What's Your Garden Design Style?
Your Preference Can Say Alot About You
May 4, 2009
John Stuart Leslie
using the terms 'garden', 'landscape' and 'yard' as all the same as applicable to people's homes and property. Some
people think of a "garden" as a designated area within the "yard" to grow vegetables, flowers or
people refer to their landscapes as referring to their entire "yards", front, back and all the elements within it.
The term landscape is the more appropriate all encompassing space. Landscapes can be residential, commercial,
industrial or the "natural" landscape.
people refer to "landscaping" as the care and maintenance of the grounds. While others think of "gardeners" as the
guys who they pay to mow their lawn and trim their shrubs.
A yard is
most often referred to as residential space, although a commercial yard space is mostly used for
whatever term you want. For simplicity, I am using the term garden because of its historical significance and
Why do I seem to be obsessing about the precise definition of these
terms? Because, as a landscape designer, I must listen carefully to my clients as well as cues they give me. Their
use of certain terms is often revealing of their attitudes towards their gardens in general, so I often ask them
what they mean by the use of certain words or phrases.
Garden Styles vs. Garden
Most people have preferences for the way a garden is designed and
maintained. There are many categories you could use to define the way a garden looks and feels. Here are a few
that I would say are common:
Formal: straight lines, sometimes symmetrical
Informal: curvilinear lines, asymmetrical
Natural: keeping things native, low
Jungle-like, bordering on
Tropical: lush, colorful like at a tropical
Rustic: unpretentious, overgrown,
Elegant simplicity: that sophisticated designer
Lavish Estate: Hearst Castle for
Resort Style: pool and elements for
Carefree: no particular style
Old World: recapturing the look of old
Contemporary, straight lines, simple,
You can see that there can be an overlap between the style and the
theme of a garden. A well manicured, clipped hedge garden can both be formal and informal, as a Japanese
garden can look very neat, at the same time look informal and natural.
Having some sort of criteria to go by as far as style or theme is
important in the planning and design stage, as it drives the process of determining the look and feel of the
spaces, the elements chosen and their arrangement.
A garden or landscape that was put together without any particular
theme other than the essential elements of say, a grass play area, a bbq station for grilling, a patio area for
table and chairs, trees for shade and screening and shrubs to fill up the rest of the open area, could end up
Even a garden without a specific theme or style can look well thought
out and pleasing to the eye if basic design principles are followed. That is why a garden with a relatively low
budget can still look good if planned properly.
In speaking in terms of themes, we are implying that there is a
certain unifying idea around which we organize the design.
For instance, the theme could be sculpture, garden art, statuary and
therefore we call this type of garden a sculpture garden, provided it had a recurring element of the theme or
multiple art pieces placed throughout the garden.
Perhaps it is easier to just describe your preferred garden as "your
type" without regard to style, theme or regional association.
- Alpine garden
- Topiary garden
- Rock garden
- Flower garden
- Cut Flower garden
- Cactus garden
- Victory garden
- Native Plant garden
- Memorial garden
- Meditation garden
We all have a preferred style because we are naturally drawn towards things that resonate with our
personality. Choose your preferred style and then describe its qualities. How do those qualities match up with
describing your own personality traits in terms of your natural demeanor and temperament?
Related article: Theme Garden Design Basics