Plant Garden Design

Hi everyone!  Learning about how to incorporate plants into your landscape design is essential.  I just finished reading a book about creating plant gardens in your yard, which discussed various topics.  The topics include how to deal with the challenges of climate and site, how to use regionally appropriate plants, how to find design inspiration in both man-made and natural settings, and how to strengthen the connection between people and gardens. 

I enjoyed reading this book on so many levels because it forces you to rethink garden design in your landscaping projects.  In addition, this book makes you challenge garden design orthodoxy along with challenging current trends.  Finally, a large variety of photographed images of plant gardens are shown in different climates to help give the perspective of the author’s diverse work in gardening and designing.

The book is called Plant-Driven Design: Creating Gardens That Honor plants, Place and Spirit (Ogden, 2008),  and here is an expert from the book:

“This is not to say that architecturally driven landscapes can’t be beautiful.  They often are, in the same way that well-proportioned buildings are beautiful.  But if their fixed geometry goes too far, so that the composition rests only on the static beauty of paving, walls, sheared hedges, massed bedding flowers, and repeated lines and beds of matching trees, shrubs, and other architectural subjects, there is little to love save architecture.  In these kinds of landscapes nature has been utterly defeated.  The results, visible everywhere along public streets, in malls, and beside commercial buildings as well as in many professionally designed residential “gardens,” are spaces that give people few reasons to pause or contemplate their place in the world.

Abandoning formal style for curvilinear shapes and asymmetrical balance won’t rescue a garden from this bullying.  Avant-garde designs that require plants, such as those of the oft-copied Brazilian designer Roberto Burle Marx, can be as overpowering to plantings as any formal style.  There is little opportunity for change and growth in plants or in people’s responses when a design requires the plants to submit to wholly architectural roles.  What happens instead is the gradual development of a series of blobs comprised of shrubs, flowering plants, ground covers, panels of ornamental grass, even trees.  All lose their unique qualities over time as they grow together in similar masses or are hacked, sheared, or mowed.  Such landscapes demand that plants stay in near suspended animation to fulfill the designer’s vision and often impose an unrealistic burden on their owners for upkeep.

Unfortunate things happen to a garden when the importance of plants and their individual characters are diminished.  At the outset the landscape loses complexity.  What’s left is often so obvious to look at the scene hardly merits a second glance.  Remove natural diversity and we feel no invitation to explore further.  There is no reason even to get out of the car. 

The error usually made by designers of these spaces is assuming that a garden is a place or thing.  As any gardener knows, what’s missing from this view is the sense of process.  The noun garden only comes into being when it is also a verb:

gar∙den verb: to care for and cultivate plants in a plot of ground or enclosure; to lay out or work in a garden; to make into a garden

At its heart a garden is a relationship, an ongoing dialog between people, plants, and the place in which they both live and grow.  What separates gardenmaking from architecture, sculpture, and other arts is that this living creation is not something we will into being by ourselves.  Plants and nature are our partners; our relationship with them is what builds a garden.  As with marriage, it is by observing idiosyncrasies, respecting needs, and envisioning potential of our partners (plants in this instance) that gardeners gather the background information needed to create a lasting relationship.  Simply dominating the plants from the outset squanders the opportunity for this to evolve and frustrates the chance to create a meaningful design.  It also cuts short the enjoyment of gardening just as tyranny sabotages any relationship.”


Ogden, Scott, and Lauren Springer Ogden.  Plant-Driven Design: Creating Gardens That Honor plants, Place and Spirit.  Timber Press, Inc., 2008.

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