One of the many things I love about being a garden designer is getting to know my clients’ story. By this I mean what role gardens have played in their lives, what plants, structures, and ornaments evoke certain memories, and what kind of garden makes them feel relaxed and most happy.
I call this the “inner garden” of my clients. And I believe we all have one: Even those people who tell me they don’t garden, or they have a ‘brown thumb’, I find that when pressed, they can paint the most vivid and beautiful garden pictures.
Maybe it’s a story you grew up with that resonates. For me, it’s the children’s book, A Secret Garden. As a child, I spent hours rereading the chapter where they uncovered the old garden door hidden in the ivy-covered wall. I dreamt about a secret garden of my own as I pictured myself working alongside the children, patiently nursing the old garden back to life. It comes as no surprise that one of my first gardens, a formal, enclosed rose garden, was based on my memories of this novel.
Gardening and gardens are personal. When properly planned with the client’s own narrative in mind, they tell the owner’s unique garden story. While a good garden design must also take into account soil and climate, distinct spaces and what plants will work best, at the root, it’s a highly personal journey. A truly successful garden reflects our feelings about Nature, its rejuvenative powers and the role we would like it to play in our lives.
Before you begin your next garden, start outlining your story. Your story will provide the framework for the design. Here are nine things to think about as you begin the process.
1. What gardens have inspired you during your lifetime?
What emotions do they bring out in you when they think of them, and why? As many of you know from reading my blog, Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens is one of my favorites.
2. Are there particular scents that trigger memories?
Memory and scent are intertwined and they can heighten or alter your mood. Do you associate certain smells with certain seasons (ie, the sweet fragrance of spring flowers, the heavy scent of gardenias, the smell of new-mown grass?). Which scents are the most important to you?
3. What are your favorite times to be outdoors?
For early risers, this may be the peaceful hours after dawn while for others; the soft light of the evening may be more enticing. It’s important to know, so you can plan for plants that bloom accordingly.
4. Which season do your prefer? When are you home?
(If you travel for extended periods of time during the year, it makes sense to design a garden with shrubs and flowers that bloom when you’re home.)
5. What is your definition of tranquility and relaxation?
Do you view the perfect garden as a group of well-tended plants in a tranquil setting? Are there meandering paths, quiet corners and secluded seating? Or is your definition more open and lawn-centric, a space built for entertaining, or a combination of both?
6. What color palettes appeal to you? Pastels, bright colors or all white?
Do your color tastes change with the seasons and the light? In my garden, soft blues, pinks and yellows look best in the spring followed by fiery reds, bright yellows and deep purples. I round out the season with dusty mauves, grey blues and shimmery silvers.
7. Do you prefer the sun or shade or a combination of both?
This garden on the Chesapeake Bay is resplendent in the spring as the flowers begin to emerge in dappled shade.
8. Which kind of ‘lines’ make you feel most comfortable and fit with your vision of what a good landscape should be?
Do you like straight-edged beds with orderly plantings (what some refer to as ‘landscaper’s edge’) or do you prefer curvy beds with irregular plantings for a more casual look?
9. Finally, are you interested in hands-on maintenance, or any version thereof, or do you intend to employ a landscaping crew to maintain the garden?
Are you willing to maintain the garden so that it retains the plan? (This is a big one for the garden designer.) All great gardens need to be understood and valued in order to survive.
Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade.
— Rudyard Kipling
Happy planning and may we all create beautiful gardens this spring!
All photos/Here By Design