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Beginners Guide to Garden Designing

Updated on September 18, 2010

Designing and planting a garden offers an exciting challenge, the result being a highly individual creation which reflects the taste and interests of its owner. Often its scope is dictated by size, shape, environment, but such is the enormous selection of plants available that something can always be found that will flourish.

Town Gardens

It is difficult to generalize about town gardens, because conditions vary so much from town to town and even within a single town. With the introduction of smokeless zones, it is possible to grow plants which would have been considered quite unsuitable even a few years ago. At one time, town gardeners were advised to grow bulbs and herbaceous plants, which have little foliage during the winter, together with deciduous trees and shrubs. But now, with the cleaner air, many evergreens can be grown successfully.

Full use should be made of walls, especially in towns. House walls clad with flowers such as magnolia, climbing roses, honeysuckles and other flowering shrubs add enormously to the appearance of a garden.

There are many attractive materials available for paving patios and courtyards and for construction of low retaining walls. Particularly popular are prefabricated concrete slabs, which may be had in many colors, and imitation. York stone, brick paths, though of pleasing appearance, tend to become slippery.

With the advent of glass fiber and other plastics, there are numerous types  of plant container from which to choose, including imitation lead urns. The latter are almost indistinguishable from the real thing. Container gardening is particularly useful in towns, where soil is of poor quality. Using a few bushes of good compost, and a selection of both upright and trailing plants, a rather bare terrace or courtyard can be transformed throughout spring and summer.

Trellises and Screens

In most gardens there is a need somewhere for a screen or trellis, either to secure privacy of to hide an ugly view. The traditional wooden trellis is still probably the most attractive, but it does require regular painting or treatment with wood preservative.

Plastic covered wire mesh panels provide a labor saving alternative. They are available in various colors and can either be erected on posts attached to a wall for supporting climbing plants of all kinds.

These panels eliminate the need for trying: as the young shoots grow, they are simply pushed in and out of the mesh. If the panels are fixed against a wall, using vine eyes or wooden battens, they can be removed if the wall has to be repainted. Afterwards they can be tied back in position.

Rock Gardens

In every garden, large or small, there is a place for rock plants. A rock garden can be made of massive bluffs of stone with soil pockets placed to suit requirements of particular plants, some needing shade others , full sun.

Even in a small garden, a rock garden on a more modest scale can be constructed to provide a home for many plants that will bloom not only in spring, when the flush of alpine flower occurs but throughout the summer and into the autumn.

Alpine plants can also be grown in stone sinks and in raised beds. Such beds are great boon for people who cannot stoop. The walls of a raised bed can be made of flat stones, or even peat blocks with plants placed between the stones to decorate the sides.

Water in the Garden

With modern aids to plumbing, such as rigid plastic popes and fittings, and by making use of an electric pump and plastic pool liner, its very easy to construct an attractive water feature. In small gardens, which are usually rectangular or square in shape, it is better to follow the garden’s contours and install a formal pool. Informal pools are better in large gardens.

With any type of pool it is always desirable to create a boggy area around the margins, so that irises, primulas and other moisture loving plants can also be accommodated.

Specimen Planting

In every garden there is a place for a specimen tree or shrub. Evergreen subjects, in particular, will give pleasure throughout the year. Do not overlook the value of colored bark, provided by silver birches and red or yellow stemmed willows. Alternatively, the silvery foliage of such plants as Sencio laxifolus and dwarf golden conifers gives enjoyment throughout the dull months of winter.

Though specimen trees and shrubs are often planted in middle of the lawn, in small gardens they are better placed to one side.

Oases of peace and beauty can be created even in the middle of the town

In this rather formal garden, the center of attraction is pool with its water lilies and marginal plantings of irises and ferns. The garden is mainly planted with permanent herbaceous plants , which grow well in towns and provide color over a long season.

Water, whether still or moving, can enhance every garden.

This circular pool, filled with water lilies, is surrounded with permanent hardy flowers that blend well with one another

In this severely formal pool, the restrained planting of Japanese irises gives an effect of pleasing simplicity.

Close planting of moisture loving plants gives a continuity of color and interest, and reduces maintenance by smothering the weeds.

This rock and water garden, photographed two years after planting, is already well covered and makes a prominent feature throughout the year.

Even in the smallest place, a rock garden can give year round pleasure

A gay spring scene, with aubrietas and wall flowers growing in the border of the top of the retaining wall and wall flowers at its foot.

A striking effect achieved with a few massive bluffs of well weathered stone , with bold groups of alyssums, aubrietas and tulips.

In this rock garden, the rocks are severely plain. Dwarf conifers aubrietas, primulas, and double calthas complete the picture.

A delightful alpine slope created by the skilful placing of weathered stone and an array of free flowering plants.

Formal or informal paving adds to the charm of any garden in town or country

Stone paving weathered over the years blends well with massive garden, filled with roses and other spring flowers.

In this terrace at the back of a house, gaps for plants have been left among paving stones of different sizes. Under the stones the roots are always cool and moist, but above ground the reflected heat from the paving benefits the plants. Pinks, thymes, thrifts, and many other plants do well in these conditions. When laying formal or crazy paving, always leave spaces for low growing and long lived plants.

Color is the motif in this attractive garden. The borders flanking the formal paved path are planted with combination of flowering shrubs and herbaceous plants. There is little maintenance required -- no grass to cut, little or no taking and because of the close planting, virtually no weeding or hoeing. A well thought out planting scheme, using shrubs and hardy perennials, is perhaps expensive to start with, but is easy to maintain afterwards.

Paving and bricks give color and interest to garden at all seasons

The benefits of simplicity, where attention is focused on one or two striking features, are seen here. An exotic container with a procumbent confier, set on paving stones and surrounded by a grid circle, gives a pleasing effect.

Well weathered bricks harmonize well in a garden that is partly formal,  yet lead the visitor on to an informal setting. Bricks can become slippery through green algal growth, and may have to be treated occasionally with a tar-oil spray.

Restfulness is worth striving for, in the garden as well as in the home

A climbing rose is trained over the balustrade that flanks the terrace behind a house. Beyond in a simple, restful garden of trees and hardy flowers.

Grey, green or gold foliage makes a garden attractive all the year

A thoughtfully planted and charming garden that will be interesting at all seasons. The silver trunk of the birch, the statuesque bocconias and euphorbias, the colors of the evergreens -- all blend together to give pleasure everyday in the year.

Free standing borders, planted for continuity of flowering, offer interest from spring until frosts arrive.

A well weed free lawn forms the perfect setting for the informal beds and borders of summer flowers which surround it.

Especially in towns, annual flowers are unexcelled for their brilliant colors. If dead headed assiduously, they will remain gay for weeks.

Some plants, such as euphorbias, please as much by their strange shapes as by the contrast of their flowers and foliage.

Walls and screens offer many opportunities for eye catching displays

Hanging baskets filled with geraniums, ivys and trailing lobelias contrast effectively with the white walls and timbers.

Hanging baskets need not be confined to porches and pergolas: they can be fixed at different heights on bare walls.

Steps are often essential in the garden -- but they are not always attractive. A palette of vibrant, plants and flowers such as carex, catmint, coral bells, erigeron, 'Garnet' penstemon, lavender, Mexican bush sage, 'Morning Light' miscanthus, rosemary, and species geraniums tumbling alongside; highlights the steps and makes them a feature.

In every garden there is a place for an ornamental plant container

With the advent of light weight metal or plastic barrows, heavy wooden barrows are obsolete. They can however, be filled with flowers.

Well made trellis, either as a diversion in the garden or surrounding sitting out place, is always a great asset.

In town or country, plant containers can always be used to advantage. If they are portable, a succession of displays can be guaranteed.

Modern concrete plant containers fit well into formal settings. With well chosen plants, they can provide color from spring until autumn.

container garden
container garden

A raised bed with stone or wooden retaining walls provide a home for rock garden plants, and is easy for the elderly to manage.

House walls can be exploited by the gardener, though they are often neglected

Geraniums in hanging baskets and in the tubs, and bright petunias in the beds, give a gay welcome at the front door.

The severity of a modern house softened by flowering climbers.

Azaeleas, gay with color in the spring, and again with the autumn color of their leaves, blend well with the walls.

Magnolias are among the finest trees to grow against a wall. They flower early and their foliage is always attractive.


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