An exceptional garden is a unique garden and this is where the difference between landscaping and gardening can be understood. Landscaping is something you do to increase the value of your home; gardening is something you do for life. A good garden is an expression of your individual self. It is the stuff that makes us different and the fact that we don’t all like the same things (thank goodness) that is what goes into creating the most interesting spaces.
To figure out how to make an individualized garden, start by being conscious of your own style and design preferences. Look at different garden designs and get a feel for your own likes and dislikes. Then, examine your house and come up with a garden plan you think would work well with the home’s architecture (because there may be a difference between what you are attracted to and what you have to work with).
For example, I am drawn to more natural looking and seemingly uncultivated green spaces, however my c.1850 Baltimore rowhome is a fairly severe tall brick rectangular structure with French Renaissance architectural accents. A straight-out combination of a wild native garden and my more conservative city home would be a hostile merger of two opposing styles and, as a result, the garden could appear unkempt next to the formal building. To resolve the difference between what I am drawn to and what I felt would work best with my home, I decided to use both native plants and cultivars and to base my front yard design on a grid, thus giving a framework to the garden.
Next, after you have settled on a general design and begin to purchase the plants, I recommend not paying too much attention to color, but to focus on texture and size contrasts instead. Often people get all caught up in color combination and don’t think about anything else. Their gardens end up looking more like perfectly matched outfits rather than inviting outdoor spaces. Nature doesn’t pay attention to color, so why create something that appears so obviously unnatural. By bringing together plants with small and large, smooth and rough, matte and glossy, shapely and fringed characteristics, for example, rather than obsessing over the palette, you are more likely to create an area with year round interest and create your own unique design. Color will then become a bonus, or perhaps, in some cases, a lucky surprise.
Change in the garden is also good. Planting with perennials, for example, will give you a choice over what blooms when and you can construct a garden with different “moods”. If something blooms forever then you stop appreciating it, so consider how change will enhance your garden design. Also, plan for resting spots in the garden, whether visual or actual, if possible. A patio, stool, or even just a stone will suggest an oasis to be visited rather than just to be looked at. Mulch, on the other hand, should be left to landscapers. As in nature, if the ground can sustain life, it should have life.
Finally, my favorite gardens are those that do not take themselves too seriously. Your garden should reflect the way you want to feel when you are there. The best gardens are user friendly, so share your garden. Don’t create a space that people are afraid to enter and enjoy. Lastly, know that, as in nature, there are no rules to be followed in gardening. Well, there ARE rules, but break them. Be sincere, but don’t be afraid to experiment. It is usually through accidents that the unexpected happens.