that plan on paper. Determine the garden's location and how it will be used. Many factors will ultimately affect each garden design. These may include your region, light and soil conditions, size, types of plants and so on.

  • Region - Become familiar with your hardiness zone. It is also a good idea to become familiar with the different plants well suited for growing in your area. Understanding different plant types and their proper growing conditions will enable you to have a beautiful, flourishing garden. Visiting garden centers and nurseries or collecting pictures from catalogs and magazines can be helpful as well.
  • Soil - The type of soil and pH levels for your garden must also be considered. Is the soil sandy, heavy, loamy, or clay like? Are pH levels alkaline or acidic? Examining the drainage patterns will help determine if the soil is prone to getting excessively wet or dry. Mixing compost to the soil and adding mulch will help absorb and retain moisture in dry areas.
  • Light - The amount of light the garden will receive is another factor to consider. Does the location receive full sun or shade? Become familiar with the site's wind patterns too, as excessive wind can dry out or burn plants. Another factor to take into account is the surrounding landscape and any existing structures.
  • Size/Shape - When determining the size of a garden, try to make it large enough to achieve the greatest visual effect while remaining small enough for easy maintenance. The shape of the garden is also important. It will define its overall style, which sets the garden's mood and character. Will lines be straight and formal or curved and casual? Providing an attractive edging that blends in with the overall style and its surroundings will also keep the garden's appearance neat.
  • Plantings - Important design features for gardens include balance, size, shape, color, and position. Select a balanced assortment of seasonal flowers and ornamental grasses. Longer-lasting bloomers create impact as do plants of different heights and bloom seasons, especially when they are grouped together in drifts.

Color Tips for Designing a Garden

Color schemes should be chosen carefully in order to complement the home and surrounding landscape. The use of a color wheel is ideal for choosing color combinations that complement one another. For instance, analogous colors, which are side by side on the color wheel, are soothing when planted together. Complementary colors, which appear opposite one another, are bold and exciting when grouped together. Hot or bright colors such as red, yellow, and orange bounce forward and are best placed at a distance. Cool colors, like blue and lavender, tend to fall back and are best suited up close for a restful effect. Lighten up darker areas with white and soft pastels. Since darker reds and purples can appear ominous, they should be incorporated into bright areas. Do not overlook foliage color; they also provide interest. Various colors, textures, and shapes of both flowers and foliage create contrast, providing depth and personality to the garden. When proper design features are implemented, the flowers and foliage will not only harmonize with one another, but they will complement the surrounding landscape as well.

Additional Garden Design Features

Other garden design features include accessories, paths, and backdrops.

  • Accessories - Adding garden accessories such as benches, water and stone features, urns, statues and other ornamental objects will enliven the garden, drawing attention to it; however, these should be used sparingly to avoid a cluttered appearance. Accessories should also match the style of the garden.
  • Paths - Paths provide additional interest. They can be formal and straight or informal and meandering. Winding paths throughout a long garden will reduce length. As with other garden features, paths should also match the style. For example, mulch used for garden paths (or the garden itself) should blend in. Wood chips fit in well with natural settings, while fieldstone or brick are best suited to gardens that are more formal.
  • Backdrops - Backdrops, such as walls, fences, and hedges can provide privacy, hide unsightly areas, or emphasize desired views. Adding height with structures such as trellises, arbors, or larger architectural plantings will give the landscape additional depth and variety.

Garden Design Styles

Most gardens employ at least one of three design styles: formal, informal, or naturalistic.

  • Formal - Formal gardens possess a sense of order, containing straight lines with symmetrical plantings. Features may include low walls, elegant sculptures, or fountains, and minimal plantings with well-groomed hedges. Formal gardens are well suited for urban areas where space may be limited.
  • Informal - Informal gardens have an unbalanced, yet relaxing appeal, consisting of curves and asymmetrical plantings. Features include mixed plantings of fruits, vegetables, and herbs with a variety of flowering plants. They may also contain romantic structures such as gazebos, arbors, or picket fences along with some type of water feature.
  • Naturalistic - Naturalistic gardens are untamed and informal. Groupings of native plants and wildflowers, informal paths, and various water features that mimic nature can all be found within these gardens.

Designing a garden does not have to be difficult or costly. Don't feel limited to strict rules or particular plants. Use your imagination, experiment and play around with design schemes that work for you and your landscape. As long as you employ careful planning beforehand, you can create a beautiful garden anywhere, regardless of expertise.

Nikki Tilley
Senior Editor

Nikki Tilley has been gardening for nearly three decades. The former Senior Editor and Archivist of Gardening Know How, Nikki has also authored six gardening books.