Home » Garden » Garden Design » Page 2

Garden Design

Garden design principals, tips and tricks for creating your dream garden or landscape that blooms in all four seasons. Design a dream garden that’s as unique and creative as you are!

Garden Design for Non-Designers – Principles for a Great Home Landscape

Garden Design for Non-Designers – Principles for a Great Home Landscape

You don’t have to be a professional landscape designer to have a gorgeous landscape at home. But, if you’re not a designer, a lot of the information online is a bit more technical than what home owners really need. In this post, I’ll cover some basic garden design principles that you in can use in a your home landscape. They’re all broken down into easy-to-understand tips rather than straight theory… so that you can implement them in your home landscape even if you can’t draw a stick figure and have never studied design before!

Let’s learn how to design a swoon-worthy landscape that will make your neighbors green with envy!

1- Repeat Plants and/or Colors to Create Unity and Flow

Repetition in Landscape Layering
The repetition of evergreen shrubs leads you down the path (Lost Horizons Nursery, Acton Ontario)

The absolute easiest way to make your landscape more “magazine-worthy” is repetition. Repetition is an easy garden design principle that anyone can try at home.

The most common frustration I hear from home owners is that their garden doesn’t feel “put together” or unified. This can often be fixed by repeating a plant or color in your garden.

A lack of repetition is the biggest reason that your landscape doesn’t feel cohesive.

Instead of purchasing one single plant when you go to the garden center, consider purchasing at least 3 of the same plant. Placing the same “anchor” plant throughout your landscape can tie it all together.

You can also repeat the same color through your landscape to achieve a similar unity and flow. By adding pops of the same color or the same plant throughout your landscape, it feels harmonious and put together.

2- Arrange Plants in Masses, or Groupings

Arrange plants in drifts of 3 5 or 7
Arranging your plants in groups of 3, 5 or 7 (any odd numbers) is a great way to create more impact in your home garden.

Using masses or groupings of plants is a very common way to create impact in landscape design.

When designing on a large scale, like a full landscape, one small plant is simply not enough to create an impact. But, if you create a mass or grouping of 3, 5 or even 7 of the same plant, your landscape will really shine.

And, as we learned in the first tip, this type of repetition is also great for developing more unity and flow in your landscape.

So, don’t be afraid to plant multiples of the same plant in your garden. Choose a plant that speaks to you. If you like that one plant, you’ll love a group of them even more!

3- Hide Pieces of Your Garden From View

Hiding parts of your garden from the viewer is a super ninja garden design trick that you can easily try at home! It can be difficult for non-designers to visualize this (more on this later). Just know that blocking the view to parts of your landscape is simply more interesting.

Curving brick walkway through a garden with a vine covered arbor overhead
You can’t help but wonder what’s at the other end of this garden path.

Hiding pieces of your garden from plain view does a few important things:

  • Invokes a sense of curiosity: we are wired to “wonder” what’s around the corner.
  • It makes a space feel larger: our brains tend to think the space is a lot larger than it actually is because we can’t see from the front to the back.
  • It creates privacy: blocking parts of your landscape from view makes your yard feel cozier and more private than if you could see it all in one go.

I know this may sound difficult to do, but it’s really not. I filmed a video showing how I did this in one of my garden pathways that you can watch. Basically, if you have some kind of curving pathway in your landscape, even a front walkway, you can do this!

No time to watch the video? I will attempt to explain below.

Stand at the beginning of the walkway and look towards the end of the walkway. Try to spot a point in the walkway that you could potentially “hide” with landscaping. Then, just place a beautiful shrub or some ornamental grasses at the point where the path starts to curve so you can’t see the end.

If you’re nervous about trying this with a permanent structure, try grabbing a large planter or even a bucket. Place it where you think the shrub should go, then look again from the beginning of the walkway and see how it looks.

Another way you can hide parts of your garden from view is through a structure like a fence, an arbor or even a gate. Using an arbor as an “entrance” to a back garden is a wonderful way to welcome people into your landscape and also create curiosity. A passerby will instinctively think… I wonder what’s on the other side?

4- Connect Your Spaces With Paths

One easy way to hide parts of your garden from view is lay out your garden spaces and design pathways that connect them. Two common approaches I use are circuit pathways and hub and spoke pathways. These aren’t technical terms but it makes the most sense to me.

Drawing of paths that go around a landscape
In a circuit pathway, you would travel around the garden on one single path from start to finish. Illustration by Pretty Purple Door.
Drawing of a hub with entry to other garden spaces
In a hub and spoke pathway, different areas of your landscape can be entered through the main “hub” of the garden. Illustration by Pretty Purple Door.

Learn more about pathways in my article about Backyard Landscape Design.

5- Create a Focal Point

Ahhh… focal points are another fantastic garden design principle that is so easy to try at home.

Placing focal points in your landscape gives the viewer’s eyes a place to focus and rest upon.

You can see how this works so well in this photo. The rusty reddish-brown planter is a place to rest your eyes in a sea of green foliage. It’s such a beautiful and simple execution of a garden focal point.

Shady green woodland garden with red rusted barrel as a  focal point
This rusty barrel serves as a simple and welcomed focal point in a lush, woodland garden with mostly green plants.

Obviously, you can use a large planter as shown in the photo. Some other focal point ideas are garden sculptures, benches, arbors, walls, water features, fire pits… even a unique plant in a bright color can serve as a focal point! The sky’s the limit!

Garden designers also use focal points to lead a viewer around or through a landscape. If your focal point is interesting and unique, it will also help to guide the viewer further into your landscape to explore!

6- Do Plant Research First for an Amazing Garden

I know it’s tempting to just run to the garden center and grab some pretty plants, but this is exactly the OPPOSITE of what a professional designer would do. Landscape designers do a lot of research and planning before they purchase a single plant, especially if they’re starting from complete scratch.

They’ll probably start by brainstorming some ideas. Then, they’ll get a wish list from the home owner and pinpoint their needs and their personal style. They may even take a stroll around the neighborhood to see what the landscaping at other homes looks like. Then, they measure the space and start to draw concepts. Then they’ll probably do even more research.

Hand Illustration of a brick patio and garden planting
Here’s one of my garden design concepts… you can see that the plants are just “blobs and masses” at this stage. Choosing the landscape plants is last on a garden designers list… not first!

I know it’s hard to believe, but if you work with a designer you’ll probably approve the first concept before there’s mention of a SINGLE plant!

This is always the case for my design projects.* First, I share a concept drawing with some “blobs” that indicate masses of plants. It shows that there will be vegetation in the area, but it doesn’t provide any specific plants or plant names to the home owner. I try not to think about the specifics until the home owner approves the concept.

*Note: This article is for educational purposes. Unless you live local to me (Northeast PA), I cannot design your landscape.

If you talk to any experience designer, they will tell you that it’s a mistake to run to the garden center without a plan or idea. I guess that’s why one of Stephen R. Covey’s most popular quotes from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is, “Begin with the end in mind.”

The point here is that the planning process is something that you can also do as a home owner. Research, create a wish list, measure your yard, draw some blobs… that’s totally doable, right?

Check out my Garden Planning Worksheets for a printable planning template.

7- Choose a Garden Color Palette

Analogous garden color scheme with blue, violet and purple
Using a limited color palette doesn’t have to be boring. It can actually create lots of gorgeous impact! Image Credit: Asters – Ian & Lindsay on Flickr

Another tempting mistake to make is to run to the garden center and choose all of the pretty plants, without thinking of the colors that you want in your landscape. But, today we are thinking like a garden designer and resisting the urge, right?

Color plays such an important role in the way we feel. Different colors can evoke different emotions. So, when choosing colors for your garden, you want to be thoughtful about this. Choosing the “right” colors sounds intimidating but it’s really not. In fact, I wrote an entire post about color schemes explaining how to do it right… along with several examples that you can copy in your own landscape.

In my Design Your 4-Season Garden course, I find that a limited color palette makes it a lot easier for my students to research and choose the right plants… because you’re able to eliminate so many options. By eliminating options, you eliminate overwhelm and make designing a garden a lot easier and way more fun!

8- Add Several Layers of Plants

Landscape layering - Gilded Mint
Notice the multiple layers of plants filling this mixed border. Notice how deep the border actually is. This is a great example of layering!

Creating landscape layers is an advanced garden design principle… I’ll admit that this one is on the more difficult side. Landscape layering is using a wide variety of plants arranged into a staggered foreground, middle-ground and background creating casual, mixed border planting. It takes a lot of thought and planning to layer your landscape with multiple types of plants, shrubs, trees and other foliage in a way that doesn’t look disorganized or messy.

There’s an entire post about landscape layering that you can read next. But, a few of my best tips for creating this layered look are as follows:

  • Include a wide range of plants: Layered landscapes look best when they include, trees, evergreens, deciduous shrubs, plants, flowers, grasses, vines, groundcovers and even bulbs. Use my Garden Pyramid to learn more!
  • Use the correct size plants: Make sure that you know the mature size of your plants and leave enough room for each one.
  • Vary the sizes of your plants: Make sure you choose tall, medium and low-growing plants to create that layered effect.
  • Make your garden beds much deeper: I’m talking WAY deeper than you are thinking. Most home landscapes have foundation plantings that are about 3-4 feet deep. To create a layered look, pull your beds out to at least 6 feet; 12 feet if you have the space!

9- Use Plant Texture and Foliage to Add Interest

Plant combinations with texture
There’s lots of different textures going on in this frost-tipped collage of Blue Star Juniper (Juniperus squamata), Sedum Angelina (Sedum rupestre) and Fuzzy Wuzzy Lamb’s Ears (Stachys byzantina). Photo by Pretty Purple Door.

When you’re designing a landscape that you want to look professional, using plant texture can be your secret weapon to keeping things interesting! Texture is a wonderful and VERY overlooked design principle in the home landscape.

The truth is that most home gardeners rely on the color of blooming flowers WAY too much. But, when the blooms are done, what does the landscape look like? This is where texture is your best friend. Placing plants with opposite textures next to each other in a landscape makes your garden beds look interesting and beautiful, even when they aren’t in bloom.

A simple rule of thumb when choosing texture is to pair opposite textures together. If you have a plant with big, bold large leaves, pair it with a plant with tiny, delicate leaves. If you have a plant with dark shiny leaves, pair it with a plant that has a matte finish in a slightly different color. This is the easiest way to start introducing texture into your home landscape!

What Blooms with What?

Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!

Powered by ConvertKit

10- Balance Your Landscape Using Plant Weight

Achieving asymmetrical balance in your garden design
Creating asymmetrical balance is important when you have different plants on either side of a landscape. The trick to getting this right is to make sure that the visual “weight” of the plants is equal on either side. Illustration by PrettyPurpleDoor.

Another garden design principle that you can try at home is balance; specifically branching away from symmetry. A lot of times, home gardeners will opt for a symmetrical landscape; planting the same plants on either side of a walkway or foundation planting. Symmetry has its place, but I find it can often be “overdone” simply because home owners don’t understand how else to balance their design.

I’ll admit that balance in the landscape can be a bit tricky. I find that it’s more of a “gut” feeling than anything else. But, with a little thought you can use the color and sizes of the plants and shrubs you like to “balance” your landscape on either side. It’s kind of like a teeter totter!

11- Match Your Hardscape To Your Garden Style

garden style hardscape materials from rustic to sleek
When choosing hardscape materials, keep in mind the style you want for your garden. More rustic, distressed and bumpy materials make a natural or cottage style, whereas more refined materials will learn toward traditional and modern.

Choosing the hardscape materials for your landscape can be just as overwhelming as choosing plants. But, did you know that you could have just about the same design for a landscape and it can look like a COMPLETELY different style just based on the chosen materials. Yep, it’s true.

I talk about garden styles a lot because I find this to be one of the most fun and exciting ways to finally feel like you have a “handle” on what you actually want in your outdoor space.

A rule of thumb for choosing hardscape materials is that the more bumpy and uneven the landscape material, the more naturalistic or cottagey your style will be. Hardscape materials that are in defined patterns that are more smooth and sleek lend themselves to more traditional or modern/contemporary garden styles.

12- Choose Plants for Blooms Every Season

Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry, PrettyPurpleDoor.com
The Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry is a small ornamental tree that I love for its 4 season interest. From flowers to berries to fiery red to beautiful bark, this tree gives you a lot of bang for the buck in a small garden.

Creating a 4-season landscape isn’t a garden design principle, per say, but it certainly should be. When creating a professional-looking landscape, you want to think about choosing plants that will have interest in different seasons of the year.

An easier way to incorporate multi-season interest into your landscape is to create seasonal flower and plant groupings. In this concept, the goal is to group plants that bloom at similar times or sequentially (one after another). 

A four-season landscape doesn’t mean that each area of your landscape needs to be in bloom every single season! There will be peaks and lulls to each seasonal grouping that will move the interest in your garden from one area to another.

Bonus points go to plants that have multiple-seasons of interest. These are always my go-to choices because I have a smaller yard. Every plant has to earn their place in my small garden — so if a particular plant has interest in not just spring, but spring, summer and fall — it’s worthy!

By the way, I have a course that teaches my full framework for this… it’s called Design Your 4-Season Garden.

I find this multi-season concept particularly helpful when choosing trees… because I can only have a few and they take up so much space. So, I created a list of my favorite 4-season ornamental trees for you.

Wrapping Up

You don’t have to be a professional landscape designer to have a gorgeous landscape at home. But, there are some rules that are helpful to follow that will make your garden look a lot more like the pros and a lot less thrown together. Even using just a few of these landscape design principles will significantly improve the way that your home landscape looks and functions. 

Be sure to check out my online garden design courses if you’re looking for a step-by-step solution to creating a garden that’s uniquely you.

Shop my Amazon storefront for my essential gardening books & tool recommendations!

More Posts About Garden Design

Garden Design For Non-Designers the Complete Guide - Woman with notebook sitting in landscape
Garden Design for Non-Designers – Principles for a Great Home Landscape

Garden Styles: What Type is Right For You?

Garden Styles: What Type is Right For You?

With the amount of garden styles to choose from, choosing the “right” garden style gets overwhelming for beginner gardeners really quickly. There’s cottage and woodland and meadow gardens. Japanese and Mediterranean and contemporary gardens.  Formal and English and French gardens. The list goes on and on…. and literally on.

Although there are so many options to choose from, most garden styles can be grouped into a few larger categories:

Naturalistic garden style
Naturalistic Garden Style
Overview »
Complete Guide »
Country Cottage garden style
Cottage Garden Style
Overview »
Complete Guide »
traditional garden style
Traditional Garden Style
Overview »
Complete Guide »
Modern Contemporary garden style
Modern/Contemporary Garden Style
Overview »
Complete Guide »

Once these 4 main garden styles are covered, I’ll cover some sub-styles you may be interested in and how you can get the look:

Choosing which garden style is right for you becomes a lot less intimidating with just a few main styles. Once you know the basics, you can mix, match and adjust elements from each garden style to create a design that’s as unique as you are.

It’s important to note that everyone has a slightly different view on what is each style is and isn’t – it’s not an exact science. In my opinion, it’s more important that you understand how each garden style works, rather than getting hung up on the minutia.

Naturalistic Garden Style (New Perennial)

Naturalistic garden style

A naturalistic garden style, also referred to as natural or new perennial garden style, relies heavily on native plant choices, which will vary depending on where you live.

Naturalistic design style may look haphazard, but that’s far from the truth. The visual emphasis of new perennial style is on structure and form rather than color.

The aim is to select proven, long-lived, robust plants that don’t require a lot of maintenance and “die elegantly” as Dutch plantsman Piet Oldouf says.

Natural Design Style - High Line Park Manhattan
Designed by Dutch plantsman Piet Oldouf

A fantastic example of natural garden style planting in a modern setting is the New York City High Line, a 1.5 mile long public park built on a historic freight rail line, elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side.

Elements of Naturalistic Gardens

  • Biodiversity, rustic materials, wildflowers
  • Randomly placed plants and naturally worn pathways
  • Natural, rustic materials that blend in
  • Widest plant and color palette of all the garden styles
  • Native plants, focus on ecological benefit and wildlife
  • Focus on plant structure and benefits rather than color
  • “Let nature shine”

Plants for the Naturalistic Garden Style

Plants for your naturalistic style garden will vary depending on your geographic location. You can head over to the National Wildlife Federation’s native plant finder to get a list of plants that grow naturally in your area. Using plants that are native to your area will give your naturalistic garden a sense of place.

Here are some I like to use in my Northeastern garden:

Echinacea Purple Coneflower
Eastern Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) (Purchase)
Little Goldstar Black Eyed Susan
Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia fulgida) (Purchase)
Woods blue aster
Woods Blue Aster (Aster cordifolius ‘Wood’s Blue’) (Purchase)

Some plant choices recommended by Greg Loades in a Fine Gardening article include: moor grass (Molinia), black-eye susans (rudbeckia fulgida), New England aster (Aster novae-angliae) and sneezeweed (Helenium).

RHS wisley gardens
Plant selection in naturalistic planting style is ecological benefit. Thought is put into plant structure, form and seasonal interest rather than just focusing on color. Photo by John K Thorne, CC0 1.0, via Flickr.

Some ideas to incorporate into your own naturalistic style garden

Naturalistic gardens are designed for ecological benefit and are fairly low maintenance. Select plants native to your geographic region and encourage wildlife to use the space. Tend the garden naturally, without chemicals. Plants should appear to occur ‘by the hand of nature.’ Rustic hardscaping blends in with the natural environment so the plants can shine.

Use natural-looking materials so that the plants can be the main focus of your naturalistic style garden.

Here are some other ideas to try.

  • Use water features like bird baths, ponds and fountains (see lots of ideas here).
  • Look for furniture with natural materials like wicker, wood and stone
  • A cotton rope hammock to relax and enjoy nature.
  • wooden bee hotel (Etsy) or bug hotel would a great addition to this style garden.
  • You can’t go wrong with a rustic, outdoor fire pit area to camp under the stars in your own slice of nature.
  • Be on the lookout for uniquely shaped rocks and logs that you can incorporate into your design.
  • Incorporate lumpy/bumpy rustic materials for any paths or patios. Stepping stones, whether purchased (like flagstone) or simply found somewhere in nature would be a great choice.

If you’re interested in learning more about naturalistic garden design, this article goes into great detail about how you can achieve this look at home.

Back to top

Cottage Garden Style

Country Cottage garden style
Photo of my backyard cottage garden, by Pretty Purple Door.

Cottage gardens are the relaxed and sometimes unruly offspring of the traditional garden style. In cottage gardens, plants have a tendency to spill over lawns and paths, creating softer edges. But if you were to look at the design layout without plants, you’d see the same straight lines and geometric shapes as formal (traditional style) gardens.

Elements of Cottage Gardens

Cottage gardens are personal, described as being ‘of the heart, of the hearth and of the home.’ This is a very plant focused garden style. So, fill up your cottage dream garden with plants, flowers, edibles, herbs, scents and colors you love.

Materials used in cottage gardens are often “found” and one of a kind. Again, speaking to the heart and the personality of the gardener who tends it.

elements that make up country cottage garden style
Click the image above to learn more about country cottage garden style.

Here are some elements that make up a cottage garden:

  • Overflowing beds, rustic materials, personal finds
  • Drifts of plants and curved, meandering pathways
  • One of a kind features positioned ‘around the bend’
  • Wider range of colors and plants than traditional or modern style
  • Plants that spill onto paths & cover walls
  • Picket fencing, arbors, terracotta pots, flea market finds
  • “Of the heart, of the hearth and of the home”

Common elements in cottage garden style are clay pots, white picket fences, arbors, trellis and flea market finds.

Plants for Cottage Gardens

Plants in cottage gardens are colorful and diverse. Fill your cottage garden with collections of your favorite flowers and plants that are both beautiful and practical.

The cottage garden features colorful ornamental, edible, herbs and medicinal plants all mixed together as one.

Plantings utilize every available space, creating a feeling of charm and “organized mess.”

coral pink clematis with write lining prolifically blooming
Climbing vines like Clematis (Purchase)
Structural plants like alliums (Purchase)
Bachelor's Button, Cornflower (centaurea cyanus)
Self sowing annual flowers like Bachelor’s Button (see more self sowers)

Some ideas to incorporate into your own cottage garden

Cottage gardens feature dense, informal masses of edibles, herbs and flowers. England’s earliest cottage gardens were grown for very practical purposes. Today, colorful blooming flowers are the centerpiece of this style. Hardscape materials are rustic and worn. Paths are meandering. Garden features are often one of a kind and have deep meaning to the person tending the garden.

Here are some other ideas to try.

  • Fencing can give your garden that country cottage style. Look into picket, palisade, post and rail, hazel, willow and brushwood fencing for a unique look!
  •  I love this arbor gate and can imagine it engulfed with flowering climbing vines cascading over the edges.
  • Check out this beautiful white lattice trellis for an elegant way to screen a view or offer privacy in an area of your yard.
  • Inexpensive clay/terracotta flower pots are an easy way to get more of a cottage look.
  • Incorporate flea market finds like antique wheelbarrows, rustic wagon wheels and even old dresser drawers used as planters. Any quirky, whimsical finds that are weathered with age will enhance the cottage garden style and make it more personal to your tastes.

If you love this style, head over to my complete guide to country cottage style gardens for lots and lots more info!

Back to top

Traditional Garden Style

traditional garden style
Traditional Garden Style. Photo courtesy of Dave Catchpole (CC BY 2.0), via Flickr

A focus on symmetry and balance makes the traditional (or formal) garden style perfect for colonial, Italian and French inspired architecture.

When I think of a traditional garden, I picture a very formal garden with strong architectural features, wide expanses of perfectly trimmed lawn, rows of orderly clipped hedges, framed views of stone fountains and cleanly edged walkways.

Purple and white courtyard, RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2014
This traditional garden features smooth surfaces surrounding a geometric fountain centerpiece. Karen Roe (CC BY 2.0), via Flickr

Dominated by green lawn spaces that are balanced by green trees and green shrubs, traditional garden styles are usually not filled with color.

You may see a traditional style garden that uses only white or one accent color in the entire design.

But, traditional gardens don’t have to be as strict as my explanation above. In fact, some garden designers will label cottage gardens in the traditional category of garden design! Cottage gardens are actually a subset of this style, but I choose to explain them separately because they can be very different.

Elements of Traditional Gardens

  • Romantic, formal and tidy
  • Symmetry in plants and pathways
  • Geometric shapes and straight lines in trees and hedges
  • Limited color palette and plant palette
  • Dominantly green plants or hedges and manicured green lawn
  • Stone, metal or ceramic décor
  • “Balanced design and upscale appeal”

Plants for traditional garden styles

Columnar trees such as ‘Blue Arrow’ Juniper (Zones 4-9) and ‘Hix’ Yew (Zones 4-7) and boxwood shrubs as hedging are all signatures of the traditional garden style.

Roses, peonies and tulips each represent a different aspect of this strong floral legacy. Some of my favorites are the rambling groundcover ‘Apricot Drift’ Rose (Zones 4-11), ‘Coral Supreme’ Peony (Zones 3-7) and hardy ‘Orange Emperor’ Tulips (Zones 3-8).

Some ideas to incorporate into your own traditional garden

Traditional gardens use symmetry, geometric shapes and repeating patterns to create a formal feeling. They often include elements like statues and water features. Defined lines from hedges and topiaries give a polished look. You’ll often see expanses of green lawns and gravel pathways. Fans of balance and symmetry will appreciate a traditional garden.

Here are some other ideas to try.

  • Potted topiaries (portable sculptures)
  • Clipped hedging
  • Pedestal urns
  • White or stone columns
  • Tiered water features (here are some water feature ideas)
  • Sculptures of people
  • Pea gravel

If you can’t get enough of this style and want to learn more, check out this article for a complete guide to traditional garden style.

Back to top

Modern/Contemporary Garden Style

Modern Contemporary garden style

Each generation tends to get a bit trendier. So, while cottage gardens are still a popular garden style choice, modern and contemporary garden styles have grown in popularity.

modern back garden of the house

In modern and contemporary garden design, the perfect symmetry of geometric shapes of traditional gardens is replaced by asymmetrical, sometimes interlocking, lawn and patio shapes.

Elements of Modern/Contemporary Garden Style

  • Clean lines, repetition, asymmetry
  • Repetitive plantings and straight or curved pathways
  • Structural plants as clear focal points
  • Most limited plant and color palette of all the garden styles
  • Big focus on outdoor entertaining and living (outdoor garden rooms)
  • Water features and smooth, sleek materials
  • “Less is always more”

Modern vs. Contemporary Garden Style

I’ll be covering modern and contemporary garden styles under one heading. But, it’s useful to know that contemporary is more often associated with a residential space, while modern style is associated with commercial spaces.

While all modern landscaping can be contemporary, not all contemporary designs are modern. 

Modern design can be defined as clean-lined, hard-edged and minimalistic, characterized by heavy uses of metal, concrete and monochromatic or pale color palettes. The focus is on the function of the materials, rather than nature. 

Contemporary design is a softer, more natural style, derived from modern design. The heart of this garden style is the ‘outdoor room‘ which emphasizes leisure and entertaining. In contemporary design, what is “already in place” is taken into consideration and enhanced. The use of curves, wooden accents and pops of bright-colored flowers and accents are welcomed.

Remember that less is always more with modern/contemporary garden style.

Plants for the Modern Garden Style

Plants for modern/contemporary gardens are all about structure and form. Choose a few that you like and repeat them throughout your modern garden to keep it feeling clean and minimalistic.

Japanese Maple 'Inaba Shidare'
‘Inaba Shidare’ Japanese Maple (Purchase)
color guard yucca
‘Color Guard’ Yucca (Purchase)
golden japanese forest grass
‘All Gold’ Japanese Forest Grass (Purchase)
  • Trees with gorgeous form and foliage such as Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum) are a standout as a specimen tree in modern/contemporary garden styles.
  • Structural plants with bold shape and form like ‘Color Guard’ Yucca (Yucca filamentosa) can create interest without losing that modern feel.
  • Ornamental grasses with bold stature like Golden Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’) would make a great groundcover in your modern garden.

Some ideas to incorporate into your own modern/contemporary garden

In modern garden design style, plantings take a backseat to the function and design of the property itself. There’s a minimal plant palette that repeats throughout the garden. The focus is on entertaining and functionality of the garden, rather than nature. Smooth and sleek materials and asymmetry are common in the modern garden style.

Here are some other ideas to try.

  • Spheres: Whether created of concrete, ceramic, metal or even a recycled bowling ball, spheres become vital sculptural elements for these gardens. They stand out as bold art forms in a spare landscape. I love this mirrored gazing ball — it’s so modern!
  • Smooth & Sleek Containers: Architectural sculptures or planters made from concrete, resin or ceramic are a great choice to mimic and contrast the shapes in your modern garden.
  • Water Features: Clear, still reflection ponds are found in sacred places throughout the world. Water features like ponds and fountains with clean lines and geometric shapes are a staple in modern garden styles..
  • Concrete Stepping Stones: geometric, precast concrete stepping stones are common in modern and contemporary garden styles because they’re highly versatile and inexpensive and have a smooth, sleek finish.
  • Metal: whether you use metal grids, sheet metal or even galvanized steel, metal can help to carry out the modern look of this garden style.

If you love this style, head over to my complete guide to modern style gardens for lots and lots more info.

Back to top

What Blooms with What?

Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!

Powered by ConvertKit

photo of a traditional garden pointing towards the word traditional on a weight scale
I like to think of garden styles as a sliding scale, rather than individual style categories that you have to “fit” into. The photo of this garden from Phipps Conservatory (Pittsburgh, PA) falls into the Traditional garden style on a sliding scale due to its tiered, tidy rows of plants and fairly limited color palette.

The point of this article is not to make you decide on ONE garden style or another. It’s actually to determine where you fall on the sliding scale, or spectrum, of garden styles.

You see, learning about each garden style can help you to determine what hardscape materials and planting scheme you should use in your own garden.

Choosing hardscape materials by garden style

A very simple way to get the look of a particular garden style you like is to use hardscaping materials that are appropriate for that style.

The more rustic/distressed/uneven the material, the more natural/traditional the garden.

The smoother and straighter the material, the more contemporary the garden.

So, use something like dry stacked stone or reclaimed brick for natural and cottage gardens. Tile and decking will work for traditional and modern/contemporary styles. Just remember that the smoother and sleeker the finish is, the more modern your garden will look.

garden style hardscape materials from rustic to sleek
When choosing hardscape materials, keep in mine the style you want for your garden. More rustic, distressed and bumpy materials make a natural or cottage style, whereas more refined materials will learn toward traditional and modern.

Choosing plants and colors by garden style

You can also achieve a particular garden style by the amount of color (and plant choices) you use in your garden.

Naturalistic gardens are designed to be carefree and loose, so they often include a very wide range of colors and plant choices.

Cottage gardens are quite colorful, too. But, they tend to be a bit more refined in the color palette and plant choices than a naturalistic style.

Traditional gardens are more refined than cottage gardens in color and plant selection.

Modern/contemporary style gardens are very strict and regimented about color and plant variety.

plant variety and color range by garden style
Natural and cottage gardens tend to have a wider range of colors and more plant variety than traditional and modern/contemporary styled gardens.

Are these all hard and fast rules? Absolutely not. You can create a garden that’s unique as you are. But it usually helps if the style of your hardscaping stays within a consistent range throughout your garden. So, don’t use smooth sleek tiles in one place and then very bumpy, uneven reclaimed brick right next to it– that is unless you are doing it intentionally.

Back to top

Garden Style Subcategories

Just because there’s only four main garden styles, doesn’t mean that there aren’t many, many subcategories of garden styles. Some of these styles even straddle the lines between the four major types of garden styles. Keep reading to learn more about some sub-styles that you can implement in your home landscape.

Meditation Gardens

meditation garden style

Meditation (or contemplation) gardens are traced back to Asia, becoming the most definitive in Japan around 1300 AD. This was the period when Zen Buddhism started becoming more widespread and the gardens were created to reflect that. Rather than connecting physically, these gardens were designed to be entered spiritually and mentally.

Meditation and Contemplation Zen Garden

Meditation gardens are most easily recognized as being minimalistic and using raked sand and stone to represent rivers and mountains. The purpose of the simplicity is to be a place of little to no distraction and allow the mind to get to a meditative and contemplative state.

The major elements in Asian style gardens include:

  • Minimalist plantings; nothing is too busy, mostly green moss, grass, or shrubs trimmed neatly into domes
  • Stone representing mountains
  • Sand, typically raked into perfect line patterns, representing water
  • Moss is regarded as an essential element in Japanese style gardens. It’s a symbol of harmony, age and tradition
  • Focal point such as a statue
  • Sound often utilized, from soft running water or bamboo leaves rustling
Asian garden style

Japanese vs. Chinese garden styles… what’s the difference?

The main difference between Chinese and Japanese gardens is that Chinese gardens tend to be more bold, exotic, ornamental and have more architecture and structures throughout a park-like setting. Japanese gardens tend to be more subdued and minimalistic with a very natural look.

If you’re interested in learning more, this detailed article explains all of the differences between Chinese and Japanese garden styles.

Back to top

Mediterranean Garden Style

Mediterranean garden style

Mediterranean style comes from the countryside of France, Greece, Spain and Italy.

This style incorporates pebbled or cobbled walkways, bright colors, intricate patterned tiles and clipped hedges or topiary. Water features are also very common in Mediterranean gardens to cool the hot summer air.

Plantings in Mediterranean gardens are colorful and eye-catching. In this satyle, drought tolerant plants are informally planted. Succulents are a great choice, along with agave, yucca, artemisia, euphorbia and blue fescue. Strongly scented herbs like lavender, rosemary and sage are also common.

Mediterranean style gardens fit nicely into the modern garden style in terms of material choices.

Back to top

Woodland Gardens

woodland garden style

Woodland gardens differ from other styles in that most of the plants chosen require a level of shade tolerance. Avoid planting in lines or formal designs and aim for a mix of interesting textures, forms and colors.

If you have the right conditions, you can establish a woodland garden along the edge of a wooded area on your property. Trim some of the lower branches of the trees to raise the canopy and let in some dappled light. Clear an area for a walkway that leads to a rustic bench to escape the summer heat. Any natural material works well for a path, such as natural mulch, gravel, stepping stones or a boardwalk of pallet wood.

Creating your own woodland space when there are no mature trees available is also possible, although it may take years for the canopy to fill in.

There are lots of suitable plants for the shade of a woodland garden. Woodland plants typically require very nutrient rich soil and a moderate amount of moisture. Small shrubs and trees, groundcovers, mosses and other shade-loving perennials are all great choices for a woodland garden. For impact, try contrasting feathery plants (like ferns) with plants that have big broad leaves (like hostas).

Quick Tip: My article, stunning plants for a shady landscape, is filled with great choices to fill in your woodland garden.

Check out my Woodland Garden Design Ideas Pinterest board for even more inspiration.

Back to top

Coastal Garden Style

Coastal garden style

Coastal or seaside garden style often incorporates stone walls and structures that strong enough withstand high winds and sea water. Teak wood fences are popular because they are impervious to salt and water and weather to a pleasant patina. Regardless of the type, fences are often used in coastal gardens to protect from wind and erosion and provide safety.

coastal garden style
A beautiful Florida home with coastal garden style landscaping.

Many coastal gardens incorporate strong (and sometimes quirky) themes into the decor. Many boast nautical themes with anchors, buoys and rope. Lobster traps, flamingo statues, egret/seagull decor are also popular. This is a great style to go a bit wild and fun with your decorations.

When choosing plants for a coastal garden style at home, think tough native plants that can withstand the wind and salt air. Sun-loving perennials like sedums, Shasta daisies, salvias, coreopsis and dianthus do well in my home in the Northeast US. If your climate allows, palm trees always provide a coastal/beach vibe.

Back to top

Tropical Garden Style

tropical garden style

Whether or not you live in a tropical climate, the tropical garden style is definitely a desired look for many home owners. While warm, moist climates are the best for tropical gardens, it is possible to create the look in virtually any climate. 

tropical garden style
Lush tropical garden style with plenty of color and a waterfall.

Materials like treated mulch and natural colored wood chips, crushed stones or gravel, smooth pebbles and simple dirt pathways are common in this garden style. For accessories, try furniture and lighting with an island flair. Colorful planters and interesting pottery can liven up your space. And, speaking of space — if you have it — why not add a waterfall or a pond with brightly colored fish?

Plants with very large leaves and vegetation that builds in height towards the back of the garden create the dense look of a tropical style garden. Plants will usually have jungle-like features and usually require moist conditions or be prepared to do a lot of watering.

My favorite tropical-looking plants to get this style are mandevillas (Zones 9-11 but I grow this vine as an annual), palm trees and banana trees. Mondo grass, Japanese forest grass, broadleaf ferns, elephant ears, Asiatic lilies and even simple geraniums will add the finishing touch your tropical garden look.

Back to top

Meadow/Prairie Garden Style

meadow garden style
Meadow/Prairie garden style features loads and loads of wildflowers.

Meadow and prairie gardens can certainly be grouped into the new perennial garden style. There are many benefits to this style, the biggest being biodiversity. They create habitat and food for birds, animals, pollinators and butterflies and improve soil, air and water quality. Meadow plantings are also get for erosion control if you have a hard to mow slope.

This type of garden can usually be achieved if you have a large lawn or field area on your property. However, most home owners just throw some wildflower seeds down and hope for the best. But there are some important steps you’ll need to take before doing that. Read this PDF guide to learn how to do it.

Prairies and meadows are both comprised of grasses and wildflowers, but they each have a different mix of species, largely due to differing site conditions. For prairies, use 50% grasses and 50% wildflowers. For meadows, use 30% grasses and 70% wildflowers.

Consider adding benches, large stones or even sculptures to your design. Keep edges looking neat by using a border of decorative stones, bricks, mowed grass or other edging material.

Back to top

Desert Garden Style (Xeriscaping)

Desert garden style
Just because it’s water-conscious doesn’t mean that a xeriscaped garden can’t be beautiful. There’s lots of plants with architectural elements used to provide structure to this desert landscape.

Xeriscaping requires little to no irrigation. Xeriscape yards often contain a mix of permeable gravel/mulch and native or no-fuss plants that will thrive in your yard with little human intervention. This neutral design style works for many different home types. It’s also very low maintenance and great for the planet, too.

The desert garden style relies on permeable gravel ground covers, like pea gravel and decomposed granite. Cactus, agave and succulents add to the beauty and intrigue of desert gardens. Consider adding boulders to round out the space.

Back to top

Gravel/Rock Gardens

Gravel Rock Garden Style

A rock garden is a garden that’s planting amongst larger rocks, stones or boulders. The plants are placed in the “pockets” in between the stones in order to create a natural look. If you already have large stones on your landscape, this would be a natural choice. If you are bringing the stones into the garden, a great tip is to dig holes and bury portions of the boulders so that they look like they’ve always been there.

rock and gravel garden example
Nestling natural stone, boulders and gravel into landscape plants is a really fun style to try.

Creating a gravel is a great option if you live in a location where there’s a lack of water and/or poor soil. For this, alpine plants are a fantastic choice. This is why gravel gardens are sometimes called alpine gardens, too.

Alpine plants are plants that grow at high elevations and above the tree line. These plants are very rough and tough and can grow in rocky soil without much human intervention at all. Saxifrages like rockfoils, coral bells, bergenia and foam flower will thrive in rock gardens. You can also incorporate blue gentians and alpine stonecrop (sedum). There are even varieties of rose, iris and primrose that are suited for these conditions!

Back to top

Potager Kitchen Gardens

Potager garden style
Practical and beautiful, potager or kitchen gardens provide food, fragrance and beauty.

A potager is a French-style kitchen garden and it is the ultimate practical garden style. They are normally positioned right next to the house for convenience and to make it easy to enjoy the effect from indoors. What gives the kitchen garden its charm and appeal is the blend of vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers that are grown together, not unlike a cottage garden.

Potager, or kitchen gardens, can also be designed in geometric patterns which makes them very similar to traditional German Kleinegartens. Kleingartens are community gardens similar to an English allotment. Also referred to as Schrebergartens, this “style” is meant to be a working garden. It’s divided into zones or sections for growing fruit, vegetables and flowers. A working shed is often the center focal point, with paths leading to each of these zones.

As far as what to plant, you can use vegetables, fruits and flowers. Try beans, peas, salad greens and anything else you love to eat. Edible bulbs like onion, garlic and leeks will work great, too. Herbs are both practical for cooking and can be very attractive plants, making them a great addition to a potager. Try lavender, rosemary, basil or lemon balm for scent and visual appeal. Architectural plants like sunflowers, artichoke, kale and cabbage. Add some fruit trees and bushes and you are set!

Check out my Potager Kitchen Gardens & German KleineGarten Pinterest board for more inspiration about this style.

Back to top

City/Courtyard Gardens

Courtyard garden style

Courtyard gardens are great for city-dwellers with limited amounts of space. Usually courtyards are surrounded on multiple sides by walls or other buildings. this makes a challenging garden space because it can often be shady.

City/Courtyard garden style
This courtyard garden in the city has many modern style elements.

But, their shelter also makes them very cozy and a great place to relax after a long day of work.

When designing a courtyard garden you can use any style that you’d like. Just make sure that you are making the best use of the small space that you have. You can do this by incorporating lighting so that the garden can be used at night or a fireplace or patio heater to make it more welcoming in the wintertime. Also, don’t be afraid to use the vertical space of the courtyard to grow vines or display artwork. Containers are also a great solution to a small space because you can move them around. The containers themselves can also add a lot of style to your space. Finally, don’t forget a place to sit and relax or even dine.

Back to top

Maintenance Levels of Different Garden Styles

Before you select the garden style that’s right for you, read over this table to learn which are the highest maintenance vs. the lowest maintenance styles. A lot of home gardeners don’t think about the level of upkeep and tending that some of these beautiful garden styles need.

Garden StyleMaintenance Level
Formal GardenHigh
Japanese GardenHigh
English GardenHigh
Tropical GardenHigh
*Traditional GardenMedium-High
*Cottage GardenMedium-High
Mediterranean GardenMedium
Woodland GardenMedium
Coastal GardenMedium
Potager GardenMedium
City/Courtyard GardenMedium
Urban GardenMedium
*Modern / Contemporary GardenLow-Medium
Prairie GardenLow
Xeriscape GardenLow
Rock GardenLow
Wildflower GardenLow
Container GardenLow
*Naturalistic / New Perennial GardenLow
Meditation GardenLow
Meadow GardenLow
Desert GardenLow
*Indicates one of the main garden styles.

All gardens require some level of maintenance.

Of course, the maintenance level can fluctuate quite a bit based on the types of plants you use, climate, weather and your own personal preferences as to how you like to garden. The size, location and design of your garden will also play a part in the level of maintenance needed to maintain its beauty.

If you long for a beautiful landscape that’s also easy to care for, here are some tips for designing a low maintenance garden.

Back to top

Mixing Garden Styles

Modern Cottage Garden Style
While the plants in this garden scream cottage, the hardscape elements definitely lean towards a modern style. It’s ok to combine styles together! That’s how you’ll get exactly what you want. Photo by Steve Gunther.

One thing to remember is that there’s no need to be constrained by a particular design style. Your garden and tastes are unique. So feel free to create whatever your imagination inspires!

Here’s an example of how you can mix cottage and new perennial garden style elements (from Fine Gardening magazine).

The key to creating a style that works is don’t mix too many different materials. When in doubt, keep it simple. You can always add to it later.

Wrapping Up

In this post, you learned a ton about natural, traditional, modern and contemporary and many other garden design styles. You CAN mix and match these garden styles to create your own unique garden style, but make sure you do this purposefully.

Everyone has their own “definition” for what each style entails and the lines are often blurred. It’s my hope that understanding the underlying elements, features and common plants for each garden style will give you the inspiration and knowledge you need to create a garden design that’s as unique as you are without getting hung up on all the terminology!

What’s the next step?

So you may be thinking… ok great… I figured out my garden style. Now what? Don’t worry! I’ve got you covered!

Head over to this article to landscape your yard from scratch in 7 steps.

Or, check out this article to tie your new garden style into your existing landscape.

If you need a bit more of a hands-on approach, I also offer garden design online courses where I’ll walk you through everything you need to know to create a landscape that’s uniquely you.

More great posts about Garden Styles

Shop my Amazon storefront for my essential gardening books & tool recommendations!

How to Get the Country Cottage Garden Style Look at Home (Complete Guide)

How to Get the Country Cottage Garden Style Look at Home (Complete Guide)

Country cottage garden style is the relaxed (and sometimes wild) offspring of the formal/traditional garden style.

The cottage garden design style incorporates dense informal masses of edibles, herbs, medicinals and ornamental plantings using traditional-style hardscape materials. The earliest cottage gardens in England were grown for very practical purposes. Over time, a colorful mixture of blooming flowers has become the centerpiece rather than the afterthought of the cottage garden style.

Cottage Garden Style

The freeform style of cottage gardens is delightful. It happens to be my personal favorite of all the garden styles. But, because there are very little rules, it can be challenging to get this style right.

Throughout this guide, you’ll learn lots of tips and tricks to get your home garden feeling cottage-like and cozy.

Country Cottage Garden Style

History of Country Cottage Gardens

The history of cottage gardens can be traced back as early as the 1340’s. When the Black Death (bubonic plague) swept through Europe, there was a decline in traditional, formal style gardens. But, the rural poor were less affected by the Black Death. As more land became available, they began planting gardens using whatever seeds and plants they could find and afford.

In the 1500’s, the cottage garden style began to officially take shape as an actual garden style. Cottage gardens of this time were informal and colorful, including a mix of flowers, fruits and vegetables all grown together in the same garden beds.

In the 1600’s, the popularity of cottage garden styles was evident in England. Instead of being popular among just the rural poor, the upper classes began to embrace the beauty and practicality of the cottage garden. To keep a tidier appearance, the upper class began introducing hedgerows and fences to tame their wildness.

By the 1700’s, cottage gardens grew in popularity, spreading to other parts of Europe. As new gardeners discovered this style, it continued to evolve.

In the 1800’s, gardeners in North America (United States and Canada) began to embrace the wild and colorful, yet practical, cottage garden planting style.

In more modern times (1900’s), the cottage garden style saw a resurgence in popularity in England and the UK.

This informal style has transformed and changed over centuries of time. Today, the cottage garden is more popular than ever! In the 21st century, cottage gardens are wildly popular and being used in various ways in all different parts of the world!

Present-day gardeners use cottage style plantings in small balcony gardens, large-scale commercial projects and everywhere in between.

These beautiful gardens are still packed with mess of flowers mixed with edibles like vegetables, herbs, fruit trees and even medicinal plants.

The use of flowers and flowering shrubs are now the staple of cottage gardens, rather than an afterthought.

Maintenance Needs of Cottage Gardens

Many people think that cottage gardens are either (1) zero maintenance or (2) extremely high maintenance. The truth is that this garden style falls somewhere in between.

Cottage gardens are medium-high maintenance to take care of. They require:

Less Maintenance Than Traditional, Formal Gardens:
Cottage gardens don’t require as much pruning and shaping as you would with a formal style garden. The casual style lets you “get away” with much less maintenance without anyone noticing. If things get a little wild, it adds to the charm of the cottage garden.

More Maintenance Due To Flowering Plants & Vegetables:
Lots of flowers and plants means lots of deadheading, watering, fertilizing and cutting back. Vegetables and herbs also require a higher level of maintenance like regular watering and pest prevention.

Less Weeding:
Because plants are closely planted and packed together, less bare soil will receive sunlight. This results in less weed pressure (and less weeding) in your garden. Yay!

More Digging & Dividing Plants:
Cottage gardens feature lots of flowering perennials planted tightly together, which means your plants may outgrow the space every few years. So, you’ll need to spend a bit more time cutting them back, digging them up and/or dividing them as they grow. Although it’s more work, having extra plants to share with your friends can also be a positive.

Conditions Needed For Cottage Gardens

Because cottage gardens are medium-high maintenance, the best scenario is to start with rich, organic soil where plants will thrive. Good quality soil will hold moisture and feed your plants, which means you’ll need to do less watering and fertilizing.

not only is rich, organic soil great for plants, it also reduces maintenance. Here are some other ways to create a low maintenance landscape.

There are some plants that are quite fussy and require certain conditions to grow. For example, hydrangeas are lovely, but most varieties need shade and also a lot of water. So, you may not be able to grow every single plant you’d like in your cottage style garden. You’ll need to first determine if you can provide the right conditions for that plant.

My best recommendation for this style (and all garden styles) is to figure out your conditions first, then choose your plants according to what you have.

Plants that are healthy and thriving will ALWAYS look better than struggling ones. This is particularly important in cottage garden style, where you want your garden beds to feel full, lush and abundant.

Many people contact me online asking about growing a cottage garden when they live in a very sparse or drought-tolerant environment.

While it’s true that you may have to make sacrifices if you can’t grow certain plants, no matter where you live there are always beautiful native plants that will not only survive, but thrive in your conditions. The key is to find those plants and to use them to your advantage.

plants native to Nevada to use in a cottage garden
A great website for finding native plants in your region is izelplants.com. These plants are native to NEVADA and would be great options to use in a cottage garden.

If you want to learn more about plant research and my process for designing a garden bed that looks beautiful all year long, check out my Design Your 4-Season Garden course.

Examples of Cottage Style Gardens

I can do all of the writing in the world, but nothing will compare to having some real-life images of cottage gardens in the wild. So here are some examples of what a country cottage garden may look like.

This cottage garden incorporates edibles like blue cabbage, with the contrasting color of orange wildflowers.
An English park with a cottage-style garden in the morning fog.
Here’s a look at my backyard cottage garden in all 4-seasons. Learn how to get this look in my Design Your 4-Season Garden course.
mood board collage for enchanted cottage garden
This enchanted garden mood board was created in my Garden Style Mood Board Workshop. In this workshop you’ll learn how to create a mood board in your unique garden style!

An Overview of the Country Cottage Garden Style

I’ll be sharing lots of tips to help you out with your country cottage style, but above all, this type of garden must personally appeal to YOU. Fill it up with the plants, flowers, edibles, herbs, scents and colors you love. Cottage gardens are gardens “of the heart, of the hearth and of the home.”

Cottage gardens are personal, described as being ‘of the heart, of the hearth and of the home.’

Here are some elements that make up a cottage garden:

  • Informal plantings that appear “randomly placed” with very little open space.
  • Walls and fences covered with climbing plants and vines
  • Natural materials like brick, gravel, decomposed stone and mulch used for pathways.
  • Plants that spill onto paths and over fences to “soften” the edges.
  • Ornamental plants mixed together with medicinal and edible plants.

Color Palettes for Country Cottage Gardens

When it comes to garden styles, I tend to classify each on a sliding scale rather than individual buckets that you need to fit into. On this sliding scale, I look at the amount of color used and the type of hardscaping used.

plant variety and color range by garden style
The amount of color in each garden style, on a sliding scale.

You can see by this graphic that cottage styles tend to have a lot of color… more than traditional or modern style gardens. But the color palette is still a bit more refined than a naturalistic garden would be.

When selecting colors for a cottage garden, I would be a bit more selective than just allowing every single color and every single type of plant. This can be a bit overwhelming and make your cottage garden look like a bit of a mess. If you’re more selective in your color palette, it will be easier to pull off this type of garden.

Color wheel for garden color schemes

I’d recommend choosing 3 colors next to one other on the color wheel, then selecting an opposite color to add some energy and interest.

Some example color palettes would be:

  • Blue, Violet and Purple with pops of Amber.
  • Yellow, Chartreuse and Green with pops of Magenta.
  • Red, Vermillion and Orange with pops of Teal.

What to Plant in a Cottage Garden

Now it’s time for the fun part! Deciding on which plants you’ll select for your cottage garden.

It’s important to note that BEFORE you choose your plants, you should have a good grasp on the conditions of your garden. For example:

  • What’s your gardening zone?
  • How much sun (# of hours/day) does your garden bed get?
  • Does your soil drain well or not so great?
  • Do you have clay soil or sandy soil? Somewhere in between?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions yet, head over to this article to learn more.

Overall, plants in country cottage gardens are colorful and diverse, with a tendency to spill over into lawns and paths. Fill your cottage garden with collections of your favorite flowers and plants that are both beautiful and practical.

The cottage garden features colorful ornamentals, edible vegetables and fruits, herbs and medicinals all mixed together as one. Plantings utilize every inch of available space, creating a feeling of charm and “organized mess.”

Cottage garden plants are not rare and exotic. Most flowering perennials and flowering shrubs fit well in this look. Among them are American natives and ordinary species. Many old-fashioned flowering shrubs such as hydrangeas, roses, lilacs and trees, such as magnolias will suit the cottage garden style. Most of all, pick plants that you love.

CLEMATIS- beautiful and non-aggressive climbing vines

Clematis (Zones 3-9), known as the “Queen of Climbers,” is a beautiful, flowering vine that comes in a variety of colors with a variety of bloom times. Clematis is a great choice for growing over walls, trees and even over other plants in your cottage garden.

Phlox groundcover looks great cascading over stones or the edges of a stone border.

Creeping Phlox (Zone 3-9) is a colorful groundcover that will attract butterflies and bees while carpeting your landscape with fragrant blue, white and pink flowers. 

Here are some more classic vines and groundcovers you can try.

beautiful landscaping on a budget
Shasta daisies
conflowers and black eyed susans

Shasta daisies (Zones 3-8) and coneflowers (Zone 4-8) look great in cottage gardens. And, let’s be honest… how can you look at either of these flowers and NOT smile!

Also try incorporating edibles and herbs into your cottage garden. Mix in rosemary, sweet bay, sage, lavender, blueberry, figs, grapes and pomegranates with your ornamentals for a cottage garden that will look, smell and taste amazing.

Quick Tip: My Cottage Garden Design Styles Pinterest board is another great resource for planting inspiration.

What Blooms with What?

Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!

Powered by ConvertKit

Hardscaping for the Cottage Garden Style

Another thing that sets each garden style apart from the next, is the type of hardscaping materials you choose. Hardscaping is all of the structural elements you use… not just the pathways and the patios, but the fences and walls and arbors and gates, etc.

When choosing hardscape materials, keep in mine the style you want for your garden. More rustic, distressed and bumpy materials make a natural or cottage style, whereas more refined materials will learn toward traditional and modern.

garden style hardscape materials from rustic to sleek
The sliding scale of garden style hardscaping.

You can see that the cottage style hardscaping is lumpy and bumpy… but not quite as rustic as that of a naturalistic style garden. This doesn’t mean that you have to choose reclaimed brick for your cottage garden, but it is a great option.

The possibilities are nearly endless, but here are some great options for hardscaping in a cottage garden:

  • Reclaimed brick
  • Flagstone
  • Natural stone laid out in randomized patterns
  • Gravel or decomposed stone with a defined edging (like brick)
  • Stepping stones
  • Salvaged items (think old windows, doors, old tiles, pieces of metal, etc.)
  • Picket fences
  • Tree trunks, branches, brushwood, logs, wood rounds

Cottage Garden Fencing Ideas

There are also many brilliant types of fences that you can try to give your garden that country cottage style.

Cottage Garden Fences: Picket, Hudle, Post and Rail, Palisade and Brush Fences
Don’t forget to pin this post for later!

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Picket fences are the staple of the cottage garden. A beautiful white picket fence just screams cottage garden. Add a rambling rose along the top and you’re set.
  • Palisade fences (sometimes called a stake wall, paling or stockade fence) are typically made from iron or wooden stakes or tree trunks lined up vertically. 
  • Post and rail fences are certainly at home in a cottage garden or at a farmhouse. These are the types of fences you typically see to corral farm animals like cows and pigs. Although post and rail fencing won’t provide much privacy, it will definitely add charm.
  • Hazel or willow hurdle panels are panels weaved from the branches of trees and make a really rustic and charming panel. Multiple hurdle panels together could make a lovely fence option for a cottage garden. Wondering which to choose? Hazel hurdles are typically much more substantial (and heavier) than those made of willow.
  • Brushwood fences is very eco-friendly and natural fence option for your cottage garden that is made from Melaleuca (AKA broombrush). The brush is cut then hand-packed into the frame of the fence. They’re great for privacy and noise suppression, are resistant to termites and are practically maintenance free. Surprisingly, brushwood fences can last 25-40 years, outlasting many natural, steel or wooden fence options.
Collage of many different types of cottage garden fences
Here are some more great cottage garden fencing ideas to get your wheels spinning (Source: Google).

Furniture & Décor for Country Cottage Gardens

Here are some awesome furniture pieces and décor items that will turn your backyard into a charming country cottage in no time.

elements that make up country cottage garden style

The arbor gate: Before automobiles, visitors tied their carriage horses at the front gate to the dooryard. The vine or rose shrouded arbor made it more comfortable for the animals to wait in the shade or protected from the rain. I love this arbor gate by Montebello. It would look fabulous engulfed with climbing vines.

White lattice: An elegant way to screen a view or offer privacy without sacrificing air movement. For outdoor living, or in the era before air conditioning, this was a common and welcome building material and, today, provides a backdrop for many cottage gardens. Check out this beautiful white lattice trellis.

Clay flower pots: Inexpensive clay flower pots are common in cottage gardens because the original modest cottage gardeners couldn’t afford luxury items. Here’s some terracotta pots to get you started. You can age and color these to make them fit your style.

Wood window boxes: Homemade window boxes were a popular decoration for simple, functional homes at minimal cost. You might like this gorgeous rustic planter box in 15 sizes.

Flea market finds: Antique wheelbarrows, rustic wagon wheels and even old dresser drawers used as planters. Any quirky, whimsical finds that are weathered with age will enhance the cottage garden style.

Too impatient for flea markets? Here are a couple of my favorite, weathered cottage garden items:

Tips for Getting the Country Cottage Garden Style at Home

Here’s a quick list of ideas to get you started in incorporating this style into your own garden:

  • Mix edibles and herbs into your flower garden beds.
  • Incorporate vintage and antique items, such as salvaged windows or doors.
  • Use fragrant plants and flowers like lilacs, roses and hummingbird mint in a cottage garden design to add a more sensory experience. 
  • Add climbing vines and wall plants to creating walls for your cottage garden rooms to make it feel more intimate, romantic and special.
  • Use lumpy, bumpy materials like reclaimed brick and rustic barnwood.

Combining Cottage Gardens with Other Garden Styles

One thing to remember is that there’s no need to be constrained by a particular design style. Your garden and tastes are unique. So, feel free to create whatever your imagination inspires!

Here’s an example of how you can mix cottage and natural garden style elements (from Fine Gardening magazine).

The key to creating a style that works is don’t mix too many different materials. When in doubt, keep it simple. You can always add to it later.

Learn More About Cottage Garden Style (Blogs To Follow)

If you’re looking to learn more about country cottage garden styles, here are some cottage gardening blogs that you can check out:

  • Pam’s English Cottage Garden: Pam’s blog is about English-style Gardening in the Pocono mountains in Pennsylvania. Her goal is to create a garden where she lives that is reminiscent of her grandmother’s garden in England that she remembers as a child.
  • London Cottage Garden: Julie’s blog is about creating the cottage garden style in your town garden. She’s based in London, England and enjoys attracting wildlife and incorporating greenery, movement, scent and color into her carefree garden.
  • Garden in a City: Jay’s blog is about creating the cottage garden style in the middle of the city. Specifically, he lives in Chicago, Illinois and enjoys gardening in a wildlife-friendly way.
  • Sofia’s Country Gardens: Located in the south of Finland, Sofia grows organic vegetables and beautiful flower borders while maintaining farmland. Her content is a great mix of vegetables, flowers, wildlife and natural gardening.

On Instagram, check out @_thesuburbancottagegarden_, @shiplapandshells and the hashtag #cottagegardenstyle.

Wrapping Up

Although the lack of rules and structure can make the country cottage garden style a little tricky to accomplish, the one thing you need to remember is that cottage gardens are gardens “of the heart, of the hearth and of the home.

Elements of cottage gardens may look mashed together or randomly placed, but they are actually thoughtfully selected. Choose plants, materials and features that have meaning for the person who tends the garden.

If you enjoyed this post about the country cottage garden style, you’ll love my Garden Style Mood Board Workshop. Not only will you learn more about garden styles, but I’ll take you through the simple process I use for creating gorgeous outdoor spaces that are absolutely infused with your own personal style. You’re going to love it!

More Garden Style Articles You’ll Love

Shop my Amazon storefront for my essential gardening books & tool recommendations!

Country Cottage Garden Design Style
Don’t forget to pin this post for later
Narrow Garden Layouts + Design Tips to Make Them Work For You

Narrow Garden Layouts + Design Tips to Make Them Work For You

Designing a layout for a narrow garden can be a very tricky task to take on yourself. If you’re having trouble getting started, I’ve put together several different narrow garden layouts to choose from. I’ll also share with you why each layout works and how you can modify these layouts to fit your own unique needs.

While it sounds counterintuitive, dividing up a long, narrow garden will actually make your landscape look a lot BIGGER than it really is.

The best design tip I can give you when trying to conquer a narrow garden is to divide your space into smaller sections. I know that most home gardeners feel like this will make the space feel smaller, so they shy away from creating separate areas. But the truth is that most garden designers, when faced with a long narrow garden, will do exactly this.

Before you get started with your design layout, it’s important to think about what you actually need in your landscape. So, head over to my article, 7 tips to starting your landscaping from scratch. There’s lots of great information there about gathering inspiration photos, determining your garden style, understanding the conditions of your property and creating a wish list for what you need or want to incorporate into your garden. You can also check out my post filled with ideas specifically for designing your backyard landscape.

Once you have the basics covered, you’ll be able to use what you’ve learned to decide on a layout for your narrow garden. I’ll provide several unique narrow garden layouts that you can try:

  • A simple, kid-friendly narrow garden with a large lawn
  • An organic, curved design for an informal, narrow garden
  • The plant-lovers paradise layout for a narrow garden space – also “no lawn” friendly
  • A bold and unique design for wow factor in a narrow garden – also “no lawn” friendly

Depending on your needs, you can easily adjust these layouts to create a garden that’s uniquely you!

Narrow Garden Layout with Large Lawn Area

Narrow garden design layout with large lawn

This is a very simple and straightforward design for a long and narrow backyard. I think that most home owners will really enjoy the simplicity of this layout. There’s a reason why this is a popular option: it solves all the problems of a narrow garden design and can be adapted to accommodate a lot of different items from your garden wish list.

First, a patio/dining area can be placed right outside of the home. It’s always a great idea to have a deck or patio near the house so that you can dine outdoors and cook on the grill. It makes carrying dishes in and out a lot easier.

What I like most about this option is that it provides a large lawn space, which is great for kids. So, if you have young children or a dog that likes to use the lawn space, you may consider trying out this option.

Finally, at the far end of this narrow garden, I’ve designed a “relaxing space” that’s secluded from the patio and the lawn. This space is separated from the lawn using evergreen hedging that will make it feel cozier. There’s also a little garden path that you can travel down before you enter the relaxation area.

Some ideas for a relaxation area are:

  • fountain or water feature
  • hammocks for napping and enjoying the sun
  • fire pit / campfire area
  • outdoor living room with sectional couches and lots of pillows
  • a space to read, draw or pursue your hobbies
  • an orchard of fruit trees
  • a gazebo or pergola with a bar and a big screen tv to watch the game
  • this is also a great location for a garden shed, if you don’t have a need for a second space

And, if you’re a visual person like I am, here’s a hand illustration I made to incorporate some of the ideas mentioned for this layout.

Hand illustrated narrow garden design layout with large lawn
Hand illustrated narrow garden design layout with large lawn and two relaxing areas for outdoor entertaining. Illustration by Pretty Purple Door.

You will notice that in this layout I’ve divided the narrow space into 3 smaller areas that are easier shapes to handle. You could always make the patio larger, the lawn smaller, etc. Personally, I think I would create garden borders around the lawn area so I’d have room to plant some more flowers and shrubs!

Asymmetrical Narrow Garden Layout with Curves

Narrow garden design layout with large lawn

This narrow garden layout is for those of you who dislike boxy designs and want a more organic look to your garden design. Honestly, it’s not much different from the first design. The main difference is the asymmetrical layout.

The patio/dining area is still right at the front of the garden near the home. Except, it’s offset a little bit. A meandering path starts right at the back of the home and will walk you all the way to the very back area of the garden. Along the way there are lots of planting areas to make it a gorgeous, secluded stroll. This would be a great design for a cottage style garden.

And, if you’re looking for some ideas for planting up the garden areas, check out this YouTube video where I explain how I designed a similar pathway garden in my own backyard!

Subscribe to my YouTube channel for more gardening videos!

To the right of the pathway, there’s a large lawn area for the kiddos and doggies. I’ve included a lawn area in this design as well because, well, it’s the most practical use of the space for most families. But, if you’re trying to get rid of the lawn or hate cutting the grass, keep reading because the next two options can easily be “no lawn” solutions for you.

At the end of this long and narrow garden, I’ve included an area for a vegetable garden and a small shed. But, remember all of the ideas above that you could swap out for this area. And, if you like the idea of including a vegetable garden in your design, make sure that you place it in an area that gets LOTS of sun. Your veggies will need AT LEAST 6 hours of sun per day in the location you choose.

Could this be the garden design for you?

Hand illustrated narrow garden design layout with large lawn
Hand illustrated narrow garden design layout with two trees, a large curved lawn area and room for a round patio, vegetable garden and a shed. Illustration by Pretty Purple Door.

Narrow Garden Layout with Lots of Room for Plants

Narrow garden design layout with long pathway

I think this is my favorite long, narrow garden design because there’s tons of space to plant. It truly is a plant-lovers dream… probably why I love it so much!

The space begins with a lawn and then a hedge row separates the lawn from a beautiful garden area. This could be a cut flower garden, a woodland garden, an orchard, a vegetable garden or even a play space for the kids… anything you want really.

What Blooms with What?

Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!

Powered by ConvertKit

This design incorporates a lot of green space for planting ! The center area is divided by a hedge row on either side and a small path guides you into a patio area near the back of the yard. It’s so dreamy (I love this one).

Don’t get too caught up in what I’m calling lawn or patio. These areas can easily be swapped so the patio is near the home and the lawn is in the back. Or, pick something else that fits your needs better!

To eliminate the lawn from this design, I would swap the lawn for a patio right by the house (near the bottom of the design). Then, in the far back area of the garden create a “relaxation area” using the ideas I provided above. Personally, I think I would add a campfire area in the back.

Hand illustrated narrow garden design layout with long pathway
Hand illustrated narrow garden design layout opens to a large lawn, narrowing to a long pathway with large garden areas on either side. The back of the garden has a large patio space surrounded by gardens with room for dining and relaxing. Illustration by Pretty Purple Door.

Narrow Garden Layout with a Center Focal Point

Narrow garden design layout with fountain in center

This design is not for the faint of heart. It’s a pretty bold and unique design for those of you who really want to create a feature in your backyard. Does it speak to you?

This design starts out with a straight pathway anchored by gardens on the left and right as you enter the space. These garden areas would be a great place for a cutting garden or an herb garden since they are so near to the house.

Then, the garden area is separated by a hedge and enters into a small, curved lawn area. This is the smallest lawn design in the bunch so it’s great for those of you that don’t want to completely eliminate your grass but do want to reduce the size of the lawn and the maintenance associated with it.

Next, we will enter the bold, focal area of this garden that features a circular pathway that surrounds an impressive focal point. In this design I’m calling this a water feature, as I can see a grand, bubbling fountain in the space. Along the circular walkway I’ve included some benches for seating… Because who wouldn’t want to sit near this focal point and enjoy the space?

Hand illustrated narrow garden design layout with fountain in center
Hand illustrated narrow garden design layout with fountain or other large focal point in the center of the landscape. Stroll down a brick pathway flanked by lawns and end at a large entertaining space near the back of the garden. Illustration by Pretty Purple Door.

But, don’t get too caught up on the fountain focal point, because the center area can really be any focal point you want. It can be rows of topiary or trimmed hedges. It can be a beautiful reclaimed brick patio. It can be a gorgeous statue or garden bed.

Quick Tip: If you want some ideas for the center area of this design, head over this article about focal points to learn more.

Finally, the circle continues with another pathway that leads to a hedged patio area in the back of the garden. This would make a beautiful space for a quiet lunch, a place to read or even catch up on work. Although it’s more common to have the patio right off your home, I actually love having a patio area in a far back corner of the garden.

Narrow garden design tips
Amy in her home garden. A river rock walkway leads to a reclaimed brick patio in a shady corner.

In my own home garden, I have a small circular patio right tucked into a shady corner, complete with a meandering rock walkway and an arbor to create a secluded entry. It’s my favorite space!

Eliminating the lawn in this design is easy as can be. Instead of lawn, you can extend your garden. Or, use the lawn area for a patio or seating area. The lawn could also be swapped for a vegetable garden, a blueberry patch or a children’s swing set. This would be a really simple design to transform into a no lawn option.

Wrapping Up

In this post, we discussed several different narrow garden layouts that you can try at home. I hope that these layouts have given you the confidence to tackle your long and narrow garden space. Remember: the trick is to break up your space up into smaller sections that don’t have such an awkward shape. Then, assign a purpose for each of the spaces. If you want to create your own design, head over to this article for more ideas: Backyard Landscape Design, Step-By-Step

If you have a long, narrow garden, you may also want to check out my post about tall, narrow trees that you can use in your garden. And, if you’ve decided on one of these layouts and are wondering what to do next, here are some articles that will help you out.

You may also be interested in taking my free gardening training. It’s a free, 45 minute video training where I’ll reveal three of my secrets so you can overcome your biggest gardening challenges! I also have several online garden design courses that you will love, too!

More Garden Design Articles You’ll Love

Narrow garden design layouts
Don’t forget to pin this post for later!

How to Arrange Plants in Containers – 7 Design Tips

How to Arrange Plants in Containers – 7 Design Tips

It’s fun to go to the garden center looking for gorgeous plants for your planters and containers. But, that fun can really quickly turn to overwhelm and dread when you start to see how many plants and flowers there are to choose from.

In a moment of panic, you turn around and spot that pre-made container near the checkout for $75. And, it feels like someone threw a lifeline to you as you breathe a sigh of relieft.

Believe me, I know how incredibly tempting it is to buy that premade arrangement and move on with your life.

But, did you know that once you learn some simple tricks to arranging plants in containers, you’ll save SO much money? Not only that, your containers will be unique and creative, too.

So, if you’ve been struggling with arranging plants, I’ve put together this post — and a video — to show you:

  • how I choose plants for my containers
  • how I combine different plants together
  • how I arrange the plants in my containers
Fall Planters – Container Design using Ornamental Peppers

Subscribe to my YouTube channel for more gardening videos!

Tips to make the perfect container arrangement

You can watch the video above to get all of my tips and a bit more of a “visual” look at why I’m choosing each plant. Or, below you can read each tip and laugh at me trying to explain what I’m talking about in the video 🙂

1 Choose an “inspiration” plant

My first tip is to make a loop around the garden center and find a plant that inspires you. Maybe it’s something you’ve never seen before? Maybe it’s a color you love? Maybe it’s a plant you’re familiar with, but have never seen it in THAT color before? Maybe it’s a vegetable, like cabbage, kale of peppers? Or even an ornamental grass?

Whatever it is, find that plant that you just MUST have. The one that speaks to you. This will be the starting/jumping off point for arranging your container.

Dark purple pepper plant with purple blooms

For me, the jumping off point was the moment that I saw this beautiful and unusual plant at the garden center. It’s a dark purple, almost black, ornamental pepper called Black Pearl (Capsicum annuum black pearl).

Those round, shiny nubs are actually hot peppers and it blooms with purple flowers. And I had to have it.

2 Tie your container in with your existing landscape

Ok, so black pearl pepper is in my cart and I have already decided that I must need it. At this point, I HAVE to give myself a good old gut check. I call this the “gut check” test.

So, I ask myself how this plant actually ties into my existing landscape. And, I know that it may be a strange question because this is a container arrangement… right? But, the fact remains that your landscape does not go away just because you decided to change out your container. So, there has to be some connection between your planter and your landscape.

For me… there is because I use a lot of purple blooms in my landscape. So, even though the foliage of this pepper plant is WAY darker than anything in my landscape, it still has the purple blooms that tie in with my purple asters at catmint this time of year.

What Blooms with What?

Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!

Powered by ConvertKit

3 Find plants to compliment your inspiration plant

So, we have our inspirational plant. Around this time, I’m staring at it in my cart and grinning like an idiot as I bump into displays around the nursery… because I am in love with it and I’ve passed my “gut check” test.

So, the next thing on my agenda is to find plants to go with this particular plant. And, in most cases I think about color. So I’m usually looking for something else that’s purple like the pepper… or something orange or yellow that contrasts with the purple.

Quick Tip: Learning just a little bit about the color wheel and creating color schemes will up your gardening game.

For me, it was another pepper plant. And yes, apparently I’m obsessed with peppers this year. But, this plant had so much going for it and I thought it was the perfect companion to my black pearl pepper. It’s called Mambo ornamental pepper bush (Capsicum annuum Mambo).

Ornamental Pepper Bush - Orange and Purple Peppers

Mambo ties in beautifully with Black Pearl because it has similarities, but it also has differences.

It has shiny peppers on it, but the peppers are a different shape and some are the same (purple) but some are different (orange)

Also, the foliage of this pepper bush is the same shape and has the same shine as Black Pearl. The leaves are dark, but not quite as dark as Black Pearl.

4 Use contrast in color and texture to make an interesting arrangement

So at this stage we have Black Pearl Ornamental Pepper paired with Mambo Ornamental Pepper bush. And, Mambo gives a bit of contrast but not enough to really amp up my container. So my next mission is to find something that will really contrast with my inspiration plant.

So, I took cues from the orange peppers in Mambo and set out to find another orange blooming plant. But not another pepper. I need something with a different texture than the shiny bulbs I already have. And that’s when I stumbled upon Celosia ‘Twisted Orange’ Cockscomb (Celosia argentea var. cristata ‘Twisted Orange’).

Closeup of fuzzy twisted blooms of the Twisted Orange Cockscomb plant

How unique and exciting are these blooms? This is just what I was looking for as far as contrast.

The blooms are a fuzzy, twisty orange mass which is much, much different than the shiny bulbs of the peppers I had.

It also has lighter green foliage that are a bit bigger than the leaves of the peppers (although they are basically the same shape).

5 Choose plants of different heights

When I get to this point, I’m usually thinking about what I’m missing from my container. In most cases, it’s variation in height, but it certainly could be other things.

You want to make sure you include something tall, something bushy and something low to cover the dirt (or even “spill over” the container). So, in my arrangement, I have my Mambo peppers that will grow low and possibly spill over the edge of the planter. My celosia and Black Pearl pepper will fill in the middle height. But I am really missing that “thriller” part.

And, by the way, I really don’t like using the word thriller… you know how they say thriller, spiller, filler. It’s all well and fine to use this to remember to vary the heights of your plants, but I find that in a majority of my planters that the thriller isn’t really all that thrilling. It’s usually just a tall grass or something to give the planter height. In this case I feel like I’ve already found my thriller in the Black Pearl Pepper. So… anything after that is just… not so thrilling.

So, to summarize this, varying plant heights in a container IS super important. But the tallest plant doesn’t need to be the most “thrilling” part of your container. Make sense?

Chartreuse green millet plant with strappy leaves

I chose Jade Princess Millet (Pennisetum glaucum ‘Jade Princess’) for my tallest plant in my container.

Millet doesn’t bloom… but it solves several problems with my container; height, leaf shape and brightness.

6 Review your plant choices to see if anything is missing

So, what are these problems exactly? Well, take a look at your plant choices as a group and you may start to realize that something is “off” or “wrong”. In many cases, it has to do with the heights of the plants like I said above.

But in some other cases it will be something not as easy to pinpoint. But, here are some common issues that you may have and what you can do to fix them.

container with dark purple and bright orange peppers in front of a house
Ornamental Peppers Fall Container by Amy Fedele, Pretty Purple Door

Do you have plants that are different heights?

Think… tall, bushy, low. Make sure that there’s a variation of heights for your plants and that you really can’t see the soil. Or, once the plants grow in you won’t be able to see the soil. Adding some different height plants adds a lot of interest to your container.

If you don’t want this “style” of container, that’s ok too. There are lots of different things you can do. So, just move to the next point.

Is there enough contrast?

You want to make sure that your arrangement is cohesive. But it should also have enough contrast to create some interest. So think about color contrast… but also contrast in shapes and textures too.

In my planter, part of the problem was with contrast in the leaf shape. This was resolved by the strappy foliage of the millet. The majority of a plant is foliage so I tend NOT to rely on the color of the blooms to carry my designs.

If all the color was removed, are the plants able to stand out from each other? Or, does everything just blend together? If it blends, you may need to find a tiny leafed plant, a large leafed plant, or just something different to add to your container arrangement.

What feeling does it evoke?

What’s the first word that comes to mind for you? When I looked at my arrangement I thought of “spooky.” Which… is kind of ok… since it’s almost Halloween. BUT, it wasn’t completely ok with me.

I don’t my planters to feel too dark and scary. So, I needed to choose something to brighten it up. Which is where my choice for the Jade Princess Millet came in.

So, think about the first word that comes to mind (dull, boring, girly, cheerful, dark). Is it a positive word or a negative one? How can you change the feeling?

Does it remind you of anything?

I associate color with a lot of different things… so often when I look at an arrangement I immediately think of common items or even popular brands that use those colors. This can be good or bad so let’s go over a few examples.

I really can’t stand the combination of red and yellow flowers together. I immediately see ketchup and mustard and think of McDonalds. Nothing wrong with McDonalds… I just don’t like the food enough to create a plant arrangement in Ronald’s honor.

But, I really do love ice cream. One time I made a planter arrangement with lots of different pastel colors and the first thing I thought of when I looked at it was rainbow sherbet. So, that was a wonderful association… except for my diet!

So… if your arrangement is sparking some weird associations, that’s totally normal. If it’s a positive association (like rainbow sherbet ice cream), go for it. If it’s something you don’t particularly like (Ronald)… maybe you need to adjust it.

7 Divide plants to fill multiple containers for less money

Did you know that just because you purchase one plant in a pot… it doesn’t mean that it’s only one plant? My mind was blown when I first realized this. And now I will never go back to purchasing premade arrangements.

Take a look inside of the plant that you’re about to buy. Do you see multiple stems coming out of the soil? If so, it’s likely that the plant can be divided into at least two different plants.

Actually, the ornamental pepper bush in the video above was actually 5 separate plants. So, I purchased one pot for $7.99 and was able to divide that into 5 different plants for my containers! Not a bad deal, right?

If you want to learn more about how to split plants in containers, just watch this video and I’ll show you how to do it.

Quick Tip: If you’re looking for more gorgeous fall container ideas, head over to this post, 10 Fall Flower Containers with a Unique Twist 

BONUS- Use a self-watering planter

If you’re getting into container gardening, self-watering planters are a great option. Not only do they save you time having to water each day, but overall will lead to healthier and happier plants that are consistently getting the moisture they need to survive.

You can purchase these planters at nurseries and home improvement stores. But, you can also fairly easily turn a container you love into a self-watering planter.

What did I plant?

four plant choices for container separated into blocks
Black pearl ornamental pepper, Mambo ornamental pepper bush, Celosia twisted Orange, Jade princess Millet

From left to right, here are my fall container arrangement plant choices:

  1. Black pearl ornamental pepper Capsicum annuum black pearl
  2. Mambo ornamental pepper bush Capsicum annuum Mambo
  3. Celosia twisted Orange Cockscomb Celosia argentea var. cristata ‘Twisted Orange’
  4. Jade princess Millet Pennisetum glaucum ‘Jade Princess’

Wrapping Up

When creating your own container arrangement, start with one plant as inspiration and go form there. Then, find a plant to compliment your inspiration plant. Then, another plant that contrasts it in either color, leaf shape, texture or size…. or all of the above. Next, you want to make sure you include something tall, something bushy and something low to cover the dirt (or even “spill over” the container). Lastly, have fun and enjoy the process of choosing your plants and arranging them in your containers. If you liked this post about container arrangements, you’ll definitely want to check out my top tips for arranging plants in your landscape.

More Gardening Posts You’ll Love

Closeups of orange, purple and green plants; How to arrange plants in containers
Don’t forget to pin this post for later
4 Tips for a Peaceful Garden Sanctuary at Home

4 Tips for a Peaceful Garden Sanctuary at Home

I’m guessing that you want beautiful garden that’s ALSO harmonious and peaceful. Not a garden that’s chaotic, out of control and high maintenance.

Well, you are certainly no alone. Having a beautifully landscaped outdoor space is one of the most coveted wish list items for hard-working home owners that need a place to escape to and relax.

To create a peaceful garden, use a refined plant color palette, add the sound of water, divide your space into cozy garden rooms and share it with wildlife like birds and butterflies.

You can watch the video below or keep reading along to learn how!

Use these colors to create harmony in the garden – calm, relaxing gardens

1. Use analogous colors

I’m sure you’re sooooo surprised that my first tip for a peaceful garden is to use color to create a mood in your garden (joke of the year). I love using skills I learned as a graphic designer to improve my garden.

Color wheel for garden color schemes

So, my favorite tip here is to choose colors that are very close to each other on the color wheel, also called analogous colors. Colors that are right next to each other create harmony, while colors opposite one another create more energy and excitement (more on this next week)!

A great peaceful color scheme that you can try at home is blue, violet and purple.

Quick Tip: If you really love this tip, head over to my post, How to create gorgeous garden color schemes. There are lots more examples and tips over there!

2. Add water

DIY Pondless Water Feature
My DIY pondless water feature is a great project that you can do in a few hours.

Adding a water feature to your garden is a fun and super easy way to create more peace and tranquility. The sound of water is always very relaxing. In addition to that, it’s really good for drowning out background noise.

So, if you live on a busy street or have a lot of neighborhood kids that are always yelling and carrying on (like me), the water sound can drown a lot of that noise and chaos out for you.

Both images below are water features from the Philadelphia Flower Show, 2020

Pink and blue plants and reflection pond - fish sculptures
Water feature - calm and peaceful with guitar

And, if you haven’t seen my pondless water feature, you should definitely check that out. It’s a really easy and fun project that you can make in just a few hours!

What Blooms with What?

Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!

Powered by ConvertKit

3. Create garden rooms

Garden rooms is sort of a buzzword in the landscaping industry. But… what does it actually mean? If you’ve never created a garden room before, the easiest way I can explain how to do it is… try creating a designated place to sit and relax. 

Garden room - rustic dining area
Image from the Philadelphia Flower Show 2020

This can be an area for a big, long table with mixed and matched chairs and an old sheet for a tablecloth… or a simple, small area with a rocking chair and a little end table next to it for your morning coffee or tea.

The trick here is to create a space and then decorate the space. Just like you add decor to your living room, you can add (outdoor) decor to your garden room.

Garden room with single wall and doorway to enter
This garden room design has a single wall installation with french doors that lead to the space and create a sense of peace and intimacy. Photo from the Philadelphia Garden Show, 2020

Creating a “place” in the garden where you can retreat to is a wonderful way to create peace and harmony in your landscape. And, you can enjoy the fruits of your labor for years to come.

4- Invite Wildlife

Bringing in wildlife like birds, butterflies, fish and frogs is a great way to create a peaceful and harmonious garden that not only benefits you, but mother nature, too! Some ideas to attract wildlife to your garden are to choose plants that are native to your area, add bird feeders or even homes for birds, bugs. frogs and toads. All animals need water to survive, so bird baths or a shallow water dish will also attract little friends.

I find that having a backyard active with all kinds of creatures and critters is so fun and relaxing. It really keeps you in touch with nature.

There are lots of pictures and examples for creating a peaceful garden sanctuary in my video. So, I’d definitely recommend taking a quick watch. It’s not even 10 minutes long and will give you lots of ideas for your garden!

More Gardening Posts You’ll Love

Gardening Online Course Comparison: Garden Planning 101 vs. Design your 4-Season Garden Course

Gardening Online Course Comparison: Garden Planning 101 vs. Design your 4-Season Garden Course

Are you wondering… what’s the difference between the “Garden Planning 101” and “Design your 4-Season Garden” course?

This is definitely the most common question I receive! Both online gardening courses include my garden planning worksheets and will discuss the basic principles that will help you to improve your home landscape.

However, the level of depth/detail of the content varies between the two courses.

Garden Planning 101 Course

The Garden Planning 101 course is a great option for beginners who want to dip their toe into the world of garden design and planning. In the 101 course, I will walk you through how to use the garden planning worksheets effectively to plan your own gardens.

I also cover some ideas for combining colors together to make your landscape evoke the right mood or feeling that you’re looking for. So if you like the idea of the garden planning worksheets but need a little extra help to get the most of out of them, this course is for you.

Design your 4-Season Garden Course

The Design your 4-Season Garden course is still suitable for all skill levels of gardeners. But, in this course we take a very deep dive into my “Garden Design Framework.” I’ll teach you how to not only plan your garden space, but how to make it bloom in all 4 seasons.

The trickiest part of gardening is understanding bloom time. So in this course we cover that and how to pick plants that look good together AND bloom in the same season. During this course, I’ll actually be planning a garden bed from start to finish so you’ll get to see a real life example of how I do it, what plants I chose and why I chose them.

If you’re looking for a course with tons of real-life examples and an easy to follow process for selecting each and every plant in your garden, you will love this deep-dive course. This course also includes many bonus resources (view the course page for a full list) and a private Facebook group for 4-Season Gardening students only!

Walkthrough the Design your 4-Season Garden Course

Major Differences between the courses

  • Both courses cover topics of the garden pyramid, designing a layered landscape and creating color schemes. The 101 Course is an overview course and will give you enough information to get started. The 4-Season Garden course goes much more in-depth.
  • The 101 Course covers pieces of my framework, but it does not teach my entire “garden design framework”. The 4-Season Garden course revolves entirely around mastering my entire framework.
  • The 101 Course does not include any information about carrying color throughout all the different seasons. So, if you have a lot of “dead times” in your garden where nothing is blooming, the 4-Season Garden course is a great fit. It covers how to get continuous color and interest in your garden all year.

Gardening Course Comparison Chart

If there’s a specific topic or feature that you’re really interested in, this comparison chart should help to clarify whether it’s covered in the course you’re interested in!

Item101 Course4-Season Course
Price of course$127$297
Payment plan offered?NoIn full or over 3 mo.
Garden Planning Worksheets DownloadYesYes
How to Use the Garden Planning WorksheetsYesYes
Downloadable course workbookNoYes
The Garden PyramidYesYes
Landscape LayeringJust tipsYes – extensive
Creating Color SchemesYesYes – extensive
Researching Plants OnlineYesYes
Seasonal color and interestJust tipsYes – extensive
Garden Design FrameworkNoYes
Garden bed layout designsNoYes
Plant identification guideNoYes
Private Facebook Group MembershipNoYes
My Personal Plant DatabaseNoYes
Design your garden WITH me –
see all of my plant choices and thinking along the way
Native vs. Invasive PlantsNoYes
Arranging plants in the gardenNoYes
Drawing a Planting Plan (scale drawing)YesNo

How to Purchase a Course

You can purchase the courses online using a credit card to gain instant access and start learning right away! Here are the links to purchase each of the courses:

Wrapping Up

I hope this helps to clarify the differences between the two online courses. If you have any additional questions, please contact me and I’m happy to help.


Gardening Online Course Comparison
Gardening Online Course Comparison: Garden Planning 101 vs. Design your 4-Season Garden Course
Arrange Plants In Your Garden – 3 Simple Ways

Arrange Plants In Your Garden – 3 Simple Ways

Arranging plants in your garden… It’s one of those things that many beginner gardeners really, really struggle with. But today I’m going to show you three simple ways that you can arrange plants in your landscape for that beautiful layered look that you want. Use these steps to create a more professional and organic looking garden at home. 

1- Arrange Plants in Drifts (Groups)

drifts of purple, green and white plants along a path
In this photo, the purple geraniums are planted in drifts. There is a massing of at least 3 geranium plants on the right side of the path. In addition, the groupings of geraniums are distributed all the way down the path in 7 separate drifts.

One of the easiest ways to arrange plants in your garden is by grouping your plants. This is also known as planting in drifts. Drifts are groups of plants that are arranged in an organic way in your landscape. Usually when planting and drifts, it’s recommended that you do so in odd numbers like 3, 5, or 7

Arrange plants in drifts of 3 5 or 7
Drifts of plants create more impact than single plants. Illustration by PrettyPurpleDoor.

When you arrange plants in drifts it gives a bigger impact to your landscape. No more buying just one plant. You should buy several of the same type of plant so that you can make a grouping of them. This will give you a better overall look to your garden.

Quick Tip: If you like the idea of creating drifts of plants, you’ll also really enjoy my article all about landscape layering

cactus and agave plant grouping
Here’s an example of a drift planting with only 3 plants. Havin 3 of the same plant provides more impact than just having one or two here and there. From Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, PA. Photo by Pretty Purple Door.

Why Do Odd Numbers in Planting Design Work?

Peaceful garden space with benches under a tree
These clipped pyramidal-shaped evergreens are planted in a grouping of 3 to create an impact.

Why use odd numbers, you may be wondering? It’s because our brains are wired to categorize things into equal/even groups. It’s actually much easier/faster for our brains to process even numbers. When we plant in odd groups, it takes a bit longer for our brains to process, which can make a planting stand out.

Large drifts of plants are also beneficial in creating a statement. If you like one plant, you’ll definitely like the look of 7 of the same plant clustered together.

This trick will create more drama and impact in your design.

When Should You Use Even Numbers in Planting Design?

formal garden design using symmetry and even numbers
Hidcote Manor Garden (NT) has a very formal style and using a lot of even numbers in plantings creates symmetry and enhances its formal look. Designed by Lawrence Johnston and photographed by Dave Catchpole (CC BY 2.0), via Flickr.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Even numbers are easier for our brains to process because they bring symmetry. Because of this, even numbers don’t stand out as much. So, if you DON’T want to accentuate or bring attention to an area of your garden, planting in even numbers may do the trick.

Another reason you may consider using even numbers is if you have a traditional-style garden. Even numbers in planting design will give your garden a very symmetrical and formal style.

So, if that’s the look you’re going for, don’t shy away from even numbers!

By the way, here’s an article will tons of different garden styles you can use in your home garden (including the traditional style).

Does it Ever NOT Matter if you Plant Even or Odd Groupings?

Yes. After about 7 objects (or plants), our brains really can’t determine the individual number of objects that make up the group. So, the even/odd design trick is no longer important after about 7 plants in the drift.

Here’s an example of a drift planting where there are more than 7 plants. How many plants are there? I’m not sure… and it doesn’t really matter at this point. It looks nice but the number is unimportant once you reach about 7 plants.

When planting in large drifts, the goal is to make the grouping look like one large statement instead of separate plants. So, plant closer together than you typically would to get your plants to mesh together.

2-  Create a Focal Point in your Garden Bed 

fun container surrounded by plants
This adorable container creates a bold focal point in the garden when surrounded by pale blue-purple flowers. Photo by KRiemer (CC0 1.0), via Pixabay

Another way that you can arrange plants in your landscape is by creating a focal point. Pick a superstar plant that you love or even position a sculpture or other object as the focus of your garden bed. Then arrange plants around the focal point to bring it all together.

create a focal point and arrange plants around it
Try arranging a group of plants around a focal point, like a pot, statue or even a vibrant plant. Illustration by PrettyPurpleDoor.

Quick Tip: Another great way to create a focal point is by using a contrasting color in the garden. Check out this article on garden color schemes to learn how to use color in your garden.

3-  Arrange your Plants in Rows

Photo of white hydrangeas at Phipps Conservatory
In this landscape border at Phipps Conservatory in Pittburgh, PA, plants are arranged in neat and tidy rows from tallest in the back to shortest in the front. Photo by Pretty Purple Door.

Creating rows in the garden is another simple way to arrange plants when you aren’t sure what to do. Arrange the tallest plants in the back, the medium-sized plants in the center and the lowest growing plants in the front to create a foreground, middle-ground and a background in your garden. 

By arranging in straight rows you’ll be creating more of a traditional or formal look for your garden. This is a really nice and clean layout that lots of gardeners enjoy using.

make 3 rows of plants in your garden
It may seem simple, but creating 3 rows to form a foreground, middle-ground and background is very effective. Illustration by PrettyPurpleDoor.

Quick Tip: Not sure if your style is formal or informal? Learn more about different garden styles and the characteristics of each in this article.

Bonus Tip: Weave Plants In and Out of the Rows for a More Casual Design

cottage style mixed border planting
In this mixed border, you can see that different groups of plants are weaved in and out of the rows. This is especially evident where the sedum and lavender drifts are weaved in and out of the front row of the border. This gives the planting a more casual or cottage feel.

Here’s an extra tip that will help you when planting in rows. If you’re looking for a more informal look to your garden and you don’t want to just create three straight rows. Instead, try mixing the rows of plants together for a more casual and carefree look. 

Create a foreground, middle-ground and background with your plants, then weave the plants in and out of each row. That medium-sized plants can be pulled forward to the front row and smaller plants can be pulled back into the middle row. 

Weave plants in and out of the 3 rows of your garden
Weaving your plants in and out of their original rows creates a more casual look. Illustration by PrettyPurpleDoor.

You can also experiment with bringing larger plants from the back row to the middle row and putting middle row plants in the background. Think about this kind of like you would braid your hair. We are mixing the 3 different rows together to tie the garden together.

This will give you a more informal and casual look for your layered garden bed.

Quick Tip: If you need some more help with weaving plants in and out of the garden, check out this article for 5 ways to create unity and flow in your landscape.

Wrapping Up

Using these three simple steps will give you a more cohesive and put together garden layout.

If you liked this article, you’ll love these tips for arranging plants in containers.

To arrange your plants in your landscape, first think about planting in drifts of 3, 5, or 7 plants. No more stopping at the garden center to pick up one single plant! We are now going to plant for impact!

Second, create a focal point in your garden using a standout plant, shrub or even a statue or other structure. Then surround your focal point with a drift of other plants that complement it. 

Finally, try arranging your plants into 3 rows; a foreground, middle-ground and background row. This will give you a more traditional and formal look to your garden.

In our bonus tip we discussed weaving plants from the foreground to the middle ground, from the middle ground to the foreground and from the background and the middle ground. By weaving the plants in each row together, you’ll introduce a more informal look to your garden bed.

Finally, if you loved this post and you’re looking for more great information about flower gardening, I’d recommend that you check out my free gardening video training, where I cover the 3 secrets to success with your garden!

  1. Secret 1: Avoid the two biggest mistakes that will prevent you from creating your 4-season dream garden.
  2. Secret 2: Discover why creativity has NOTHING to do with designing your dream garden (and what does).
  3. Secret 3: Learn the key to unlocking your garden’s potential even if you have less than idea conditions.

Sign up for the training right now! You’ll also get a relay emailed right to your inbox in case you can’t watch it right this minute 🙂

Arrange Plants in the Garden Infographic

Everyone loves visuals – here’s an infographic that summarizes all of the plant arrangement information in this post. You’re welcome to share this with your friends and/or save it to Pinterest.

3 Simple Ways To Arrange Plants in Your Garden Beds
Illustration by PrettyPurpleDoor.

Quick Tip: If you enjoyed the tips and tricks in this post, you may want to check out my article about landscaping from scratch in 7 simple steps.

More Gardening Posts You’ll Love

Landscaping from Scratch – 7 Steps to Designing a Garden Plan

Landscaping from Scratch – 7 Steps to Designing a Garden Plan

Overwhelmed with figuring out your landscaping from scratch? Here’s 7 steps to get your landscaping project on the right foot… even if you’re a beginner! In this post, I’ll guide you step-by-step through the 7 steps to landscaping your yard from scratch:

  1. Gather garden and landscaping inspiration photos
  2. Determine your garden style
  3. Create a scale plan (drawing) of your landscape
  4. Take a site inventory of your yard’s conditions and features
  5. Create a garden wish list
  6. Draw out some designs on your scale plan
  7. Research plants and features that fit your style

My name is Amy, and I help beginner gardeners create landscapes that are uniquely you. I have diploma in garden design and maintenance and I’m also a professional graphic designer and I teach garden design online through my four season garden design course.

Design/Planning is the Home Gardeners Biggest Obstacle

Pretty Purple Door’s qualitative response survey asked 421 home gardeners: When it comes to your landscape, what’s the biggest problem, frustration or obstacle you’re currently facing?

Results were analyzed and coded into 6 major categories.

Gardening Problem Survey Results
According to a qualitative research survey by Pretty Purple Door, 57% of problems described were categorized as being related to design/planning (N=421).

The survey revealed that 57% of home gardeners struggle with design and planning. The design/planning category included responses related to turning a vision/idea into reality, determining a gardening style, arranging plants in garden beds, pairing plants together and issues/concerns expressed about getting started with a new project.

Other problems faced by home gardeners are:

  • soil/weeds/drainage (11.9%): dealing with poor soil, rocks, weeds, invasive plants or drainage issues that are causing their plants to die or their plans to change.
  • labor/care (11.9%): not having enough time to dedicate to gardening, dealing with overgrown gardens, watering chores and/or the gardener’s age and/or health affecting their ability to manage the garden.
  • animals/conditions (9.7%): animals, pests and/or bugs harming plants or specific situations related to the location of the home (like sloped lawns, tree-related issues or privacy issues).
  • other (5.2%): miscellaneous issues such as hardscaping, overwhelm due to too many projects, new home style, new gardening environment, lack/abundance of space and all other issues that wouldn’t fit into the other categories).
  • cost (3.8%): financial situation is creating stress in designing and/or maintaining landscape (see: gardening on a budget).

Since design/planning is the #1 obstacle, I created this 7-step guide to take you through the process of designing a landscape plan from scratch.

Side note: I also have an article about improving your existing landscape, if that sounds more like you.

1- Gather garden and landscaping inspiration photos

So the first thing that I would suggest if you really don’t know where to start, is to go on a website where you can start to curate photos of landscapes that you like. Websites like Pinterest.com and Houzz.com are great options for this.

Just type in some keywords and start to collect photos that you are attracted to.

Gathering inspiration for a whimsical garden design
Here are some ideas I gathered on Pinterest for a whimsical/enchanted themed garden. View the board here.

Then, review your saved photos and look for patterns and trends in the photos you chose. Do your photos have anything in common? Like…

Using this simple trick will give you far better results than blindly posting into a public gardening group and asking for advice from strangers.

2- Determine your garden style

Garden Styles - What type is right for you?
Here are some photos of different garden styles. Which one appeals most to you?

As you start to curate photos that you like, you’re going to start to see what type of style you like. When you start to collect your photos, you’re essentially curating your garden style. Whether it’s messy, really formal, modern, cottage or somewhere in between… collecting photos is the easiest way to figure this out.

The cool thing about determining your garden style is that there are certain plants, materials and features you can use to bring that style to the forefront. It takes a lot of the decision fatigue out of the process for you (more on this later).

Quick Tip: If you’re having trouble with this step, head over to my Garden Styles post to determine which style is right for you.

3- Create a scale plan (drawing) of your landscape

The next thing that you want to do after you curate some photos and determine your garden style is to actually measure your yard and draw it out. It’s called drawing a scale plan.

And I know this is daunting. Most people don’t want to do this. And, that’s why they can’t have the garden they’ve always dreamed of. Believe me when I tell you that this step is a non-negotiable when creating a landscape from scratch.

To properly plan out your garden, you need to know the size of your garden and what else may play a part in the plants and materials you choose. A lot of times people think they have a rectangular square yard. But then if you look at the actual scale plan, you’ll realize that it’s longer on one side than the other… or there’s a corner of your lot that juts out a bit that you never noticed before doing this. Some of these things are not easy to see without the drawing.

take measurements of your landscape
In order to create a scale plan drawing of your landscape, you’ll first need to take measurements. I just jot the numbers down on a piece of paper attached to a clipboard as I measure the perimeter and other objects in the yard.

How to measure and draw your yard to scale

Start your scale plan by measuring the perimeter of your property and marking the distances on a sheet of paper. You can use a fiber tape reel which is just a large, flexible tape measure that can measure long distances. Here’s the Amazon link for the one I use by Komelon. It comes in 100′, 200′ and 330′ lengths.

Using graph paper, you’ll be able to scale down that size based on the squares in the paper. For example, maybe one square on the paper is one foot in your garden. So if your yard is 40 feet long, you will draw a line that’s 40 squares of the grid paper in length.

Alternative to hand-drawing a scale plan

If this is sounding way too complex for you, another great option is to find your house on Google Maps. When you type in your address on Google Maps, you’ll get an overhead view of your property so you can see your whole property at one glance! Even better yet, switch to the “Satellite mode” so you can see a real photo of your house, trees and other elements of your property. Right-click on the map to print out the picture of your property and you’re off to the races.

You can watch this video for more information: How to use Google Maps to create a Landscape Base Map.

Lastly, you can also hire a site surveyor in order to do this work for you. Here’s some more information about boundary surveys and what you’ll need to know before you hire a professional.

Don’t forget to make a few copies of it so you can use them in the next few steps.

4 – Take a site inventory of your yard’s conditions and features

a site inventory drawing for a property
This is an example site inventory of a front yard landscape design. Illustration by Pretty Purple Door.

In a landscape site inventory, notes are made on the scale plan about the conditions and features of the property.

Why do you need a site inventory? It’s because a lot of the decisions you’ll make in your landscape may be determined by the notes you make! You’ll need to use different types of plants for different conditions. The conditions can also dictate where you’ll put a patio, plant a feature tree or even need a screening wall or fence. Below are some of the things you should mark down on your plan.

Make a note of north, south, east and west on your plan. This will inform you as to where on your property the sun rises (east) and sets (west).

Marking the directional position of your home and garden will also help you to determine the amount of sun that your landscape will get and at what time. For example

  • North-facing gardens get the least alight and can be damp. This can be great for shade-loving plants.
  • South-facing gardens get the most sunlight. It can be too hot for some plants.
  • West-facing gardens get (very hot) afternoon sun and evening light.
  • East-facing gardens get the cool, morning sun.
  • Your garden aspect can also help you to determine the direction of prevailing winds. Prevailing winds in the US typically blow from west to east.
  • When planning the backyard landscape of a north-facing home, your backyard is south-facing. That means it receives sun for the majority of the day.

It’s important to know that every garden aspect comes with advantages AND challenges. There are also many other things that can affect the conditions in your garden… beyond just the direction it faces.

Make note of your garden aspect on your scale plan.

Mark off all areas of your landscape that are in full sun and/or full shade. We already did a bit of this work. But there may be other areas of your yard that are blocked by tall shade trees, or are shaded by a neighbor’s house or even a shed or other structure. So make note of these areas, too.

As a rule of thumb, an area that gets under 3 or 4 hours of sun in an entire day is considered shady. An area that gets 6+ hours of sun in a day is full sun.

Mark places where electrical wires cross over your property. That way, you’ll be able to avoid planting a tall tree right underneath the power lines.

Mark any permanent fixtures or access points on your house, such as air conditioning units, water spigots, electrical outlets, meters, etc. Don’t forget to mark doorways and common walking paths – you can indicate these with arrows.

Mark the direction the wind commonly blows. If you have observed your landscape and have noticed the common direction of wind you can mark that. If you aren’t sure, prevailing winds in the United States typically blow from west to east so you can make a note of that.

Make note of any changes in grade or slope on your property. This is also really helpful so you know where you may need to terrace your property. At the very least, it will help you to determine the areas where water may pool or settle. This can affect where you place certain plants and features.

Mark the views you want to highlight or disguise. If there’s a beautiful view of your neighbor’s old oak tree from your kitchen window, make note of that on your plan so you don’t forget to incorporate the view into your design.

Similarly, if your neighbor has a garbage heap along the side of the house that you really hate looking at, make a note of it so you can block that view with your new landscaping.

Also consider areas where you may need some extra privacy; like near your outdoor dining space or adjacent to your neighbor-with-seven-kid’s pool.

5 – Create a garden wish list

And after you have an idea the overall shape of your yard and have marked any conditions or features that may affect your landscape plan, you’re ready to start the fun stuff! Yay! Start creating an inventory list of what you want in your garden. Your wish list can include anything and everything you want in your yard. Here are some ideas to get your started:

  • seating areas / patios
  • play areas / relaxing areas (fire pit, etc.)
  • BBQ area / dining area
  • privacy/screening from bad views
  • vegetable patch or areas for your hobbies
  • water features, sculptures, focal points, etc.

Make a complete wish list and dream up all that you can dream. Anything goes here. And while you probably won’t be able to include everything on your list… knowing what you really want from your landscape before you start will give you the best chance of actually being able to incorporate more of the wish list items you want.

Planning is everything, as you are probably learning by now :).

Make sure you go back to your inspiration photos for ideas in this step. My enchanted garden Pinterest board had a lot of different features like a tree swing, organic shaped arbor gates and rustic sculptures with colorful stained glass inserts.

6 – Draw out some designs on your scale plan

Now that you have all of your measurements, your site inventory and your wish list figured out, you can start to draw out your ideas onto paper.

I like to make multiple copies of my scale plan and draw the designs right onto that. This way, I know that the drawings are “to scale” and I’m able to draw a lot of different ideas and keep my creativity flowing!

Tip 1: Draw quickly and make lots of different versions

sketches of garden layouts over the bubble drawings
Here are lots of loose drawings of different design variations for the same exact space. Illustration by Pretty Purple Door.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a fancy professional artist or designer to do this. You can create a drawing using simple shapes like circles, squares or bubbles. It doesn’t need to be a masterpiece.

Tip 2: Start with 2 interlocking shapes

My ninja tip for this is to start with two interlocking shapes. So maybe a big circle in the middle and then connect a square to that. See where your mind takes you. What shapes make the most sense to fit into the shape of your yard?

Draw interlocking shapes for your landscape design
Here are a few examples of how interlocking shapes can be used for different shaped lawns.

Once you have your shapes drawn, the outside area of the shapes can become your planting beds. The inside of the shapes are two distinct areas of your landscape, like a patio and a lawn, for example.

Quick Tip: If you like this interlocking shapes idea, head over to my post about narrow garden layouts and design tips to make each layout work for your space. It will give you a little insight into my thought process when designing for certain types of spaces.

Tip 3: Try a bubble drawing

If this isn’t coming easy to you, you can try creating a bubble drawing. This is basically drawing loose shapes to incorporate different elements you want in your landscape. So, take a look at the site inventory and start to put your items in. If you want a vegetable patch, find the area on your site inventory that gets loads of sun, and draw a little square in there.

A bubble drawing of a landscape with arrows for path flow
Here’s an example of a bubble drawing for a backyard landscape design. This design includes 2 patios, a lawn, a vegetable garden, a utility area, an existing shed and a feature of some kind (maybe a fountain or a fire pit). Illustration by Pretty Purple Door.

Keep drawing your bubbles to see how many of the features from your wishlist you can incorporate into your landscape. Don’t forget to leave spaces for your plants!

I like to draw lots of different versions of bubble drawings to see what kind of configurations I can come up with. It’s kind of like playing Tetris with your landscape.

After a few tries, you’ll probably realize that you can’t fit EVERYTHING into the size of your yard. So, you’ll have to start narrowing things down and really decide what’s most important to you. Then, keep on drawing!

Usually after a few tries you’ll be on your way to a great design concept. Honestly, if you’ve made it this far you’re officially lightyears ahead of most homeowners!!

By the way, if you’re getting a lot of value from this article, you’re going to love my Plant Perfect Activity Book. This activity book is a creative & fun way to get you thinking about your property in a whole new way… all while drawing, coloring and crafting your way through fun, hands-on garden design activities. 

You can also head over to this article for more detailed instructions on creating bubble drawings.

7 – Research plants and features that fit your garden style

So after you are settled (or almost settled) on a drawing, you will have a pretty good idea of where you’ll place things in your landscape. That means you’re ready to start choosing your hardscape materials and plants.

Choosing hardscape materials

Hardscape materials are the materials you’ll use for hard surfaces in the garden like patios, walkways and other structures. I wrote an article on different Garden Styles that gives some material examples for each style. This is really helpful in deciding what types of hardscape materials you should use in your landscape.

For example, materials that are very rustic and bumpy lean towards cottage style and the more smooth and sleek they get, the more modern/contemporary the landscape becomes. From my experience, most people will fall somewhere in between the two.

garden style hardscape materials from rustic to sleek
When choosing hardscape materials, keep in mind the style you want for your garden. More rustic, distressed and bumpy materials make a natural or cottage style, whereas more refined materials will learn toward traditional and modern.

Choosing your plants

Your plant choices will “soften the edges” of the hardscape materials, so it’s important to leave enough space to put your plants in.

Quick Tip: Learn more about arranging plants in your garden in this easy-to-follow post.

First, take a look at your inspiration photos all the way from step 1. See if you can pinpoint any plants or flowers that you really like.

You may also find it helpful to choose a single color to base your landscape around. My article about using color in the garden is really helpful if you want to learn more about doing this.

Your garden style can also give you hints about what plants and colors to use.

plant variety and color range by garden style
Natural and cottage gardens tend to have a wider range of colors and more plant variety than traditional and modern/contemporary styled gardens.

I’d also recommend you take a look at my article on researching plants. It’s filled with all sorts of information on narrowing down your plant choices so you can select the right plants for your conditions. And, since you already did a site inventory, you are a step ahead! Now you just need to narrow down the plant choices to fit in those areas. The good news is there’s lots of different tricks and even websites and apps in the article that will make this easy to do.

Did you know that you can have the exact same garden design and using different hardscape materials and plants you can make the garden look completely different? It’s true! These are the two biggest indicators of what your landscape will feel like when it’s all done.

Lastly, I’m really passionate about not asking for landscape advice in public forums and Facebook groups. And I only bring this up because it’s where I see most beginner gardeners looking for advice on how to landscape their yard from scratch. So… if you’re interested in hearing more about this you can head over to this post where I give lots of tips and advice for navigating these public forums as a beginner gardener.

Wrapping Up

I hope that you now realize that you have a clear path for doing all of the research that will lead you to your perfect dream garden. Before you know it, you’ll be sitting outside enjoying a landscape that is UNIQUELY YOU. And that’s what I’m all about here!

In this article, we went from starting a landscape from scratch, feeling completely overwhelmed with how to get started, all the way through a simple step by step process for making your dream landscape a reality!

Now, I know some of these steps are time consuming and it’s not something you can do overnight… but you CAN do it. Just start with step one and keep on going.

If you’re just starting your landscape from scratch and you’re expecting to find a landscape designer to give you advice and draw you free plans in a Facebook group, you’re going to be disappointed. In my opinion, there are two options:

  1. Hire a professional and pay them for their work, or
  2. Take a DIY approach to landscaping your yard from scratch.

Choosing option 2 means you’ll have to take the time to understand all the pieces that go into your landscape and how to make it unique, creative and show off your personality.

I really believe that any home gardener CAN do this yourself and have a lot of success with landscaping your yard from scratch. If you want to take the next steps with me, I invite you to take my free video training that covers the 3 biggest mistakes that home gardeners make that prevent them from getting their dream garden. It’s completely free and will really energize you to start this process off on the right foot!

So remember: you either need to be willing to take the DIY approach, or you need to be willing to pay a professional to help you (at the very least) create a plan and work with you on all the planning and research. But that in between place… where you don’t want to do it yourself OR hire someone to help you… can be a really bad place to be. But, all you need to do get started… all the way at the top of this page… with step one!

More garden design posts you’ll love

how to start landscaping from scratch
Don’t forget to pin this post for later!
Boundary Survey – what to know and why you need it

Boundary Survey – what to know and why you need it

In the simplest terms, a boundary survey will mark the exact legal boundaries and other features of your property. This information is researched, physically plotted then graphically drawn out to scale by a land surveyor.

While a land survey isn’t typically required when you purchase a home, it’s an extremely useful tool that can clear up a whole lot of confusion.

There are several types of surveys that can be conducted on the land you own.

The survey that I needed before put up a fence around my property called a “Boundary Survey“.

A Boundary Survey is used to identify a property’s boundary lines. In this type of survey, the surveyor will set (or recover) the property corners and produce a detailed plat or map.

To accomplish this, the surveyor will research the public records and do research in the field, take measurements, perform calculations and d.

Why do you need a Boundary Survey

Boundary surveys are necessary for construction and permit purposes. And without a survey, you truly won’t know where your property lines are.

It’s easy to see a fence or even a row of shrubs and assume that it perfectly marks your property line. The truth is that it’s rarely an indication of the property line.

In fact, most fences (including mine) are well within the property line. After my survey, I had the fence contractor install mine about one foot from the property border. Perhaps the next person to buy my home will never know that they actually own an extra foot on each side of it ? ,

There’s also a chance that an existing fence was installed beyond your property line. So, even if there’s already a fence in place, that’s no guarantee that it accurately marks your property line. If you build over the line, you may have to remove the fence later. And… potentially anything you build that’s too close to or over that line.

Yikes. That’s a tough lesson to learn. Aren’t you a bit curious, now?

Cost of a Boundary Survey

Depending on the size of your property and how complicated your records are, this survey can cost anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars! According to 2020 data from Home Advisor, most properties will cost between $200 and $1000, with the national average falling somewhere around $500.

In 2012 I paid around $600 for my survey. This cost included the actual survey as well as a Plat Survey. A plat survey is a legal document that shows the area around the plot as well as the plot itself. It clarifies where streets, other plots and easements are and how your plot fits into the bigger picture.

3 Steps to Conducting a Boundary Survey

When I spoke to the surveyor he told me there are 3 steps in the process of conducting a property survey:

  1. Pre-survey research
  2. The field inspection
  3. Creating the topographical map

Conducting Pre-Survey Research

Before actually conducting the survey on site, the surveyor will first research the property. The research involves:

  • a search of title of the subject lands
  • a search of title of the abutting properties
  • a search of all pertinent encumbrances registered against the title of the subject property
  • a search of all pertinent encumbrances registered against the title of the abutting properties
  • a search of other surveyor’s offices to obtain all plans relating to location of boundaries of the subject property

Survey Field Inspection

The second step is the physical survey of the property, or the “field inspection”. This is where the surveyor physically surveys the property.

The field inspection is done from a specified point near your home but not necessarily on your property. From that specified point, the surveyor is able to fine the four (or more) corners of your land. Typically the surveyor will mark these edges with a colored flag or if that’s not possible he may use spray paint.

Creating the Survey Topographical Map

Once the physical survey is done, the final step is to put everything into a topographical map. Often times this step will include an analysis of the field data along with a “written opinion” of the surveyor, going over any issues that may have been found during the survey.

survey map of property
Here is a part of my survey map. The bottom has a signature of the surveyor along with an official seal.

What my survey showed…

The survey showed that most of my neighbor’s driveway is on my property. And the other neighbor’s garden is split between her yard and mine. In my situation this isn’t problematic. My neighbors are now informed about our property boundaries and I think we were all surprised by the borders.

What I learned from going through this process is that you cannot trust a fence or a shrub line.

The pink marker here is partially on my neighbor’s driveway. It’s good to know these things.
If the survey marks are on a hard surface, the surveyor will usually mark them with spray paint. If they are in the grass, he will paint the spot, too, or may flag the original post if he finds it as in the next photo.
Update: This is a survey marker… a photo I took after the fence was put in. As you can see, the fence is about a foot in from the pink flag.
Another post-fence update photo: my fence is well within the surveyed property line.

Wrapping Up

I’d recommend a property survey to anyone who owns a home. The information is always useful and handy to have, especially if you plan to do any work to your own property. It’s also helpful to have the information in the event one of your neighbors is planning their own construction project. You never know when the survey information will come in handy.

If you’re looking for more detailed information on land surveys, you may find this page helpful

You May Also Like…