What's Your Garden Design Style?

Depends on what you mean by "garden" and "style"

May 4, 2009
John Stuart Leslie

We are using the terms 'garden', 'landscape' and 'yard' as all the same as applicable to people's homes and property. Some people think of a "garden" as a designated area within the "yard" to grow vegetables.

Other people refer to their landscapes as referring to their entire "yards", front, back and all the elements within it. The term landscape is the more appropriate all encompassing space. Landscapes can be residential, commercial, industrial or the "natural" landscape.

Some people refer to "landscaping" as the care and maintenance of the grounds. While others think of "gardeners" as the guys who they pay to mow their lawn and trim their shrubs.

A yard is most often referred to as residential space, although a commercial yard space is mostly used for storage.

So use whatever term you want. For simplicity, I am using the term garden because of its historical significance and international understanding.

I am planting a garden in my yard
so it will complement the look
of my overall landscape.

formal style garden

Garden Styles vs. Garden Themes

Most people have preferences for the way a garden is designed and maintained. There are many categories you could use to define the way a garden looks and feels. Here are a few that I would say are common:

  • Formal: straight lines, sometimes symetrical
  • Informal: curvilinear lines, asymetrical
  • Natural: keeping things native, low maintenance
  • Jungle-like, bordering on overgrown
  • Tropical: lush, colorful like at a tropical resort
  • Rustic: unpretentious, overgrown, informal
  • Elegant simplicity: that sophisticated designer look
  • Lavish Estate: Hearst Castle for example
  • Resort Style: pool and elements for entertaining
  • Carefree: no particular style
  • Old World: recapturing the look of old Europe
  • Contemporary, straight lines, simple, refined

You can see that there can be an overlap between the style and the theme of a garden. A well manicured, clipped hedge garden can both be formal and informal, as a Japanese garden can look very neat, at the same time look informal and natural. 

Having some sort of criteria to go by as far as style or theme is important in the planning and design stage, as it drives the process of determining the look and feel of the spaces, the elements chosen and their arrangement.arched trellis pathway

A garden or landscape that was put together without any particular theme other than the essential elements of say, a grass play area, a bbq station for grilling, a patio area for table and chairs, trees for shade and screening and shrubs to fill up the rest of the open area, could end up looking unremarkable.

Even a garden without a specific theme or style can look well thought out and pleasing to the eye if basic design principles are followed. That is why a garden with a relatively low budget can still look good if planned properly.

In speaking in terms of themes, we are implying that there is a certain unifying idea around which we organize the design.

For instance, the theme could be sculpture, garden art, statuary and therefore we call this type of garden a scuplture garden, provided it had a recurring element of the theme or multiple art pieces placed throughout the garden. 



The most common theme gardens are:

  • English garden
    Japanese garden
    Italian garden
    Cottage garden
    Xeriscape garden
    Water garden

    • Tropical garden
    • Mediterranean garden
    • Alpine garden
    • Cactus garden
    • Victory garden
    • Topiary garden
    • Flower garden
    • Cut Flower garden
      Butterfly garden 
      Kitchen garden
      Wildlife garden
      Herb garden
      Vegetable garden
      Native Plant garden
      Memorial garden

    • John Stuart Leslie is creator and founder of My Sacred Garden. A website that blends the mind, body & spiritual lifestyle of the conscious consumer with the pursuit of gardens, gardening, design and art. He holds a Master's degree in Landscape Architecture and has been a landscape designer and contractor since 1982.

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