What Makes A Good Garden?

Garden in Tuscany-Canterbury Neighborhood of Baltimore

Garden in Tuscany-Canterbury Neighborhood of Baltimore

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).

My Front Urban Yard From Above

My Front Urban Yard From Above

My Front Urban Yard From Ground Level

My Front Urban Yard From Ground Level

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.

Garden In Federal Hill Neighborhood of Baltimore

Garden In Federal Hill Neighborhood of Baltimore

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.

A Bloomed-Out Allium Makes Great Garden Sculpture

A Bloomed-Out Allium Makes Great Garden Sculpture

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.

Miss_PiggyFinally, 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.

Home & Garden In The Hampden Neighborhood. Notice the Painted Screens, A Baltimore Pastime.

Home & Garden In The Hampden Neighborhood. Notice the Painted Screens, A Baltimore Pastime.

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15 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Joel, awesome article and photos! Well done indeed.

  2. Hi Joel, I really enjoyed your post, and the one on Knockout Roses was great, too.

  3. This is probably the best post on garden design I’ve read (and I’ve even written a few I’ve read:) You are so right a garden must be a reflection of the gardener. My mantra exactly.

  4. Well said. There are gardens and then there are gardens and the well done gardens that really speak to us are indeed a true reflection of the gardener’s personality.

  5. You make some excellent points. In particular, it’s good to be reminded that our gardens should be a reflection of us BUT in harmony with our homes. I would add that it should also be in harmony with our neighbors. There’s a garden I pass by almost daily that’s in a neighborhood of very traditional old homes and gardens. There, amidst the manicured lawns and formal flower beds is this home where the owner decided to naturalize his lot. It’s jarring in its incongruity – tall grass and weeds with a few wildflowers tossed about. Our gardens do reflect us, sometimes badly. I imagine this person wearing their cleanest dirty shirt to the anarchist meeting. LOL

  6. Excellent post indeed. My (non-existent, but wishful) gardening style is a riotous abandon of lush vegetation. Ideally dripping with berries. So… when I’m house shopping I’ll be aiming to select properties where the garden will fit the house. Something rambling and log-like I expect.

  7. I still think this is an awesomely put post and am glad to see it getting attention on Blotanical.

  8. Gorgeous. I will have to come pay you a visit one day!!!

  9. Fabulous post. I’m prompting it on twitter! My twitter name is CristinaGardens. Keep it up, Joel!

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  14. I am really curious about shrubs as well as hedges.

    Landscaping has slowly begun to dominate my entire life.
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    when you step back and see a completed landscaping job.

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