Choosing a garden style that complements you

Story and Photography by Susan Albert

Adding to an existing landscape or starting from scratch can be an overwhelming proposition. But it doesn’t have to be. By designing around a garden theme based on the homeowner’s personal style or ecological view, the task suddenly takes on new meaning and direction. The chosen style ultimately determines what plant material to use. 

Statuary in a garden creates a formal feel. This is site between a shrub rose (Rosa spp.) and Hydrangea.

In the photo examples included, styles run the gamut from formal with clean lines to wild and windswept, all showcasing the homeowners’ individual charm.  

Limbed-up holly trees (Ilex spp.) lend a formal air to this garden.

To create a formal feeling in a garden, consider simplicity in design and plant material. Formal gardens generally draw the eye through linear rows of trimmed hedges and limbed-up trees. Boxwood (Buxus spp.), a dense, slow growing evergreen, is often the hedge of choice. Lots of lush, green foliage and repetition in flowering plants, which are usually white, add to the simplicity. Walkways should continue the clean lines with material such as concrete, stone, brick, or pavers.

The hallmark of a formal garden is a linear, trimmed hedge, such as this boxwood.
This cottage-style pollinator garden features many nectar plants, including, from right, Liatris, giant catmint (Nepeta grandiflora), Dahlia, poppy (Papaver spp.), and Gaillardia.

Cottage garden is the perfect style to showcase a homeowner’s personality. This style invites whimsy, unique combinations of color and texture and a romantic, relaxed feel. Curved pathways add to the informal look. Choose sturdy favorites that require little care, such as purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Coreopsis, tall zinnia (Z. elegans), hollyhocks (Alcea rosea), and garden phlox (P. paniculata). 

The homeowner also keeps a beehive on his wildlife-friendly property. Pictured from left are plains coreopsis (C. tinctoria), and Rudbeckia.
A cottage garden has no rules; fill the garden with flowers. Pictured front and left are yellow coneflower (Echinacea paradoxa) and purple coneflower (E. purpurea).

Pollinator gardens continue to increase in popularity. These provide nectar and host plants for butterflies and moths plus nectar and pollen-rich plants for bees. Gardens generally contain several varieties of milkweed (Asclepias spp.) for monarchs, fennel or parsley for black swallowtail butterflies, and other host plants. Nectar plants include Gaillardia, LantanaPentas, Liatris, and butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii).

One element of a cottage garden is the use of whimsical garden ornaments, such as these chairs in a bed of Lantana. The raised bed features rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and a container of Petunia sits in the foreground.
A stone bench contributes to the natural look of this sanctuary garden, where one can go to relax and regenerate surrounded by soothing green ivy (Hedera spp.), evergreens, and shrubs. An oakleaf hydrangea (H. quercifolia) is pictured at right.

Wildlife habitat gardens incorporate not only native plants to attract wildlife, but also water features, birdbaths, feeding stations, and perhaps even a working beehive. Pathways are informal and often are of natural materials and the requisite compost pile is in full view. Choose native plants that provide seeds or fruit for food and dense foliage for cover and nesting. Perennial gardens showcase favorite perennial plants, sometimes in masses. Choose long-blooming perennials for the greatest impact such as candytuft (Iberis sempervirens), Coreopsis (C. verticillata ‘Moonbeam’), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera), and butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). 

This perennial garden, which doubles as a wildlife habitat, features, from left, Caryopteris ‘Dark Knight,’ Asiatic lily (Lilium ‘Tiny Padhye’), Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum), Artemisia, butterfly bush, purple coneflower, and roses.

Quiet reflection or sanctuary gardens provide a place where the homeowner can relax, meditate, and ponder the view. Typically, the focal point is inspirational scenery or a natural area already on the property with comfortable seating from which to enjoy it.

In this traditional landscape, a maple tree (Acer spp.) is the focal point with blue juniper (Juniperus spp., cvs.) beneath and azaleas (Rhododendron spp.) in the back, with variegated lilyturf (Liriope muscari cv.) surrounding the tree trunk. The fence serves as an architectural element.

The traditional style exhibits well-defined gardens and green space with a variety of plant material, hardscape, and architectural elements.  

Don’t be afraid to mix and match styles or create your own!

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