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What's Your Garden Design Style?
Your Preference Can Say Alot About You

May 4, 2009
John Stuart Leslie

We are using the terms 'garden', 'landscape' and 'yard' as all the same as applicable to people's homes and property. Some people think of a "garden" as a designated area within the "yard" to grow vegetables, flowers or  herbs.

Other people refer to their landscapes as referring to their entire "yards", front, back and all the elements within it. The term landscape is the more appropriate all encompassing space. Landscapes can be residential, commercial, industrial or the "natural" landscape.

Some people refer to "landscaping" as the care and maintenance of the grounds. While others think of "gardeners" as the guys who they pay to mow their lawn and trim their shrubs.

A yard is most often referred to as residential space, although a commercial yard space is mostly used for storage.

So use whatever term you want. For simplicity, I am using the term garden because of its historical significance and international understanding.

I am planting a garden in my yard
so it will complement the look
of my overall landscape.

Why do I seem to be obsessing about the precise definition of these terms? Because, as a landscape designer, I must listen carefully to my clients as well as cues they give me. Their use of certain terms is often revealing of their attitudes towards their gardens in general, so I often ask them what they mean by the use of certain words or phrases.

formal style garden

Garden Styles vs. Garden Themes

Most people have preferences for the way a garden is designed and maintained. There are many categories you could use to define the way a garden looks and feels. Here are a few that I would say are common:

  • Formal: straight lines, sometimes symmetrical 
  • Informal: curvilinear lines, asymmetrical 
  • Natural: keeping things native, low maintenance 
  • Jungle-like, bordering on overgrown 
  • Tropical: lush, colorful like at a tropical resort 
  • Rustic: unpretentious, overgrown, informal 
  • Elegant simplicity: that sophisticated designer look 
  • Lavish Estate: Hearst Castle for example 
  • Resort Style: pool and elements for entertaining 
  • Carefree: no particular style 
  • Old World: recapturing the look of old Europe 
  • Contemporary, straight lines, simple, refined 

You can see that there can be an overlap between the style and the theme of a garden. A well manicured, clipped hedge garden can both be formal and informal, as a Japanese garden can look very neat, at the same time look informal and natural. 

Having some sort of criteria to go by as far as style or theme is important in the planning and design stage, as it drives the process of determining the look and feel of the spaces, the elements chosen and their arrangement.arched trellis pathway

A garden or landscape that was put together without any particular theme other than the essential elements of say, a grass play area, a bbq station for grilling, a patio area for table and chairs, trees for shade and screening and shrubs to fill up the rest of the open area, could end up looking unremarkable.

Even a garden without a specific theme or style can look well thought out and pleasing to the eye if basic design principles are followed. That is why a garden with a relatively low budget can still look good if planned properly.

In speaking in terms of themes, we are implying that there is a certain unifying idea around which we organize the design.

For instance, the theme could be sculpture, garden art, statuary and therefore we call this type of garden a sculpture garden, provided it had a recurring element of the theme or multiple art pieces placed throughout the garden. 

Perhaps it is easier to just describe your preferred garden as "your type" without regard to style, theme or regional association.


    English garden 
      Japanese garden 
        Italian garden 
          Mediterranean garden
            Country French


              Xeriscape garden
                Tropical garden
                • Alpine garden
                • Topiary garden
                Herb garden 
                  Vegetable garden 
                    Zen garden

                        Cottage garden


                          Water garden 
                          • Rock garden
                          • Flower garden
                          • Cut Flower garden
                          Butterfly garden  
                            Kitchen garden 
                              Wildlife garden 
                              • Cactus garden
                              • Victory garden
                              • Native Plant garden 
                              • Memorial garden 
                              • Sculpture  
                              • Meditation garden


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