Garden Makeover: Pick a Theme

My Garden Life
March 22, 2019
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The first rule of gardening is choosing the right plants for your soil, climate and space, but gardens are about the look and feel, as well as the practicalities of cultivation. Many gardens are a mish-mash of the plants that are already there or that people like, often after some impulse buying at the plant nursery or supermarket. Theming your garden can add a pleasing logic and structure and provide extra impact, and it needn’t involve making major changes all at once or spending a fortune.

Different ways to theme and style a garden

Blue Pots and Butterfly Themed Garden

A theme is a unifying thread, where all the components, including plant types, color and visual impact, layout, planters and garden ornaments, all relate to a central concept or function. In practice, it doesn’t always have to be coordinated in every dimension, and there are simpler ways to achieve your goal.

First, it may be easier to start off by theming a corner of your garden and expanding from there. Small ‘gardens within a garden’ can work well in their own right or as a starting point for a themed revamp. Examples include rockeries and little fairy gardens with delicate flowers and woodland plants.

If you already have plants established in your garden you probably won’t want to rip them all out to serve your chosen theme. If necessary, theming can be achieved primarily with planters and garden ornaments and accessories. Consistent use of color, shared subject matter (such as wildlife) and textures will go a long way to giving your garden a coordinated feel.

Visual impact will probably be a key factor in re-styling your garden and can be achieved by focusing on particular plants (such as roses) or families of plants (succulents or herbs, for example). Color is an easy way to create a sense of visual unity. Perhaps the most famous example is the ‘White Garden’ at Sissinghurst Castle in England, featuring only white flowering plants with green or grey foliage.

Theming doesn’t always involve uniformity in planting. In a fragrance garden, filled with sweet-smelling flowers, herbs and shrubs, having very different plants together doesn’t matter at all. The same applies to the traditional cottage garden, or ‘English country garden’. Here the theme is informality, even anti-design, with the glorious retro mix of plants (perennial flowers and climbers in a whole range of different colors, typically interspersed with herbs and vegetables) central to the theme and the appeal.

Ideas for themed gardens

Rose Color Garden Theme with Gazing Ball

Well-known themes include Japanese, desert and tropical gardens. Wildlife and butterfly gardens are an eco-friendly option. Water gardens can require careful maintenance, but the sound of water creates a tranquil environment to relax in. The main thing, apart from ensuring the plants you want are suited to your growing conditions, is that the theme is special to you.

Are you an art lover? You could take your cue from flower paintings (Monet’s water lilies, Renoir’s poppies or Van Gogh’s sunflowers) or abstract art (Mondrian, or Rothko). A sculpture garden needn’t be filled with expensive pieces. ‘Found objects’, such as tree stumps, stones, even rusting metal items, can be used for a contemporary art garden, with topiary adding to the theme of interesting shapes and textures.

If your passion links to a color scheme, then you have a springboard for garden theming using color symbolism. It could be a flag, a sports team or something quirkier like your children’s favorite colors or a purple herbs and vegetables garden. The style of your house or something in the character or history of your local area can also provide cues.

With some thought, there is no end to possible themes, and if your landscape isn’t suitable for your idea you can always plant in containers. Play with your garden décor using solar lights, unusual objects to plant in or for plants to climb on. It’s all about being creative and having some fun along the way.

Looking for even more inspiration and garden ideas? Follow My Garden Life on Instagram.

Aquatic Garden Theme


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