Garden design can be learned, with a little effort

The days of looking longingly out the window, wishing to be in the garden and not looking at it from behind glass, are almost behind us. Many of us have big plans in mind for how we’re going to change a garden, create a new landscape, and create our living masterpieces big and small. I find the challenge of garden design intimidating. Others can do it easily, and many learn garden design simply by reading, observing, questioning, and in class.

As a professional horticulturalist, many people I meet – whether a neighbor, an acquaintance or a potential client – think that because I work with plants, there is a reason why I should be able to design gardens. .

I can not.

I tell them that, and more often than not they react like I have this magical skill that I just won’t share with them or sell to them. Yes, I took two college courses in landscaping and garden design, but it’s not something that came naturally to me, and my lack of inherent artistic skills makes me honest and outspoken about my reluctance and unwillingness to design. My own gardens at home may seem designed, but it’s a trick. It happened by accident and not by plan.

Still, you can’t work with plants all your life without learning some design skills and tips. There is a certain assimilation that takes place when you rub shoulders with gardeners and landscapers who are at the top of their profession. And it’s pretty obvious to me that in a flower or mixed garden the taller plants should go towards the back of the garden, and the smaller ones towards the front. I also know from my reading that some color combinations work and some don’t, but I still need a color wheel as a guide. A talented designer or landscape architect with a vast knowledge of plant materials can easily blend and blend annuals, perennials, and shrubs. I can not. Ah, but I can grow them.

So what if you want to learn more about garden design and be more efficient in planning and building your own gardens?

There are a number of places to start, and a number of ways to learn, and one of the best ways to start is to read and read Classical Masters. Some to consider could be Gertrude Jekyl, Capability Brown, Rosemary Verey, Russell Page and many more. gray matter works.

The Brooklyn Botanic Gardens and New York (Bronx) always have a selection of courses on the subject, and you can also keep in touch with local garden clubs and horticultural organizations, as they often have speakers and programs on. the general design of the gardens and on specialties. design-related topics. You can also find a course at Suffolk County Community College and several design courses at SUNY in Farmingdale.

Another avenue is the garden tour circuit. From May through fall, local garden clubs, libraries and other groups run tours and open houses featuring gardens in the East End and North Fork. These tours give you the opportunity to see a multitude of gardens, each of which will be different and hopefully designed by different designers, and in some cases the owner of the garden. Don’t be shy, however, and if you go on one of these tours, listen to conversations from other visitors and even seek out the garden manager, designer, or owner for information and questions.

The Garden Conservancy ( also offers a national program of “open days”, during which you can visit the gardens they have chosen for their particular merit. You can see the full list and get a guide to the full list of National Gardens on their website.

Locally, these tours are scheduled in the East End on May 6 and 13, June 3 and 25, and July 8 and 30. There are also open houses in Nassau County, Westchester and the Hudson Valley. They also have open houses in 18 other states, so even when traveling you should try to visit the gardens. Visiting gardens when you are on the road or on vacation can be informative and inspiring, as you can get acquainted with other styles of gardening and plant material that may not be used here in our somewhat provincial atmosphere.

But if you want to start slow or just want to take flight, I have a few thoughts and suggestions that you might want to take into account.

For the real beginner who doesn’t want to read too much, study too much, or work too much, you can purchase pre-planned (designed) gardens that arrive in a box. Many catalog nurseries offer them, including White Flower Farm and Bluestone Perennials. You can see renderings of these gardens in their catalogs or on their web pages, and they basically sell you a simple plan as well as the plants to accomplish that plan.

In most cases, these are perennial gardens, but some can also include shrubs. Most are themed and you can find a butterfly garden, a pollinator garden, a cutting garden, a deer resistant garden, a moon garden (white) and others. The size of these gardens starts at around 20 square feet and ranges from 100 square feet, and from $ 150 to over $ 400. Most can be enlarged, and once you have the starter plants you can improvise and expand.

Some specific benchmarks:

Always consider color and size relationships. Remember that most plants have flowers, but they also have foliage, and the color of the foliage can change as the season progresses, and the texture of the foliage can also come into play. game. This is where your knowledge of plants will be critical and why reading is important in this process.

We are always told that taller plants should go towards the back of the garden, but don’t be too rigid and be prepared to break the rules.

Consider the prospect. Where will the garden be seen from? Will you be looking from the edge of the border or a hundred yards? Smaller elements tend to disappear in the distance, but you can compensate for this by massaging the smaller plants instead of planting them individually.

Will the garden only be viewed from level ground, or from higher or lower areas? How will the seasons and the movement of the sun affect your design? A good example here could be with the use of sunflowers. Planted in the wrong location, the heads of these sun-following plants might never be seen if seen from the wrong location. The flowers will always want to lean towards the sun, so the view from the north side will not show the flowers when they are blooming.

How will the shade of a tree or a building affect the garden? A beautifully scented oriental lily that blooms too close to a porch or patio could easily be overwhelming, but just 15 feet away it will still be a gorgeous plant but less overwhelming for the sensitive nose.

And one thing one of my favorite designers taught me years ago was the element of surprise. He was the ultimate planter as well as a designer, and he planted annual vines that would stealthily climb over hedges and trees and then bloom unexpectedly. He also planted pumpkin and squash seeds throughout the garden, and when other plants began to die off in late summer and fall, the gardens revealed hanging gourds of all types on display and pumpkins. appearing in the most unlikely but most delicious way. places.

So read, visit, travel, experience, listen, watch and learn. Ultimately, it’s your garden, and you have to love it more than anyone else.

Keep growing!

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