A garden is a living, ever-changing work of outdoor art. And the best garden designers are highly attuned to the fact that whatever they plant today is going to take on a life of its own tomorrow.
Paying strict attention to technique allows a garden designer or landscape architect to create outdoor environments that look and feel spontaneous and natural—even though they have been carefully crafted and meticulously managed to achieve that effect.
A Garden Designer is Part Scientist and Part Artist
Garden designers strive to achieve singular artistic effects, but the success of their creative endeavors is dependent on a pragmatic process. Early on, a garden designer must carefully select plant varieties that are most adaptable to the terrain and prevailing weather conditions. And based on a site evaluation, they must be sure to locate plants where they will receive the correct amount of sunlight and moisture they require to thrive.
Their garden design must proceed from an understanding of the limitations of the site and the plant varieties that will be installed in the garden. A garden designer’s creativity is expressed through a sound knowledge of horticulture.
At the most basic level, a garden designer understands that choosing the right plant and installing it in the right place is the key to maximizing available garden space and establishing clear thematic relationships between different zones in the landscape.
Navigating Change as the Garden Grows
Designers are keenly aware of the growth patterns, especially height and width, that the plants will take on once they reach maturity. They arrange plants in groupings (large to small) and layers (low to high) to arrive at a balanced, unified composition.
In addition, as garden designers care for a landscape over multiple seasons, they will spot opportunities to relocate plants to better positions, add new plant species and replace plants that for one reason or another didn’t make it through a winter. This type of work requires a particular sort of thinking: an ability to respond to garden growth and to take corrective actions or make minor adjustments that keep it in top form.
Horticultural expertise is a key component of our landscape management services and requires specialists who can make a planting plan that is right for the landscape overall as well as various sections (microclimates) on the site.
Guiding Principles Used by Garden Designers
Here’s a list of some of the design principles that provide both aesthetic and functional benefits:
Use of covered structures, gateways, hardscaping, plant groupings, screening, borders, fencing, and hedges to define spaces of differing size that evoke a variety of sensory experiences
Using the shapes of plants, plant groupings, and the contours of the garden layout to create visual interest
3 Visual Anchor
Using structures or plant groupings to frame views and direct the eye to a focal point.
Built on a foundation of non-flowering plants and evergreens in shades of green from deep to light, designing a color palette that anticipates bloom cycles in spring summer and fall.
Expressed primarily through surfaces in the garden: shiny, smooth, rough, flaky, soft, or hard, textural variety is achieved primarily through the use of various types of foliage and bark but also with hardscaping materials
Repetition of themes and spacing between individual elements supports a sense of discovery as you move through a landscape
7 Negative Space
Open areas, usually turf, that balance out intensely planted areas and/or hardscaped surfaces. Provides “breathing space” between landscape elements.
8 Activity Zones
Mapping out various garden areas according to their functional use. For example: quiet conversation or meditation, play, entertaining guests, family gathering, cooking, and dining.
Something New from Something Old
Garden designers don’t always start from scratch. Sometimes, the project at hand is to rejuvenate a garden that has fallen into to disarray. Landscape designer Margaret Miley says that re-designing a yard is “kind of like helping people reclaim their space again.” It requires just as much, if not more creative input to “start over” as it does to start with a clean slate.
I can take a situation in a yard that isn’t working well—forlorn, forgotten places that people don’t use because they don’t know what to do with them—and I can make it more user friendly. I can improve their lives by organizing the landscape, bringing in color, and making it more personal for them.” Margaret Miley, Landscape Designer
A re-design generally starts with an inventory: what is worth keeping and what needs to go? The designer may decide to reroute garden paths, cut new planting beds, move specimen plants to better locations, or replace ailing plants with varieties that are better suited to the conditions of the site.
Overall the designer uses form, color, and structure to restore order and balance to the garden. And, although hardscaping plays a big role in organizing and defining outdoor environments, it is the plants that complete the formal and structural aspects of a garden.
If you’ve been feeling that you aren’t getting the most out of your backyard environment and you’d like to add more life and color to your gardens, please contact one of our garden management professionals to schedule a phone consultation.
If you’ve been thinking about investing in a landscape design project, our eBook: Expert Guide to Planning the Landscape Design of Your Dreams, is full of valuable information to help you get started.