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Getting to Know Garden Styles

Designing your garden can be a true moment of self-expression. Explore some basics of various styles, so you can pick the right one - or two or three - for you.

Excerpted from Garden Design

Garden style refers to the way we organize plants and materials to express ourselves. While some styles are short-lived trends, others represent major design movements that echo the times. In classically-inspired formal design, for example, symmetry and repetition are used to create balance and order. Modern approaches are more relaxed, informal and pleasantly unpredictable, even when they use clean, crisp lines.

Like so much of design, garden styles draw inspiration from history and culture to create a stylized interpretation of reality; accurate representation is not the goal. Contemporary Zen gardens maintain a serene atmosphere even if they are not used for religious practice. Cottage garden should invoke romance and simplicity without feeling archaic. Some contemporary designers transcend time by combining different styles for dramatic or retro-future effect: a formal garden in which an explosion of wildflowers deliberately interrupt the strong lines, for example, or a winding woodsy path which leads to a collection of large geometric sculpture made of a sleek modern material, like glass or stainless steel.

Garden style can transport you in space as well as time: Vacations abroad may inspire a Mediterranean herb area back home. Trips to the zoo can translate into wildlife habitats your kids can enjoy seeing every day. Memories of the old family farm may find themselves realized in fruit trees or vegetable plots, while the best hosts among us may prioritize spaces for serving meals and socializing. If you're someone who can lose yourself in a library for hours on end, an artistic reading nook, as shown above , provides a great setting to steal away and indulge.

Having a lot of space to garden in - and plan for - is increasingly uncommon, as populations converge in urban areas and the rural landscapes are developed with buildings. This trend needn't hinder your plans; gardeners, like the plants they grow, have knack for innovating in even the most seemingly adverse conditions. Balconies, roof terraces and even postage stamp-sized gardens can be vibrant sites for growth. Bonus: they often require less maintenance.

Innovative ideas, fresh possibilities and new ways to express oneself arise as styles merge and spaces change. Whereas garden style was once seen as conservative and predictable, it has now been rejuvenated as a celebration of change. Embrace it. Be proud of your ideas and work. Most importantly, enjoy the process.

Excerpted from Garden Design

©Dorling Kindersley Limited 2009

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