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Garden Styles: What Type is Right For You?

photo of a traditional garden pointing towards the word traditional on a weight scale

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:

In this video, learn how to convert ANY garden to ANY garden style. Or mix styles if you’d like to!

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.

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Absolutely NAIL Your Favorite Garden Style (Free Lookbook)

Garden Style Lookbooks

Download my FREE Garden Style Lookbook for 2-page summaries of EACH garden style, including naturalistic, cottage, traditional and modern. 

Easy to print out and reference as you create your “uniquely you” dream garden!

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.

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.

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)

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

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Traditional Garden Style

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

The traditional (or formal) garden style perfect for colonial, Italian and French inspired architecture.

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.

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).

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.

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Modern/Contemporary Garden Style

Modern Contemporary garden style

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.

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.

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

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Absolutely NAIL Your Favorite Garden Style (Free Lookbook)

Garden Style Lookbooks

Download my FREE Garden Style Lookbook for 2-page summaries of EACH garden style, including naturalistic, cottage, traditional and modern. 

Easy to print out and reference as you create your “uniquely you” dream garden!

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.

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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.

Asian Gardens (Japanese, Chinese, Korean)

Asian garden style featured image photo with ornamental grass and koi fish pond

Japanese, Chinese & Korean gardens make up the Asian garden style, which are all about peace, tranquility and simplicity. This garden style focuses on creating a meditative space through natural materials and minimalistic design.

You may be curious about the main differences between Chinese, Japanese and Korean gardens. Chinese gardens tend to be more bold, exotic, ornamental and have more architecture and structures throughout a park-like setting. Korean and Japanese gardens tend to be more subdued and minimalistic with a very natural look.

Here’s a breakdown of the differences between Japanese, Chinese and Korean gardens so you can decide which may be right for your space.

Country of OriginDesign StyleFunctionSymbolismWater FeatureLayout of Space
Japanese GardensMinimalisticMeditationShinto & Zen BuddhismIrregularly shaped & containedSeveral small garden spaces with pathways leading one to the next
Chinese GardensStylized & contemporaryEntertaining & socializingConfucianism & BuddhismLargeA large, opened space
Korean GardensNaturalisticHarmony with natureTaoism, Buddhism & ConfucianismServes as the focal pointReflects the surrounding landscape

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

Asian garden style stream with bridge at Kenrokuen, Japan.
Take note of the specific shape of the hedges and shrubs. This is the result of thoughtful pruning and shaping done by the caretakers at Kenrokuen Garden in Kanazawa, Ishikawa, Japan.
Photo of symmetrical pathways, evergreen trees and bamboo fencing from The Lingering Garden in Suzhou, China.
The Lingering Garden in Suzhou, China uses symmetrical pathways and bamboo fencing to create a stylized and contemporary look.
Photo of the peaceful pond and gazebo in Changdeokgung Palace, Korea. A UNESCO World Heritage Site
The large pond at Changdeokgung Palace, Korea winds along with the natural lay of the land. Joycekim77, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

These are the main characteristics of Asian style gardens:

  • Plants with finely textured foliage
  • Winding pathways
  • Natural décor like rocks/boulders
  • A water feature of some kind – whether it’s a large pond, a trickling stream or a bubbling fountain
  • Architectural elements like bridges, pergolas and arbors
  • Asian-style plants that will work well in your climate (see more in the “plants” section below!)
  • Art and/or symbolism to represent Asian culture and beliefs

There’s so much to learn about the beautiful Asian garden style that I’ve created a complete guide.

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 main characteristics of Meditation gardens include:

  • Pathways and walkways to create flow and ease of moment throughout the space.
  • Focal points like statues or water features.
  • Seating areas for meditation, yoga and/or reflection.
  • A sense of enclosure to create a peaceful retreat.
  • Minimalist plant and color palette and the use of repetition to fill the space while keeping it calm.
Asian garden style

If you’re looking to create this style of garden at home, you’re going to love my Complete Guide to Mediation Gardens.

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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 style, 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.

These are the main characteristic features of the Mediterranean garden style:

  • Shaded areas. Many gardens of the Mediterranean have high walls to protect from the sun. Having lots of trees is another way to provide more sources of shade.
  • Water features can offer another cooling aspect to an arid Mediterranean style garden.
  • Outdoor spaces for resting. The modern outdoor garden room evolved from the Mediterranean garden style.
  • Drought tolerant plants (or plants for your climate that look similar to Mediterranean plants).
  • Gravel gardens to replace grass, since lawn isn’t featured in Mediterranean style gardens.
  • Informal planting style. Gardeners of the Mediterranean create clumped communities of plants in a lively and charming fashion.

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

Looking for more info on this awesome style, check out my complete guide to Mediterranean Style Gardens.

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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).

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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
Woodland GardenMedium
Coastal GardenMedium
Potager GardenMedium
City/Courtyard GardenMedium
Asian GardensMedium
Urban GardenMedium
*Modern / Contemporary GardenLow-Medium
Prairie GardenLow
Xeriscape GardenLow
Rock GardenLow
Wildflower GardenLow
Container GardenLow
*Naturalistic / New Perennial GardenLow
Meditation GardenLow
Mediterranean 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.

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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!


  1. I love all the articles recommended and the fun, easy approach that Amy brings to gardening. She inspires, informs and gets me excited to get out there and play in the dirt! Thank you Amy. I love

  2. I like this kind of garden style, it reminds me of my ancestral. Amazing Blogs! The picture of the old frame garden, those architectural features, with the wide expanses of perfectly trimmed lawn, rows of orderly clipped hedges, really great to look at.

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