Types of Garden Design

The great thing about garden designs is that there are so many to choose from and each one has its unique defining characteristics and aesthetics.

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The great thing about garden designs is that there are so many to choose from and each one has its unique defining characteristics and aesthetics.

Some common garden designs are Natural Gardens, Zen Garden (or Japanese Rock Gardens), Coastal Gardens, Contemporary Gardens, Desert Gardens, Tropical Gardens, and Mediterranean Gardens. Keep in mind that some plants will grow better in specific regions.

If your outdoor space is in need of a makeover, the best way to enhance the look and feel of your yard is to establish a specific type of garden design for your property. This can add such a pleasant appearance to your home but you want to select your garden design with careful consideration, as you want it to be cohesive and appropriate for your area and your personal tastes. Choosing the right garden design should be reflective of you, which is why you want to pick one that truly resonates. This can be easier said than done given that choosing just one design can be challenging to say the least. To help you find the right garden design for your property, we are going to take you through some of our top picks.

After years of working as a licensed landscape architect, I have helped so many of my clients pick the right type of garden designs for their properties. My experience has taught me that the best types of garden designs are those that are well-matched with the climate of the area and fit the tastes of the gardener/homeowner.

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Garden Designs

To this day, gardening remains one of the most popular hobbies in the United States and much of the world. The ability to nourish plants and watch them grow is truly therapeutic and rewarding, as they have as much to offer us as we do them. This practice has become so widely adopted in our society that many people tend to go the extra mile with their gardens by creating cohesive garden designs.

Having a variety of plants and trees scattered throughout your yard already adds such an incredible aesthetic to your property, however, giving the arrangement of your outdoor space a little more thought and consideration to establish a design will really make your home feel complete. With that being said, there are a lot of different garden designs out there and they all have their own wonderful look and feel.

When I help my clients with selecting a garden design, I generally ask them to consider a vibe that they want their outdoor space to give off. Some people like things to be colorful with plenty of flowers. Others enjoy a clean and minimalistic touch that is well tied together. Whereas some people love the idea of their gardens running wild with foliage and plants growing everywhere.

No matter what your tastes are, there is a garden design out there that is perfect for you. Before you jump on the first garden design that catches your eye and piques your interest, you may want to first consider the local region that you live in. A lot of plants can be versatile and adaptive but it may make logical sense to plant according to the climate of your local region - especially if you live in an area with harsh or adverse weather patterns. Keep reading to learn more about different types of garden designs.

Natural Garden

One of the best ways to approach a garden design is to keep things natural. Not every garden design needs to be braggadocious or meticulous, sometimes it is best to just work with what is already growing in your local area. Having a natural garden in your yard is not all that hard, as it does not require a whole lot of work to get a concept on the drawing board.

To implement a natural garden at home, all you need to do is get acquainted with the plants that grow in your region. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, a Dougal Fir Tree planted along with some Red Huckleberry will go beautifully together.

However, if you reside on the East Coast, opting for a nice Oak Tree or Red Maple complimented with an arrangement of Blue-Eyed Grass will look great. Ultimately, planting what already grows in your area as a garden design is incredibly intuitive and will match the aesthetic of your surroundings.

What is great about a natural garden is that you do not need to worry too much about external factors such as climate. For so many people that want to establish a unique garden design, their climate is the one thing that tends to stand in the way of their creativity.

This is one thing that you can rejoice in with a natural garden. With that being said, that does not mean that you should just drive down to your local nursery and pick out every type of plant that grows in your region and start throwing seeds around your yard. Try to have a little bit of creative vision before you buy plants.

All in all, you can let things run wild or you can stay organized by keeping your foliage moderate. However, you should keep in mind that certain local plants will look better when arranged properly. When planting, strive to keep a level of balance in what you put in the ground so that you are not dominating your outdoor space with a specific type of plant(s).

Zen Garden

What has become very popular in the Western World in recent years is the adoption of Asiatic Zen Gardens or Japanese Rock Gardens in people’s yards.

Zen is the right term to define this garden design as it really gives you peace of mind the second you step foot in it. This design needs to be approached with a minimalistic attitude as this garden is meant to be soothing and stress relieving.

To have an authentic Zen Garden design in your yard, you will need to invest in all of the right features to make it work. This means that you will need to source soft-edged stones that are ideally consistent in color and design. If you want to keep it is as genuine as possible, you should visit a nursery that specializes in these kinds of stones or you can order them online to be delivered.

However, if you felt like doing this as a DIY project, you could potentially hunt some down yourself, if your area has rocks laying around that fit the vibe of a Zen Garden. A cheaper alternative to authentic Japanese stones is to use gravel that is not too rough around the edges and has cohesive color.

Next, you will need to pick the right plants to compliment the look of your Zen Garden. You want to keep minimalism as the focus of your search but some great options to consider would be:

  • Japanese Maples
  • Bamboo
  • Moss
  • Black Pines

If you really want to seal the deal with a Zen Garden, adding a bonsai tree somewhere into the mix is going to be the way to go. However, a Zen Garden doesn’t quite feel complete without some additional artifacts.

There should be some additional features involved in your zen garden to tie it all together. What you end up choosing is really up to you but some things that are worth looking at would be a pond with some Koy Fish, a Buddha, and Chinese Lanterns. However, you can really get creative with the artifacts that you want to add.

A well-established Zen Garden is a fantastic way of creating a truly therapeutic outdoor space. If you need somewhere to meditate after work, sip tea in the afternoon, or read a book, a Zen Garden is the ultimate design for a yard. What you will want to be mindful of is planting the right things in relation to your climate. Zen Gardens can be quite versatile for various types of regions but you should always confirm what you can get away with planting before you commit to anything.

Coastal Garden

If you live near the coast or have a beachfront property, then you really can’t go wrong with a Coastal Garden.

Much like with a Natural Garden, you want to be thinking about plants that are already growing in your area or can at least handle the conditions of a coastal climate. The reason for this is that the salt in the ocean tends to end up everywhere - including your garden. In addition, coastal weather is often subject to extreme winds and weather conditions.

When considering plants for your Coastal Garden try to pick ones that are going to be resilient to salt and wind. Choosing plants that are already growing in your coastal area is the safest bet when establishing your design. However, don’t be shy about picking some coastal plants that grow in other regions, as they will likely get by just fine. Some of the common plants that many people decide to plant in their coastal gardens are:

  • Ornamental Grasses
  • Sea Thrifts
  • Red Wood Trees
  • Poppies

The one thing that you might want to be careful with is planting coastal plants that are not adaptable to adverse temperatures. If you have a relatively balanced coastal climate, you should have a lot of options available to you. On the other hand, if you live in far northern coastal regions, you may want to keep it local.

The same goes for Coastal Gardens that are closer to the equator. You may want to add a tropical or Mediterranean coastal aesthetic if that is the case. Once you have your plant selections in order, the ultimate way to complete any Coastal Garden is to find some nice beach wood to scatter around your yard.

If there is one thing that is synonymous with Coastal Gardens it is to find ocean-aged beach wood. This is something you can technically buy but one of the best ways to get your hands on some is to simply walk around your local beach and bring some home. Just make sure that the beach is not a protected or preserved area.

Contemporary Garden

A Contemporary Garden is essentially a form of artistic expression within your outdoor space. This design should reflect a part of you and it can be approached in a number of different ways, as there are a lot of designs out there.

The focus of a Contemporary Garden should be creating a space that has geometrical shapes, which are complemented by a balanced and well-thought-out color arrangement. Picking a generalized style for Contemporary Gardens is next to impossible, as each one can vary so greatly from the next.

Contemporary Gardens are not a new concept by any means but they do seem to evolve with the times. Much like other trends in society, Contemporary Gardens reflect the age that they are created - in one way or another.

The general rule of thumb is to approach an outdoor space like a canvas and create a portrait of your garden that is balanced. This often means that you start with a shape and build off of that. For example, if symmetry is a focus of your Contemporary Garden, you could build a circular deck. Next, you may want to choose flowers and pots that have this same curvature to add to the mix. Planting shrubs that grow symmetrically would be complimentary as well.

The colors that you choose for a contemporary garden should not be overwhelming. Stick to just a handful of colors that go well with one another and establish a theme based on that.

With that being said, Contemporary Garden design is something that each individual needs to sit down and think about for themself. If you like the idea of straight ridged lines, prioritize that and stick with it throughout the design of your garden. If you want to have smooth surfaces as a focus, make that the primary idea behind your Contemporary Garden.

The most important aspect of these artsy gardens is keeping a level of consistency - a constant element throughout the design. It is often the case that homeowners hire landscape architects for this kind of work as it can be tricky to create a proper Contemporary Garden design. However, if you feel like you need to let out some artistic expression, trying your hand at a Contemporary Garden may just be your calling.

Cottage Garden

A classic in the world of garden designs is the Cottage Garden. This is something that you are probably quite familiar with as it is a very traditional aesthetic that has been widely adopted in the past and it continues to be popular among homeowners to this day.

The best way to describe a Cottage Garden design is cute. These lovely gardens are quite similar to Natural Gardens but they have a quaint element to them that makes them especially soft around the edges.

Cottage Gardens are known for having an abundance of different colors and various plants that fill the majority of the space of your yard - essentially the opposite of minimalism. However, that is not to say that Cottage Gardens are necessarily disorganized. The plants that you plant all have their place within the garden area but they have a wild element to them, as they will be just about everywhere that you look.

The traditional image of a Cottage Garden would be a small path that leads you through an enchanting garden space to the front door of your home. The garden is generally filled with ornamental plants and flowers that have delicate colors such as violet, pink, and yellow. Some of the common plants that people like to plant in their Cottage Gardens are:

  • Delphiniums
  • Lavender
  • Lupins
  • Roses

With that being said, Cottage Gardens are typically found in regions that have an equal representation of all 4 seasons throughout the year. You want to plant most of your plants, ideally in the fall or in the spring so that they are in full bloom when summer comes around, which is why you rarely see this kind of garden design closer to the equator.

There are no set rules for a Cottage Garden design, as you can add a lot of different types of plants and flowers into the mix. You should try to find plants that are appropriate for this type of aesthetic that grow well in your local area and get them in the ground. A key takeaway for keeping the genuine aesthetic of a traditional Cottage Garden is to keep things quaint.

Desert Garden

There is something magical about the aesthetic of the desert, which is why so many people opt for having this look be the basis for their outdoor space.

Deserts have a natural minimalistic touch to them, which is exactly what you want to replicate with a Desert Garden design. Don’t overthink the number of plants that you want to have in your yard. Instead, focus on choosing quality over quantity with desert designs.

If you already live in the desert and want to keep that same theme going, you are going to have a really easy transition into your garden design, as you can essentially build off of your surroundings. You can approach this by simply incorporating what is already around you but in a more organized fashion. As you layout, your garden space, choose some of your favorite desert plants that you like to add to your yard.

There are a couple of different ways that you can approach your Desert Garden. You may want to keep things very neat and organized to retain some kind of feng shui in your outdoor space - with your desert plants having a balanced layout. However, many people who have Desert Gardens like to have their gardens be a direct extension of the desert that surrounds them, which would involve keeping your yard looking as natural as possible.

With that said, Desert Gardens are not exclusively for people who live only in the desert. Many people in other regions around the country love the look of a Desert Garden and choose that to be the style for their yard. What you want to ensure is that your area’s climate can sustain your desert plants. You are going to want to have a considerable amount of heat, which means that if you live in a region with harsh winters or too much rainfall, you may want to consider an alternative design.

However, if you have a balanced climate for desert plants, then you can add any number of beautiful cacti to your yard such as:

  • Barrel Cactus
  • Hedgehog Cactus
  • Saguaro Cactus

There is nothing that fits a Desert Garden’s image better than some well-placed cacti. However, you are also going to want to plant some desert bush in your space as well to fill the gaps. Once, you have got your essential desert plants selected, you need to complete the garden by adding some ground cover. Traditional things like grass will not do for a Desert Garden, which is why you should opt for something like gravel or tanbark. Desert Gardens are particularly good for regions that experience water shortages. Our lawns alone waste so much water and the perfect way to prevent this is by adopting a Desert Garden into your outdoor space.

Tropical Garden

If you love the look of the tropics and want to have them be an extension of your home, a Tropical Garden is really the way to go.

Tropical Gardens are gorgeous and are perfect for people that want to have a garden space that is lush and green all year long. There are a few different ways to approach a Tropical Garden but, ultimately, you mainly want to try to emulate the aesthetic of the jungle in one way or another.

Some people that like to have Tropical Gardens prefer to keep their outdoor space a bit more clean and minimalistic by allocating a designated area in their yard to layout their tropical plants. However, many people like to let their Tropical Gardens run wild - with the feeling of a real jungle.

No matter how you want to incorporate your Tropical Garden into your yard, you are going to want to focus on the same plants, which are going to be primary things like:

  • Various Palms
  • Elephant Ears
  • Plumeria
  • Passion Flower
  • Ginger
  • Orchids

The key thing that you want to focus on with a Tropical Garden is keeping things as vibrant and alive looking as possible. What can be challenging with this kind of garden design is that not all climates are going to be suitable for Tropical Gardens. Climates that are too cold are certainly not going to be sustainable for these kinds of plants and at the same time regions that are excessively dry are not going to be ideal either - unless you can water your plants religiously.

The best places in the United States for Tropical Gardens are going to be areas along the West Coast and various areas around the south that have balanced warmth and humidity to support a tropical climate.

If you love the idea of having a Tropical Garden but do not live in a suitable location, you should consider settling for a slightly more flexible type of garden design such as Mediterannean. The look and feel of Mediterannean Gardens come with a lot of the same pleasant characteristics, but the plants that you would include in this type of design are a bit more tolerant to colder and dryer climates.

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