Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What makes a garden Great?


It's garden tour season again!

A few weeks ago we went on a tour that took us in to the backyards of some million dollar homes. Here were gardeners who had extensive funds, professional designers, and a team of landscape prefessionals for regular maintenance all available to them. I was prepared to be amazed. Instead, I headed home profoundly disappointed.

Frankly, the design of these gardens seemed slick and a bit self-concscious. If I can make an analogy, it rather like a homeowner who sent their interior designer to a single store and directed them to buy all the best furniture that store had on offer. Sure the decorated rooms would contain only the best, but there would be be nothing collected over the years, nothing personal, or for that matter unique.

This past weekend, I dragged my poor husband along on yet another tour. A few of the gardens on this second tour were terrific.

So, here is the question I have been mulling over in my mind ever since: What makes a garden great?





























I think number one on my list of assets would have to be creativity. I don't know about you, but I really appreciate when a garden is original and imaginative.





























Next on my list of attributes would be a great design/layout. This is where I think so many gardens fall a bit short.

What is my number one design pet peeve? It is what I will coin "fringe thinking". In a typical garden of this kind, the garden is a thin ribbon around the perimeter of the yard and the lawn is the black hole in the middle.  If I can make another analogy, it is the equivalent of taking a room and pushing all the furniture up against the wall.


The boundry between garden and lawn is usually a precise line of edging. My own garden is like this at the moment. In the future, I would like to blur the edge of the "garden" and create a more unified, seamless space.

The third characteristic on my list of what makes a great garden would be creative use of plant materials. It is wonderful when a gardener mixes leaf textures and colors to create a rich and varied tapestry.




























Does a great garden need lots of flowers?




Not necessarily. 

Flowers can actually hog the stage and overshadow the supporting players. Still, nothing can take your breath away like a beautiful bloom!





I just love when a garden speaks to the personality of the gardener who created it. 

What inspires you?

What do you think makes a garden great?

27 comments:

  1. You absolutely hit on all the key points I have been mulling since we took a tour of 5 gardens last weekend. Some had creativity, personality, blurred edges and really cool plants mixed beautifully. The others looked like what you saw on your first tour of expensive homes.

    My own yard suffers from "furniture pushed up against the wall" syndrome and I now know what I need to do to fix some of that. Your photos here give me ideas and the gardens I liked from last weekend give me many more.

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  2. Jennifer, great tour! I do not have much grass, but I have been trying to follow Gordon Hayward's analogy to the hand with the palm being the lawn and the fingers symbolizing pathways leading to all areas of the garden.

    His theory is that you should always be able to experience being "in" the garden not just walking around it. Of course, he wrote Art and the Gardener so he also like gardens planned like an artist plans a painting. If you have not already read his book, I think you would enjoy it.

    Eileen

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  3. It's hard to pinpoint exactly why one garden speaks to you, and another doesn't. And as you state, most of the time it has nothing to do with the plants, but the planting. I'm still trying to make mine feel exactly the way I want it to. The one think that I think makes the most difference in my garden, since it's mostly in fully sun, is the addition of shadow.

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  4. What an interesting read... gave me pause....agree with you it is the personality the gardener brings to it not something put together by a designer that brings life to a garden.2 aspects of a garden I love is the path bending out of sight and the sound of water, do I have either of those in my garden? Not Yet!Rosemary

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  5. I think an important thing to remember is that Great does not necessarily equal expensive, or even large.

    I have visited large homes, with hundreds of thousands in landscaping ($$$ hardscaping, waterfalls etc...). And they have been nicely planted by professionals, but they may have 4 Annabelle Hydrangeas in a bed. I much prefer the plant collectors (ie most bloggers!) who love aquiring different varieties.

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  6. I am still too inexperienced a gardener to know exactly what it is that makes a garden great, but I do know a great garden when I see one and for me, the most common thread I see in "Great" gardens is the planting and care, mixed with time. Great gardens don't happen overnight (the "designer-interior-decorator" gardens you described so well above are "nice", not great!). Good planting + love and care + time ... and not being afraid to experiment and change things that don't work. And of course some people have a talent for this, the rest of us are learning :)

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  7. What makes a garden great is such a personal matter. I like visiting gardens of people who are excited to show them. When the owner knows the plants and has stories it makes the viewing an experience. I also really like gardens that show personality by using objects and art. and as Eileen pointed out, the feeling of being 'in' a garden as opposed to just viewing it from the 'outside' makes a huge difference.

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  8. I visit lots of garden on tours and I see much of the same over and over. What makes one more personal than the next is the creativity and often the unique use of materials in both hard and soft scape. And the person stories. Buffalo has many gardens that fit this bill, but what determines greatness is most likely good design.

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  9. Yes, a great tour and good thoughts. I'm about color/texture/form more than flowers although you could fault me for "fringe thinking" in some areas of the gardens. For me, gone so much in summer, it's about simplifying yet having all look grand when I get home. Impossible :) But my garden is me ... I like that!

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  10. Thank you for an excellent post! i enjoyed the gardens you featured very much, and you made some excellent points. I think a great garden must have personality that sets it apart. It should hint at a story, though the visitor may have to guess and come up with his own ideas about what has happened there. The problem with professional 'formula' gardens is that they have bones but no soul.

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  11. This truly was such a lovely and inspired post. Your pictures always speak volumes and I loved hearing your defined thoughts on what makes a garden special. You have taught me a lot. I never really analyze, but am personally drawn to gardens that are rather mixed with no clearly designated style or structure. I like a garden that offers surprises. Essential elements to me always include water, rocks, pebbles, bark, logs and plenty of greenery. I like pathways and hidden features. The gardens you shared here are truly captivating.

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  12. I like a garden that reflects the personality and passions of the gardener. I have a fringe garden, which isn't my preference, but rather a compromise between me and my lawn loving husband. I once bought an expensive magazine showing "dream gardens". It ended up being full of boring, soulless spaces that weren't even that peaceful or pretty. They just seemed like an accessory to the mansions they surrounded. if I could change my garden I'd rip out a bunch of grass and add some stone paths.

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  13. You have fabulous insights into what makes a garden great. Very well said!

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  14. For me personally a 'great' garden has to have lots of flowers. I just don't care for the cool, green vegetation approach. But, that's just me. Tons of flowers, a bit of wildness to the layout. I even enjoy colors that 'fight' a bit. Like hot pinks and oranges together. Loved this post! And you have certainly nailed the most important criteria: the garden should reflect the gardener who created it. I suppose that's why there are so many great garden bloggers - because we're all so very different and it's fun to see what the other half is doing.

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  15. I do not think I would like cookie cutter gardens. I think that is why I do not like modern lines in gardens.Too sleek as you say and hard looking.Blooms break up the hard-scaping and add softness to a garden. I like to see personality in them of their owners. Gardening to me should be a personal thing including the things you love. But that is just my own personal preference others may love neat and sleek structures.

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  16. For it a garden is great if it reflects the personality of it's creator. My garden is rustic, wild and wonderful!

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  17. Thought provoking article. What makes a garden great: attention to detail (most important), knowledge of plants, quantity of plants (you need a lot even in a small space), color/texture/form sense, creativity, setting, intelligent use of paths and hardscape, maintenance, maturity--all combined in a cohesive whole.

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  18. What a lovely provoking post! Maybe each person has a choice, as the cliche goes, 'beauty is in the eyes of...'. For me i dont prefer anything in particular, as long as i feel and think the 'made space' is beautiful. It hits me just like that!

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  19. Loved this post and reading all the comments! I agree on all your points! I like to see the gardener's personality reflected in the garden. I don't like seeing all the standard "builder" plants in gardens (unless they are used in a unique way). I have been on tours that you describe and the McMansion gardens are always disappointing probably because I don't like "fringe" gardens and it is mostly just boring. I wonder if those homeowners are boring too, LOL!

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  20. Great post! I had a similar experience last year when I visited two open gardens on the same day. The first one had a charming, intimate feel that made me want to move in and live there. The second was much larger and maybe more impressive in some ways -- but it left me cold because it didn't seem to have a soul. -Jean

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  21. Ah the garden with the cascading rose and the foxgloves is a garden after my own heart.

    As far as what makes a garden great, imo ~ that could be a blog post in of itself!

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  22. Great question Jennifer. I'm going to be thinking about that one. Off the cuff, I'd say I like to see vintage pieces incorporated into the plantings (I guess that's personalization). I'm also always interested in seeing different plant combinations. I agree that because a home is in a high dollar area doesn't mean the gardens will be great. I had a similar experience a couple years ago on a tour here. Each little plant was carefully mulched with lots of space around it ~ nothing too inspiring. High dollar water features tho which lost a bit because the rest of the garden was lacking. I've found here that when the tours are in older parts of town the gardens are always better.
    I love your term "fringe thinking" ~ I've noticed that a lot and had it going on in my own backyard as well (until I started trying to make it over this spring).
    Your foliage only photos are very inspiring which means to me that you don't necessarily need lots of blooms.
    I'm glad the second tour was more fulfilling. There's nothing worse than being excited then getting let down and feeling like you wasted money.

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  23. Fantastic post.... I think you've described a "great" garden perfectly. To me, a great garden is one to be immersed in, not one to look at. When a garden is built from the heart as a labor of love, it shows.

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  24. I think your final sentence is the most important to keep in mind. A garden needs to reflect the personality of the gardener. I would much rather visit the garden of an enthusiastic ameteur, ignorant of design rules than to see all the good taste money can buy.

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  25. I love a garden with bones! That doesn't necessarily mean I don't love flowers, because I do, but I love the architectural plants and most often those consist of trees and shrubs. That explains my love of Asian gardens, or my love of Asian (Japanese) gardens explains my desire for architectural plants. So no, I don't think a good garden means lots of blossoms.

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  26. Excellent post! I really enjoyed the gardens post, you made some excellent points. You have no idea of how enjoyable seeing the garden is. Thanks for inspirations.
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