Selecting Which Garden is Right For Me

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With different gardeners come different styles. With the same plot, each landscape designer will provide their unique talent to style the land with diverse patterns, ornaments, and plants. To be able to determine which garden is right for you, it is important to talk to your landscape designer thoroughly to ensure the transfer of ideas has occurred properly. This is such a crucial step that by just listening to the needs/wants of my clients, I have gained their trust and am able to provide my services in the face of competitors. A recent example of this is at Roer’s Zoofari (Reston, Virginia) for development of their new cheetah habitat.  Other landscape companies wanted to interject waterfalls and other erroneous features into the exhibit, instead of doing what was most important: listening.

If the designer has proper knowledge, their education would include intimate familiarity of how gardens developed throughout history, and they should easily be able to combine this with their understanding of plants to determine the best outcome for your space. This not only depends on the plants and history, but also sunlight, soil, surrounding architecture and gardens, topography, and temperature. To excel, a designer must understand the science behind soil, flora, and nature. This includes in depth knowledge of biology, ecology, botany, meteorology, geology, and most important chemistry. The art behind it all is how designers create the space to fit the imagination of the consumer. Talent development is achieved by aptly mixing the colors, textures and patterns of the numerous inflorescences, foliage and habit of plants in order to fit it to the environmental demands of that area. This takes some time and homework, especially if doing this to fit a specific theme as well. This is also where the cultured designer wins the bid over others. Below I will list some popular garden and landscaping ideas that may help you explain your big plans to your designer.


  1. Rock Garden:  This gardens focal points are stones you choose to emphasize. Usually within these gardens smaller plants such as phlox or other creepers are planted in between stones to accent them.  Stones can be arranged depending on focus and style. In early Japanese Tea Gardens stones were used to represent mountains and pebbles mimicking rivers and oceans.Whether you use one stone for a modern touch or use many to create a naturalized theme I would suggest finding an alternate route to acquire the stones needed outside of a commercial store as these tend to be overpriced.
  2. Kitchen Gardens: Traditionally, these were grown separate from the rest of the gardens. These gardens are typically combined or are larger individual sources of herbal gardens, vegetable gardens and apothecary gardens. During the French Renaissance and Baroque garden periods, they would mix arranged flowers within these “Potager” gardens to provide purpose and aesthetic appeal. These specific gardens are now having quite an appeal to the sustainable lifestyles of many individuals. Here you can effectively grow fruits, vegetables and medicinal herbs that we as humans have survived on for 400,000 years.
  3. Naturalized Landscaping: One of the most popular and easiest gardens to not only install, but maintain as well. These gardens take native plants and use them for ornamental function. One of the noteworthy characteristics of style here is flow. Utilizing wild grasses and big broad leaved plants create depth and continuity of structure. Because the plants are native the likelihood of survival is higher and maintenance is significantly reduced. This is a must for certain climate zones and soil structures that make planting difficult. Naturalized landscaping is a gardening type as well as a theme so it can easily be combined with all other topics if conditions are right.
  4. Container Gardening: Typically these are gardens grown in flower pots, but now include raised beds as well. These gardens are perfect for those who are in tight spaces like apartments or trying to minimize space. In addition, container gardens are easier to maintain than traditional gardens. I always recommend planting certain spreading herbs like mint in clay pots to reduce the amount of spread.
  5. Tropical Gardens: Great for those who are planting in a southward angle in the right climate zones. These plants are colorful and exciting. Musa basjoo or Hearty Banana is a favorite of mine to plant for this in our Virginia climate due to it performing well as a perennial. One word of advice is that with these gardens in our area (7b), most tropical plants will be annuals. Unless you budget time and money for this, you will be limited on selection of color and broad leaf foliage.
  6. Water Gardening: These gardens are any that typically feature water, whether it is man-made or natural. If you are going the customization route, be sure you find a trusted company or person to perform the work. As I have seen, there are not many who know how to do this well, and a plethora of those out there trying to figure it out. Water gardens can get costly in expenses for running electricity, but especially if you happen to form a leak. As there are not many professionals that create and maintain these features, service fees tend to become costly. I also have found that in areas with poor drainage, you can utilize the same hydrophilic plants here. Rain gardens and bog gardens also fall into this category.  Rain gardens use plants to control the flow and intensity of rain water.
  7. Pollinator Gardening: This involves selecting plants suited for the pollinators in your area. As an increasing number of butterflies and bees die off, it would be wise to increase the amount of chemical free food available for them. Plants such as the Butterfly Bush, Bee Balm, and Swamp Milkweed are essential favorites in our Virginia back yard. With a little research, you will find a vast assortment of different species suitable for the pollination task. Most often than not, these gardens will be a wildflower assortment.
  8. Shade Gardening: The name says it all. If you have an area that needs to be transformed but receives shade most of the day, do not fret. There are many plants suited for this area and yes even though you are limited, you can still have color! Shade was revered since the Persian gardens of long ago and has been highly sought for peace and relaxation from the hardships of the rest of the world. Fortunately for us, they are our safe haven from I-95 and hot summers. Choose plants here that will flow and create peace. Hydrangeas, Hostas and Begonias are a great way to bring color into this area; however, choosing variegated foliage will provide the same trick in a pinch.
  9. Xeriscaping: This term refers to the soil itself, in relation to rainfall or lack thereof. Areas ideal for xeriscaping are desert like places that receive plenty of sun, drain well and receive little water. Plants like Adams Needle and Prickly Pear are well suited for the task. Salvias help bring more color to the stage when mixed in. This gardening style is also known as southwest landscaping. This style can be applied to most landscapes and is good for those interested in saving money.

The list above contains basic types of gardens that we see in landscaping Virginia. The list below provides themes in which the different types of gardens can be arranged:

  1. Modern– A design style that followed a time period of 1920-1950. Mostly used for interior decoration, I included this so as to understand the difference between modern and contemporary.
  2. Classical– Referring to the Mediterranean style period of Greece and Rome. Bi-lateral symmetry. Great for houses built with Quoining on their corners.
  3. Formal– Referring to the structured gardens of the French Grand Style/Baroque period. Straight lines, quadripartite separation and highly trimmed shrubs. European formal, those seen greatly during the renaissance.
  4. Zen– Referring to the Japanese tea garden style. Foliage is the main key; flowers are a touch of interest only. One becomes a part of nature. Usually has a pond of sorts.
  5. Country Cottage– Rolling hills, splashes of color and shade. Disney like English gardens.
  6. Naturalized– Smooth, rolling transitions between plants in their natural environment
  7. Contemporary– This style changes with the time. Can include any one of the previous mentioned
  8. English– Capability Brown style: rolling open hills with clumped masses of trees and shrubs. Great for large areas and livestock.
  9. Persian: typically containing 4 walls, with water features; typically 2 rivers. Think of the older style Persian rugs, their “paradisios” transformed gardening to what we see today.

With all of this in mind, remember to reference your site’s soil chemistry and pH, light saturation and duration, temperature/microclimate and surrounding architecture into design to maximize outcome.

Happy Planting, thank you!

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