Gardens come in all shapes, sizes and styles – as do gardeners. Deciding on your own style of garden is an exciting business and generally there are few rights and wrongs – although trying to recreate a seaside garden a hundred miles inland, an alpine garden on the coast, or a minimalist urban garden in the depths of the country is a bit perverse and will never really blend into the surroundings. Away from the extremes though, there can be said to be a number of garden styles, and its simply a matter of finding the one that you like best. That’s not to say that you can’t incorporate elements from other styles, but it is a good idea to have a central theme which will help the garden work as a whole.
The Formal Garden
For those who love symmetry and orderliness, a formal garden is a natural choice, but it is one of the most difficult to achieve because it is so unforgiving of crooked lines and uneven ground. The advantage of formality is that there is year-round interest in the shape of structure, topiary and the hard landscaping – and once established it requires little in the way of replanting. It’s not a garden for a plantaholic! In a formal garden the boundaries are an essential element in defining and retaining the garden. Brick or stone walls surrounding a symmetrical plot are ideal, but an evergreen hedge can be planted to create a formal area within a larger garden – country gardens often incorporate formal elements by enclosing an area within yew hedges.
The Cottage Garden
For many, the cottage garden is their idea of the perfect plot with its mix of herbs, fruit, flowers and vegetables, all interwoven amongst one another in a gloriously informal way. In the ideal cottage garden, ancient trees hang heavy with fruit, roses wreathe the door and delphiniums, hollyhocks and marigolds grow under the windows and amongst the vegetables. The cottage itself is an important part of the picture and the absence of one can make the creation of this style of garden a bit trickier. But a few climbing roses can work wonders and the use of lots of recycled materials will help set the scene. Out of the growing season there isn’t much to see in a cottage garden because many of the flowers are annuals and most of the vegetables will have been harvested, but lots of bulbs and early spring flowers will soon brighten it up in early spring.
The Romantic Garden
Deep borders overflowing with perennial flowers, shrub roses and clematis- clothed obelisks are part of the quintessential romantic garden. It is a garden of the senses with fragrant plants an essential ingredient. This style works equally well in a rural or urban setting, but it does need a reasonably large space to look its best. From spring blossom trees underplanted with bulbs and wildflowers in the spring, through abundantly blooming borders in summer and autumn to the structural elements of pergola, obelisks and a summerhouse, this is a garden to waft around in and enjoy. But on a practical note, it does need regular maintenance and plenty of plant supports to keep the glorious abundance under control.
The Modern Garden
Not everyone is nostalgic for the gardens of the past – their taste is for something more contemporary with a bit of edge. Plants are chosen for their shapes and textures – to complement the colours and the materials used for the hard landscaping, walls and structural elements. New materials including corten steel and concrete work well in this style of garden, as does the introduction of water. Planting is often limited to a restricted range of plants that are planted in large groups for maximum impact. When pared right down to the bare minimum, this style of garden incorporates the minimalist style.
The Potager Garden
More decorative than a vegetable plot and more orderly than a cottage garden, the potager garden incorporates fruit, flowers and vegetables within a formal design. This often consists of box-edged beds on a grid (or other pattern) of brick paths. A certain amount of productivity is sacrificed to the aesthetics of the design, but it is a lovely way to combine flowers and produce. Box hedging can succumb to box blight, but these days there are good alternatives such as ilex crenata for those who are laying out a new potager.
Where to Find Inspiration
There are heaps of places where you can go to get ideas for your own garden. Starting close to home, look out for National Gardens Scheme gardens that are open in your own area. The chances are that they have similar soil conditions and plants that thrive in their gardens will grow well in yours too. This is always an important consideration – there is no point in hankering after rhododendrons if your soil is alkaline, or wanting to major on dianthus on acid soil. Tempering your dreams early in the process saves disappointment later. Garden owners are often more than happy to talk about local conditions and may well have some interesting plants for sale.
Moving further afield, there’s a wealth of inspiration and professional advice available in the National Trust and RHS gardens. They are on a much grander scale than the average domestic garden, but take the opportunity to photograph designs and plant combinations that appeal to you for scaling down back home.
To see a wide range of diverse and interesting gardens, nothing equals the big RHS Shows – Chelsea, Hampton Court and Tatton Park feature large and small gardens of every type and even if there isn’t one that is just perfect in your eyes, there will be elements that will fire your imagination and get you started on the path to creating your own dream garden.
We regularly visit gardens and add new recommendations – you can see some of these here in our gardens to visit section.