Imagination is key to garden design – Knox County VillageSoup

Have you ever looked at someone else’s garden (s) and wondered why you couldn’t manage to create similar conditions?

It’s all a matter of imagination. People who turn even ramshackle backyard spaces into places of beauty and contentment did so because they got to see the end result in their minds.

I once knew a man who built several houses but did not rely on plans. “I could see the finished product in my mind,” he said. Many gardeners have a similar foreknowledge.

For most of us, however, it is terribly difficult to see the end result when we start with immature plants and seedlings. Add the fact that in perennial flower beds it can take up to three years for the design to fully present itself.

This not only requires imagination, but also a degree of confidence that the plants will eventually grow as they are meant to.

Lack of imagination coupled with a lack of confidence in a seed’s potential is why we plant things like lettuce and Swiss chard that are way too thick. We don’t want white spots, although the instructions on the seed packet clearly state how far to plant in order to get maximum growth.

Of course, in the case of leafy vegetables, you can always thin out the young crop. Even then we usually don’t thin out enough and in the end we fail to get that big, sturdy lettuce or those huge majestic chard leaves. When it comes to perennials and shrubs, it’s a different story.

There we have to believe in our plans because changing them once things start to develop becomes far too disruptive.

There is also the catch. A garden plan doesn’t happen overnight. Additionally, one or more plants may not grow as expected, due to different sunlight, moisture, and nutrient requirements. Most of the time, however, if we just show patience, our gardens will turn out as hoped.


In garden parlance, a leaf is something we use to showcase our plants. It could range from a fence to an old fashioned hand pump.

In my youth, colored glass globes on pedestals were all the rage. I knew that when I was old enough to have my own house and my own garden, I would definitely want a globe. But when the time came, the globes fell into disuse. That’s not to say they can’t add to your garden project; it just means most gardeners don’t use them anymore. I say, however, that whatever you choose is good, as long as it reflects your tastes.

Fencing can play a big role. Best of all, you don’t always need to erect a full-length fence. Sometimes only a short section will meet your needs.

For example, two short sections of fence, placed at an angle in a corner, can serve as a backdrop for perennials. Once the fence sections are in place, you can plan a garden around them, perhaps with large flowers on either side and shorter ones in front. You may want some clematis or even morning glories to climb your fence for added enticement.

Fences can serve two purposes, the first of which is to be visible from the outside. But indoors, the fence can help create an intimate, multi-dimensional atmosphere. Hanging baskets of all kinds make the interior of a fence more attractive. Shelves can bring a fence to life, especially if plants in containers line the shelves.

Espalier fruit trees do well inside a fence, preferably on the south side. Even vegetables such as tomatoes can make an interesting statement when trained to grow over a fence.

Then there are doors. The garden gates are the stuff of music and poetry, love songs and legends, intertwined with early civilizations and continuing through the present. A garden gate is usually accompanied by a fence, but not always. Sometimes a door allows entry and exit through narrow openings.

But in all cases, a portal invites the walker to enter, to browse and to soak up the atmosphere.
Doors can come in a wide variety of shapes, my favorite being a wooden door, perhaps with stakes at the posts. But wire gates and even plain metal gates all have their place.


Statuary has its place in the landscaping of gardens, but beware. Too much of a good thing can have the opposite effect, occupying and cluttering the landscape. A tastefully erected statue, however, can be a focal point for all kinds of plantings.

Speaking of statuary, let me also add sundials and even these terracotta faces, bas-reliefs of the sun or of people and animals. All of these have their place, but again, don’t overdo it.

wind mill

Mini-wind turbines, whether operational or not, are a nice center of attention. These can support various climbing plants for added attraction.


Finally, we have the stone. This includes rocks, boulders, slate, and flat stones. Walkways, dividers, fences, all in stone, decorate our garden scene. Here in Maine, we are fortunate to have so much natural stone at our disposal. This is not the case everywhere.

A man I met in Florida was seriously considering renting a flatbed trailer to haul glacial boulders from my woodlot to his home in the generally flat state of Florida.


Anyone can create an enviable garden setting. It takes foresight, planning, and not a little imagination. But you can do it. Just be patient and it will happen.

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