Start with the focal points. Stated simply, a
focal point is something that makes you look. At
its best, however, it directs you visually and
makes you feel surprised, moved or engaged,
moving you through the garden experience.
Although we typically think of using a specimen
tree or statue as a focal point, there are many
other possibilities. The key is to find
something that is slightly different from the
rest of your landscape in form, texture or
color. It could be an architectural feature of
your house or even a borrowed view.
The trick is to make them stand out, yet not
stick out. It should be somehow connected to the
rest of the landscape, either through a repeated
shape or color, or a connection to the overall
style of the landscape. Scale is also important.
If your landscape is several acres with broad
vistas, then perhaps an ancient oak would play
the role quite well. In a small urban lot, an
ornate garden bench or small statue might be the
Leave formal landscapes to the rich and famous.
A formal landscape is one of the most
challenging to create, and the upkeep can be
arduous. Symmetry is very difficult to maintain.
If, for example, you have two identical
evergreens at the corners of the house and one
dies, it could be very difficult to find a
matching replacement. Sometimes the only choice
is to replace both, which adds to the expense.
One of the most common dilemmas is the hedgerow
or foundation planting where one or two shrubs
have succumbed to a plague. Be wary of putting
all your eggs in one basket.
Keep curves in check. Incorporating curves will
add interest to your garden, but don't overdo
it. A collection of amoeba-shaped beds would be
overkill, as would a curvy path that takes you
far out of the way of your destination. Long,
subtle curves are often best.
Limit the geometries so that one dominates. If
you incorporate curved lines in beds and
walkways, for example, repeat those shapes in
the third dimension with the shape of the plants
you choose and the way you arrange them.
Add movement. A landscape without movement is
like a painting. Paintings are fine for hanging
on a wall, but a garden needs movement to add
life and interest. No garden is complete without
some ornamental grasses to sway in the breeze.
Add flowers to attract hummingbirds and
butterflies, and several berry producers for the
Accent your house. Unless your house is an
architectural masterpiece, it could benefit from
some thoughtful plantings to soften the edges
and help it blend with the surroundings. But
take care not to end up at the other extreme, a
house that is hidden by overgrown shrubbery.
Even the smallest starter home usually has some
interesting architectural feature. The best
design will highlight that feature.
Take nothing for granted. When you live in a
place for a while, you tend to accept existing
features as obstacles, sometimes without
completely noticing them. Rather than designing
around the overgrown shrubbery, established
trees, or worn-out deck, consider removing them.
You may discover new possibilities, such as a
sunny spot for a vegetable garden or rose bed.
Right plant in the right spot. On the outside
chance that someone reading this has not heard
the old adage "right plant, right spot," I urge
you to adopt it as your personal gardening
mantra. The phrase should be repeated constantly
during each visit to the nursery. In addition to
knowing the full-grown size, consider growth
rate as well. Since they get large more quickly,
fast-growing plants may seem like a bargain. In
the end, however, time and money spent on
pruning and other maintenance may outweigh the
Also observes that proper spacing allows air
circulation to prevent fungal and insect
problems. But won't the finished landscape look
sparse? Easy, simply fill in with annuals.
Finally, keep in mind that you needn't have a
five-figure budget to achieve an exceptional
landscape. Whether your landscape venture is a
two-month multiphase project, or a Saturday trip
to the nursery, the key is to select your plants
purposefully and place them thoughtfully. The
results are sure to bring you happiness for
years to come.