Setting the Mood: Choosing a Garden Design
Some of the most successful gardens are developed around a particular theme or idea that helps to bind the planting and design together. Selecting plants that fit the overall concept helps evoke the correct spirit and feel, which, in turn, lends a touch of authenticity to the garden.
Lush and Subtropical
There are many hardy and borderline hardy plants that can be used to create a subtropical-style garden. Generally, the lush feel is provided by foliage plants. Large specimens of hardy Trachycarpus palms, bamboos, phormiums, and tree ferns will provide structure; in summer, containers can be filled with tender plants such as begonias, cannas, Lantana, and gingers (Hedychium), which produce exotic flowers.
Italianate gardens tend to be rather formal, with plenty of topiary and clipped evergreens, such as boxwood (Buxus). The layout is usually simple and the planting restrained, limited to a few favorites, such as acanthus, agapanthus, olives, slender conifers, jasmine, and herbs. Classical statuary plays an important role, often terminating a vista, and specimen plants in containers may feature, perhaps used along a terrace to introduce a sense of repetition and rhythm to the garden.
Informal and naturalistic, meadow planting uses a limited palette of different plants mixed randomly together in large groups. These schemes work well in large, open expanses and tend to be short-lived—many of the plants used are annuals, such as poppies (Papaver) and cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus). However, perennials can also feature, and the planting style can be scaled down to more modest-sized borders.
Water is a vital element for a Moroccan theme, and a wall fountain, perhaps with a blue-tiled surround, would make an ideal feature. Most of the plantings should be in pots—pelargoniums, date palms, agaves, and other succulents are suitable choices—but avoid having too many plants. A few large foliage plants in darker corners, and climbers, such as Trachelospermum, scrambling up the walls would also fit in very well.
Gravel, terra-cotta pots, and a sunny site all help to create a Mediterranean feel. Avoid filling the garden with too many plants—the general scheme should not be too lush—and try a few formal elements, such as clipped boxwood balls. Olive trees in pots can spend summer outside, while more permanent plants could include lavender (Lavandula), Cistus, and one or two exotics, such as Yucca.
Japanese-style gardens often feature a few manicured plants, such as Japanese maples (Acer japonicum), dwarf pines, bamboos, Ophiopogon, and Ilex crenata, set in a rock and gravel landscape. Strategically positioned bonsai specimens add a dramatic touch to the overall theme.
Borders overflowing with flowers are typical of cottage gardens. Old favorites include delphiniums, foxgloves (Digitalis), Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum x superbum), and lavender (Lavandula), with sweetly scented roses and self-seeding annuals completing the informal look.
Architectural plants, such as tree ferns, phormiums, and Tetrapanax, are the mainstays of highly designed contemporary gardens. Grasses and small-scale, naturalistic planting schemes are also popular, their soft foliage forms contrasting well with hard modern landscaping materials, such as concrete, glass, and steel.