Tips to Great Garden Design

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Establishing layers, creating patterns and keeping to low maintenance are the keys to crafting an informal garden. Being a non-traditionalist takes creativity and a good bit of courage. Landscape designers, installers and contractors dream, create and maintain gardens by an ever changing formula. For an alternative to traditional formal lines and manicured settings, consider unifyinggardens with a fluid and natural look. By combining layers, garden sculpture and thoughtful selections of plants gardens establish a relaxing and affirmative environment. A well-designed informal garden maintains a sense of order without looking rigid and constrained.

Patterns woven throughout our gardens can harmonize a broad palette of its living elements. Paying attention to every layer of your garden through dramatic year round color, winding paths, and contrasting textures will make it exceptional. Blending leach level of the landscape to step down gradually, from the tallest tree, to the home to ground covers cascading toward the walkways tie it all together. Every feature is integrated by intention. Smooth transitions and dense beds result from competent, knowledgeable and artistic design increasing the value of your property and the quality of your life.

Tip number one: Consider layering by a series of tiers, with each tier having a function.

The ground story tier: Low growing plants, measuring one foot tall or less, are best admired up close. Think of them as adornment or jewelry, with their delicate textures and vibrant colors. They’re perfect for accessorizing borders, paths, and entryways pulling flow through the garden ambiance. Add a piece ofgarden sculpture to the beds at this level as a focal point.

The mid-story tier: This level houses eye level perennials and shrubs. These will be the majority of most gardens. This level also is the best place to locate your “signature” plants – those plants that really grab your personal attention for form, color, shape or sentimentality. You need only a few to add some splash to your personal space. Keep in mind to choose plants that have larger upper portions with narrower bases so that smaller perennials can find a comfortable place at their base without being too crowded.

The next tier ties the landscape to the house. The taller the home, the taller is level should be. A general rule to follow is to select trees and shrubs that will mature at 8-15 feet tall for single-level homes, and 25-30 feet tall for two-story homes. If you are purchasing a new home, buy your trees and shrubs first to frame your yard. Plant them in groups along your property line for privacy and in the corners of your lot to soften its angles. It doesn’t take many of these plants to give beds structure year-round and to draw the eye throughout thegarden.

The final tier houses the upper story that links the landscape to the sky. Unfortunately not every home comes complete with 80 foot trees. If your site lacks mature trees and you have the space, get starting planting a cedars or oaks.

Tip number two: Fuse the layers with patterns.

Fully developing each story of the garden creates the type of rich, layered beds that make a landscape so inviting. There is a strategy to filling up each tier with plants. Selecting colors, shapes, and textures that complement each other is essential, as is arranging plants in a aesthetically pleasing way. That’s when creating patters comes into play.

Plant selection is a key feature to tie the site together. Choose three colors and a texture to repeat a theme throughout your space. The secret to tying all four tiers together is repetition. Repetition creates the rhythm and heartbeat of the landscape. In the early stages of planning, choose a color scheme, (such as blue and gold) and a texture (as in narrow leaf conifers) to recur in the garden. Nothing chaotic, just repeated enough to create prominence – about every twenty feet or so as it measures out to be about what can be held in the average line of vision. The color scheme and texture theme anchors allow for a broad range of new individual plants to come into the family maintaining a cohesive look.

Think in triangles when placing plants. Staggering plants in odd number blocks, as opposed to planting in rows interweaves the garden‘s elements. Sets of threes and fives visually accentuates the visual bang established by the color and texture themes while the mind’s eye automatically splits up even numbers of plantings into mirror images, halving the effect of the planting’s visual intensity. Loosely working with triangles keeps the patterning subtle, with the tiers intertwined and the landscape’s overall look informal.

Tip number three: Keep tuned in to low maintenance. All things change, so there is little chance of a “no maintenance” landscape, however low maintenance is certainly possible with a bit of planning as far as pruning, weeding, fertilizing and watering.

Historically, cleaning up the perennials has been a fall chore. Cutting thegarden back after winter’s last frost is also a good time to go after tidying up the perennials. The less number of times to handle a plant, the better. Perennials actually can be the most time consuming type of garden plant unless you adopt this once-a-year mentality. Choosing “self pruning” varieties help with this strategy of pruning. Shape mufti-stemmed flowering shrubs and weeping trees in late spring, late winter bloomers in early fall, and deciduous trees in winter.

Never stop weeding, not even in winter. For the occasional problem area, use a preemergent herbicide at the appropriate time for the season’s weed life cycle. This will knock down the presence of the remaining weeds to deal with as the season progresses. There is no silver bullet that kills all weeds and an effective program adjusts to the needs of the property on a seasonal or annual basis.

Not every plant needs the same level of fertilization, some being resilient enough to prefer a bit of neglect. In spring, a bit of wood ash in the garden and organic, slow-release fertilizer around the vegetables, fruit trees and several heavy-blooming perennials will get most of the job done. Generally, wood ash contains less than 10 % potash, 1 % phosphate and trace amounts of micro-nutrients such as iron, manganese, boron, copper and zinc. The largest component of wood ash (about 25 %) is calcium carbonate, a common liming material that increases soil alkalinity.

Watering systems can involve sprinklers, regular hoses, or soaker hoses. To keep low maintenance a priority regarding your time, programmable timers can make a tremendous difference. The most complicated way to water plants is to install a drip system. Note however that constantly wetting the foliage of vegetable plants can encourage disease problems. So when you use a sprinkler, water in the morning so the foliage can dry before nightfall and so you lose less water to evaporation.

“No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.” Thomas Jefferson

For more information for tree selection, review

Minda Daughtry is Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperaitve Extension in Lee County.