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.

Less is More

Hey guys!  I read a great book about how less is more in landscaping your backyard garden oasis.  I like this book for several reasons.  The first reason is that it has excellent ideas for designing your backyard if it is small.  In addition, the book has good-quality photos to inspire and envision your landscape design.  Finally, the book gives practical advice that will not overwhelm your landscape ideas.

The book is called “The Less is More Garden” ( Morrison,2018) and, here is an excerpt from the book:

”A better approach is to set design objectives not based on decks or structures or even plants, but rather on how the space will be used. 

To help clients figure this out, I’ve developed key questions based on the three Ws.  These aren’t traditional design considerations, but I have found them invaluable. 

●             What will you be doing in the garden?

●             When will you be outside?

●             Who will you be with?

Beginning with the three Ws often leads to a completely different design than what homeowners initially envision.  For example, I once consulted with a couple who had three small children.  The family spent a lot of time outside, and wanted their backyard to be more attractive, as well as more practical.  This was a newer home, and the backyard was organized in the typical style of what I like to call “the contractor’s special” – a concrete rectangular patio leading to a rectangular lawn, within a thin moustache of plants around the edge. 

Defining their goals was easy.  They wanted to maintain play space and make their backyard look bigger.  Most homeowners would assume as they did, that the solution would be to increase the size of the lawn at the expense of the already-small planting beds.  In design-speak, I could have said that making the largest elements in their backyard even larger would throw off the scale and balance even more than it was currently, but how meaningful would that have been?  Instead, I focused on creating a design that addressed their lifestyle goals:  family time in a beautiful but modest outdoor space.”


Morrison, Susan. The Less is More Garden: Big Ideas for Designing Your Small Yard. Timber Press, Inc., 2018.