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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Designing Your New California Garden: 8. Your New Garden’s Style

If you’ve been with us from the beginning, you’re probably tired of background work – and ready to start planning your garden.  If so, you’re going to like this month’s activities.   If you are just joining the ‘Designing Your New California Garden’ series, we suggest you start at the beginning (July 2013 - http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2013/07/designing-your-new-california-garden-1.html) and work forward.  The monthly activities will help you design an attractive, functional, sustainable garden you’ll enjoy for years to come.
You’ve probably been collecting pictures of inspirational gardens as you’ve worked through the exercises.  If not, now is a good time to explore the garden design books in your local library or bookstore (or download same).  Get out in the community to explore local gardens.  Walk around your neighborhood; visit a local botanic garden or native plant garden.  Be sure to take your camera and notepad.    You’ll be surprised at the number of good ideas all around you.
One of the first things we notice about a garden is its overall appearance or ‘feel’.  Some gardens appear tidy and formal while others are more relaxed. Some may feel ‘right’ to you, while others don’t.  Take a minute to consider  the overall ‘feel’ you want for your New California Garden  -  assisted by a short questionnaire.  Access the Overall Look of Your ‘New California Garden’ questionnaire at: http://www.slideshare.net/cvadheim/the-overall-look-of-your-garden-worksheet   Come back when you’re done to find out what your answers reveal about your style preferences.
Many newcomers believe that native plant gardens must look like they were planted by Mother Nature herself.   While ‘natural style’ gardens appeal to some, this is not the only look that can be achieved using native plants. In fact, native plants have been used successfully in even very formal gardens. There is no right or wrong way to use native plants; but you need to determine your style preferences first.  Then you can choose plants that are suitable to your style.  
The ‘Overall Look’ questionnaire determines whether you prefer a more formal or more informal garden style or ‘look’. We’ve found that some gardeners are most comfortable if their garden has a formal appearance.  They feel downright uncomfortable with the ‘messy’ or ‘uncontrolled’ look of more informal gardens.  Other gardeners have no patience with the ‘cold perfection’ and ‘persnickety details’ of very formal gardens; they prefer a garden with a slightly wilder look. 
There is no right or wrong choice; your own preference may be very formal, very informal or something in between.   But understanding what makes you feel comfortable about a garden will go a long way in helping you design a New California Garden that suits you.
What was your total score on the Overall Look questionnaire?   If your  score was between 25 and 35 you favor a formal-looking garden design.   If your score was less than 15 you favor an informal look.    If your score was between 16 and 24 you could go either way.    The table below outlines some basic elements of formal and informal garden designs.   See how well your score corresponds to the type of garden you prefer.

Formal landscapes




·        Appropriate with ‘formal’ house designs (including modern)
·        Straight lines
·        Simple, geometric shapes
·        Neat, tidy appearance
·        Restrained  
·        Calm, static appearance
·        Brick, gravel and stone paths/patios (regularly shaped/cut stone), concrete
·        Gravel or fine grade mulches
·        Classical fountains, pots, sundials, sculpture as accents
·        Classical/simple garden furniture
·        Enclosures: hedges, formal fences around garden
·        Lawns
·        Plants with ‘old fashioned’ appearance
·        Clipped/pruned hedges
·        Shrubs in large pots
·        ‘tidy’ appearance
·        Evergreen shrubs
·        Limited plant palette (species and/or color)
·        Massed plantings
·        Plants planted in regular/ geometric patterns
·        Repetition/symmetry in plantings

Informal landscapes




·        Appropriate with cottage, bungalow, ‘ranch’  or modern homes
·        Curved lines
·        Complex, irregular shapes
·        Relaxed, informal feel
·        Lively, changing appearance
·        Organic; natural
·        Decomposed granite, ‘urbanite’, irregularly shaped stone, cinder block, concrete
·        Most types of mulch
·        Informal fountains (made from stone, pots, etc.)
·        Hardscape materials appropriate for local landscape
·        Plain, rustic or eclectic garden furniture
·        Rustic fences if any
·        ‘natural’ lawn, prairie or meadow if any
·        Informally pruned hedges (less regular)
·        Leaf mulch; leaf litter may be allowed to remain
·        May include summer/fall dormant plants
·        May be more varied plant palette (more species/colors)
·        Plants planted in irregular patterns (more like in nature)
·        Plants appropriate for local landscape (incl. CA natives)
If you prefer a more formal look, you may want to look at pictures of classic formal gardens for ideas.  The internet is a good place to begin.  Some keywords you might want to use are: ‘formal garden’, ‘parterre garden’, ‘renaissance garden’ and ‘classic garden’.   Many of the pictures feature large, very formal gardens; but the ideas can be applied to even the smallest S. California garden.   Look for the features of formal gardens (above table) in the pictures.  How might you apply these design characteristics on a smaller scale?   How do your pictures of inspirational gardens use the characteristics of formal gardens?   Be sure to write down ideas – they may be helpful when you begin to plan your garden next month.
If you prefer a more informal look, consider how you scored the last two questions.  If you assigned a high score (4 or 5) to the ‘natural look’ question, then search the internet for pictures of ‘natural gardens’ and ‘California native plant gardens’.  The pictures will inspire you with good ideas about plantings and hardscape.  If you scored the ‘lots of species and types of plants’ question highly, you might want to look at pictures of ‘cottage gardens’ and ‘rustic gardens’ for inspiration.    Think about how you might apply the features of these gardens to a design that includes California native plants.  Jot down or sketch out your ideas as they come to you.  Keep your notes and sketches in your Garden Notebook.
At this point you know quite a bit about the basic type of garden that makes you comfortable and happy.  But a good garden designer – one who is willing to work with you to design a garden that truly suits your family – will also ask you specific questions about garden features, colors and other characteristics.   S/he does this to be sure they understand what is important to you - the people who will live and work in the garden.
You may or may not decide to work with a garden designer.  Either way, it’s  a good idea to think ahead about how your new garden might look. You’ll likely find that giving yourself time – even months – to envision your future garden pays off in the long run.  Over many years of teaching California native gardening we’ve developed a set of questions that are useful for discovering and prioritizing garden features.   We’ve combined them into a questionnaire that’s both fun to take and useful to whoever designs your garden.   
Since gardens are a personal thing, we suggest that each member of the household (except the very young) completes a copy of the questionnaire. Have fun; and be sure to add your personal desires if they aren’t included in the questionnaire.  Compare your answers and decide on a final list of priorities for the garden after you discuss them as a group.  Access the Garden Style Questionnaire at: http://www.slideshare.net/cvadheim/what-is-your-gardens-style-worksheet-30049848
Next month (Feb. 2014) we’ll take all the background information you’ve collected and begin to design a garden.   Be sure you’ve completed all the prior exercises and filed your answers in your Garden Notebook.  Trust us – you’ll be needing them!  We’ll begin next month by designing the irrigation system and laying out the garden pathways, seating areas and other hardscape features.

We value your comments (below).    You can also contact us directly at mothernaturesbackyard10@gmail.com.


1 comment:

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