What Is Your Landscape Style?
Read on to learn more about different landscape styles.
Japanese Garden Design
Traditional Japanese gardens are designed for peaceful contemplation. They draw heavily on Buddhist, Shinto and Taoist philosophies and strive to provide a spiritual haven for visitors. The primary focus of an Oriental garden is nature. The elements of a Japanese garden mimic or symbolize natural elements. Thus, geometric shapes and artificial stone are not common in Asian landscape design. The more natural and harmonious a garden is, the more conducive it is to contemplation.
There are four essential elements used in Japanese garden design: rocks, water, plants, and ornaments. When selecting and arranging these elements in your space, it’s important to keep in mind the main design principles of a Japanese garden, which include asymmetry, enclosure, borrowed scenery, balance and symbolism. These principles will work together to create the proper balance in your Japanese garden.
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In this section, you’ll find tips from landscaping professionals on:
- Choosing simplistic and natural paving materials for a Japanese garden, including gravel, natural stone and exposed-aggregate concrete.
- Ideas for “softening” the edges of paved patios and walkways by avoiding straight lines, emphasizing free-form and organic shapes, and using ground covers to disguise the edges.
- Good plant selections for a Japanese garden, emphasizing evergreen varieties in various shapes, sizes and textures.
- Choosing trees for a Japanese garden that symbolize strength and endurance.
- Recommendations for choosing and arranging rocks in a Japanese garden to create artistic focal points.
- Types of rocks that work well in a Japanese garden and how to find affordable sources for rocks.
- An overview of the key decorative ornaments that no Japanese garden should be without.
- How to incorporate stone lanterns, rain chains and other traditional Japanese garden décor into your landscape.
- Ideas for Japanese-inspired water features that include elements such as bamboo water spouts, stone basins, waterfalls and Koi ponds.
- How to represent water in a Japanese garden by using gravel or sand raked in wave-like patterns.
- Choosing furniture pieces, styles and materials that blend well in a Japanese garden
- How to enclose a Japanese garden to create a tranquil environment for contemplation.
- Ideas for using bamboo fencing or premade bamboo fence panels to enclose your garden in traditional Japanese style.
- Creating a welcoming entrance to a Japanese garden using Torii gates, arbors, or potted bonsai trees.
- Common bridge styles used in a Japanese garden, including a simple wooden arch bridge and a flat, zigzag bridge.
- How to bring the art of Japanese cooking to your garden with an outdoor teppanyaki grill, or flat-iron griddle.
The best Japanese garden designs will emphasize the concepts of asymmetry and balance in the use of their essential elements.
Modern Landscape Design
If all you do while watching AMC’s Mad Men is lust after their homes, furniture and clothing then a modern landscape is for you. Modern garden design has its roots in the 1950s and ’60s, a time that was all about bold geometry and linear designs.
Modern landscaping is known for its streamlined aesthetic and sleek sophisticated style. Overall the garden will feel controlled and organized. Typically, the focus is heavier on hardscape and structures than it is on plants. Modern plants are usually green and selected for shape and texture. Pops of color are then added with furniture cushions, planters or a painted wall.
Popular materials used in modern landscaping include concrete, metal and wood. Many designers opt for leaving concrete surfaces their natural grey, however it can be stained a variety of colors. Metal, especially weathered corten steel, is a common accent in modern gardens. It can be used as planters, as a privacy screen or even as small retaining walls. Wood decking is also common in modern yards. The wood of choice is usually Ipe, a Brazilian hardwood with a rich color.
One of the main goals of modern design is to create contrast. For example a large massing of ornamental grasses pops out against a grey concrete wall, orange cushions draw your eye when placed on otherwise simple patio furniture and a fire pit filled with colored glass demands attention when set amongst a bed of bluestone. It is important to be selective when creating contrast, too much can be overwhelming and make the space seem disjointed. Pick two or three spots in your yard and focus on one contrasting element for each.
A trademark of modern landscapes is a paved area planted with a grid of greenery. This can be paving stones with grass growing where the grout would traditionally be, or concrete poured in sections that allows thyme to grow in between. However, grid patterns are not the only way to achieve a modern look. Landscape designer and author Maureen Gilmer suggests using plants that are architectural and have interesting textures as well as using containers.
Tuscan Landscape Design
The gardens throughout Tuscany have been recognized for centuries for their impressive design. From the Medici gardens to small villas within the rolling Tuscan hills, the landscapes tell the story of their past. These gardens have inspired us for centuries, starting with the renaissance gardens that have transformed into their own identity throughout the Tuscan region of Italy.
Elements within Tuscan gardens:
- Stonework including walls and paths
- Mediterranean plant pallet
- Boxed hedges
- Terra cotta pots
- Potted plants
The region not only in its past, but to this day is inhabited by people connected to the land through farming. Tuscan gardens are often surrounded or at least have a view of a vineyard or olive trees. If your climate allows, Incorporate citrus and potted herbs throughout your design. The simple garden design is not over done but stands alone to speak volumes.
Common areas within a Tuscan garden:
- Arbors/Pergolas- Are often set within the Mediterranean plants as an area for relaxation individually or with a group. It’s best to place this seating area in the location with the greatest view of your landscape.
- Benches/Individual chairs- In Tuscan gardens there are often unique styled benches and chairs spread throughout the garden offering nice area to rest and relax, or even read a book.
- Labyrinths (known as mazes) – Are great if you have a large open area within your garden. These areas are great for children, and were often used for meditation walks to the garden owner.
- Herb/Vegetable gardens- As mentioned above, Tuscany is heavily involved and connected to the land through farming. In nearly every Tuscan garden there is designated space for an herb and vegetable garden. The produce is important to the household and the delicious Italian kitchen.
Tuscan gardens tend to be formal near the residence and as they extend into the landscape become more informal. The landscaping around the home requires much more maintenance than the olive orchard, or wildflower pasture in the distance. Don’t think that everything in your Tuscan garden has to look perfectly maintained, let the plants grow in their natural habit which will give your garden more of a natural characteristic.
One of the most respected values of a Tuscan garden is that they are sustainable. It is very rare to see a large lawn area and other plants that require an immense amount of water to keep alive. Consider your location and this will determine many elements within your garden, such as the plant palette. Tuscan gardens often use natives and plants that are suited to their climate. This means that plants thrive in the area with little water and maintenance, because plants are encouraged to grow in their natural growth habit, this reduces maintenance. Saving water and oil from the maintenance equipment, these gardens are not only breathtaking; they’re sustainable.
Country Garden Design
The Country style garden originates from the renowned English gardens of the 1600s. Adapting to many changes throughout the centuries, this garden style has become ideal for enhancing farmhouse, Victorian, ranch and rustic architecture. These lush informal landscapes were originally designed for practicality. Farm animals, beehives, fruit trees, vegetables and herbs were the main elements while flowers were used as filler. The modern country garden style has developed into a landscape focused on dense plantings, flowers and traditional building materials.
Elements within Country gardens:
- Picket fencing
- Stone, brick, or gravel paving materials
- Ornate cast iron benches
- Wicker furniture
Country landscapes consist of areas that enhance nature and provide an intimate space for the user. Quaint, charming, and casual, this landscape becomes an extension of your home. Modern-day country gardens vary by regional and personal variations, but overall still focus mainly on plant material. Now ornamental grasses and native plants are commonly used in the plant palette of a country garden.
Common areas within a country garden:
- Garden rooms – Small open areas hidden among the lush foliage are often spread throughout a country style landscape. These areas often consist of a small seating bench, a table for two, or even a single chair as a relaxing getaway.
- Terraces/Gazebos – Are perfect for outdoor entertaining or can be used as a focal point placed in your landscape. Placed in the distance and only partly seen, these elements made of wood or wrought iron will provide a sense of mystery to your garden.
- Meandering paths – Although country landscapes are designed to not look pretentious, they are still designed to be functional. The irregular paths have a purpose and lead to desired places within the garden.
- Herb gardens – Are often seen mixed between annuals and packed into small spaces. Growing within each other will only increase the charm and color scheme.
- Self-sowed annuals – Okay so they don’t have to be self-sown, you can pick up some annuals at your local nursery; however, virtually all country gardens are planted with an abundance of beautiful annual flowers.
Country gardens are meant to appear irregular and as if there is no specific design. Geometry, straight perfect lines, or precise curves do not belong in this style of landscape. Focus more on the color scheme and planting design, making sure not only the plant color but also the foliage all contribute to a harmonious combination. This heavily planted, overgrown looking landscape is not for everyone; for those who enjoy a casual yard that doesn’t look like everything has been perfectly placed, this style has profound charm and extraordinary character
Pro Tip: Paint wooden structures or furniture white. White provides a crisp contrast with the colorful plants used in a country garden.
Pro Tip: Display garden tools as art. Worn shovels and rusted watering cans will add vintage charm to your garden.
Pro Tip: Hanging planter baskets are a great way to dress up a country style home. Try two or three along your porch.
The English landscape style is the known influence that shifted from formal, symmetrical gardens to a looser, irregular style. The English garden was a turn of the century ideal and changed many aspects of landscape to the community. Before the introduction of English landscape, nature was views as dangerous, the English landscape completely changed this view to appreciate and value the natural world. This style was inspired by painting and its design was influenced through many disciplines such as history, philosophy and science. The innovative design of the English landscape style forever changed gardening and influences many homeowners to bring a sense of nature into their own yard to this day.
Elements within English gardens:
- Recreations of classic buildings
- Natural stone
- Wattle edging & panels
- Bee skep
- English pots
Common characteristics of an English garden:
- Lake – There was always a lake in the English gardens, most were man-made but all appeared to be natural forming basins. Their edges were meandering and irregular and often had pathways weaving through the trees and close to the water’s edge.
- Rolling lawns – topography allow for surprises as your coming around mounds or niches. Even if you create a small mounding area, this represents nature better___ than a completely leveled landscape.
- Tree groves – were spread throughout the landscape with paths that allowed the gardens users to wander in and out of the groves and provide a view of rolling lawns against mass tree plantings.
- Sculpture – Was entirely different than previous garden art. Part of the English landscape ideals was to provide views from a distance of classic detailed architecture and ruins.
- Ha ha -was a type of wall used to prevent animals from entering too close to the house without obstructing the view of the countryside.
- Grottos – were used as romantic hide outs. They were manmade but build to resemble a dark natural forming cave.
The English style gardens were built in a massive scale; however, it is still possible to design an English style garden in a residential landscape. Replicate the areas within an English landscape style by scaling them down. For example, you don’t have the area to create a natural looking lake; you can easily represent this by a small pond. Tree groves can be sized down to consist of a small grouping, and a small wooden foot bridge can be incorporated over the small pond area. Plant groups of the flowers that will provide color and a nice fragrance.
These gardens are designed to look natural and be a place for meditation and relaxation. This style values nature and encourages visitors to wander through the gravel paths. This style has been molded throughout the years to include a balance of traditional formality and organic flow. The English landscape design style is guaranteed to introduce a sense of mystery to your landscape.
Tropical Landscape Style
The most recognizable trademarks of this style are lush, tropical plants and bold colors. Think palm trees swaying in the wind, birds of paradise showing off their bright flowers and lots of healthy greenery. Hammocks are especially appropriate for a tropical garden, just make sure the trees you hang it from are nice and strong.
Tropical Swimming Pool Design
Many tropical style yards feature a swimming pool. These pools usually have a natural look as if you could stumble upon them in the rainforest or jungle. This natural appearance is achieved through the use of faux boulders. Sometimes these boulders can also serve as a waterfall, jumping rock, or even have and incorporated water slide. You can add to the tropical vibe by replicating the sparkling turquoise water of a tropical island beach. This dazzling color is created by selecting a light colored interior pool finish.
A Shade Structure with a Tropical Vibe
In an outdoor living space shade is often essential, especially during warm summer months. For a landscape with a tropical theme you should select a thatched roof patio cover. These structures, which have a roof covered in palm fronds or reeds, are known as either a tiki hut or a palapa. To complete the look the columns supporting the structure can be made of real or faux bamboo.
Putting the Final Touches on a Tropical Yard
Many homeowners often overlook the final touches of their landscaping. Adding just the right outdoor décor will help solidify your yard’s tropical theme.
Ideas for Tropical Outdoor Décor:
•A hand-carved tiki statue or Buddha head statue
•Citronella or gas powered tiki torches
•A bamboo fence or bamboo path edging
•Teak or rattan patio furniture with bright colored upholstery
•A colorful Mayan hammock
•A gas fire pit with lava rock filler
French Garden Style
The French garden design developed after the impact of the Italian Renaissance. The French garden style adopted many principles from the renaissance gardens but incorporated a style of their own. The impact of the renaissance did not hit the gardens of France until the 1600’s, soon after the chateaus’ gardens were designed using principles that were completely new to the region. The main goal for this style was to make an extravagant impression to all of the guests who visited the country homes of the wealthy royals.
Elements within French gardens:
- Concrete balustrade
- Cast iron seating
- Pea gravel
- Cast iron/wood planters
- Simple elegant furniture
- Natural stone
- Glazed pots
Common characteristics of a French garden:
- The residence – Should be the number one focal point in the French landscape style. The home is often the center point of the design with large paths that provide axial views.
- Geometric plan – Virtually everything in the design is geometric and planned with symmetry.
- Water – Is incorporated as a number one element within the landscape. Referred to as “reflecting pools” in circular, oval and rectangular shapes.
- Parterres -The intricate patterns created from hedged shrubs or planting beds are usually designed in near proximity to the residence. These designs are less detailed the further away they are from the house.
- Statuary -Is a key feature as your making your way through the French garden. During the rise of the French garden design era, Follies were introduced as a type of statuary in the garden. A folly is a building constructed for decoration, the point was to create these garden ornaments that were beyond the typical garden sculpture.
- Terraces – Are located in the landscape where the entire garden and all of its detail can be viewed.
The Gardens of Versailles is the largest and most extravagant example of this garden style. So you don’t have close to 2,000 acres to work with you say? Well, the French landscape style can still make a powerful statement in an average sized yard. Introduce the elements listed above into your landscape, even after being scaled down these garden elements truly represent the famous French design.
At a residential scale, the French garden style is still very impressive. Plant your trees in straight lines to emphasize those axial views, use hedging to border walkways and create small sized parterres and design your vegetable areas in a pattern or as a parterre as well. Incorporate ‘alles’ where room allows, these straight paths always lead to something significant such as a fountain or sculpture. The French also used to have orangeries where they would grow citrus throughout the whole year; these rooms can be represented in your garden by adding a small greenhouse or even a sunroom to provide a nice relaxing getaway.
Combine all of the elements even in a minor way, and your yard will be transformed to resemble the extravagant designs of the famous French chateaus.
Mediterranean gardens are best known for their casual elegance. Inspired by the coastal areas of Spain, Italy and France, this style of garden combines relaxed materials and plants with formal accents and designs. Terra cotta pots, tiered fountains, statuary, Roman columns and bocce ball courts are all hallmarks of Mediterranean gardens. The plant palette of a Mediterranean landscape is made of plants that provide texture, color and structure – think lavender, cypress trees and ornamental grasses.
A Mediterranean inspired landscape will transport you to another world each time you step out your door. The smell of the fragrant herbs, the sound of trickling water and the warm color of terra cotta will make you want to take a seat and enjoy a glass of wine. All that you’ll be missing is a view of the glistening blue ocean.
Icons of the Mediterranean Garden
Because of the ideal climate, the people of the Mediterranean lead an outdoor lifestyle. For hundreds of years they have been gardening, socializing and dining outdoors. Three icons of the Mediterranean garden that have developed and spread are: bocce ball, tiered fountains and herb gardens.
Bocce ball is an Italian game that dates back to the Roman Empire. Similar to lawn bowling, the object is to get your ball closest to the jack. The game is played on a long narrow court with two, four, six or eight players. Learn more about bocce ball courts.
Tiered fountains can be found in nearly every European courtyard and plaza. Rome’s Trevi fountain is arguably the most famous in the world. Tiered garden fountains may be fairly simple or covered with intricate carvings and statues.
Herb gardens are incredibly popular worldwide. During the medieval era, monks and nuns living near the Mediterranean became experts at growing herbs to use for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Today this practice has become common for individual families. Having an herb garden allows you to easily add the fresh flavors of French and Italian cooking to your meals. Learn more about food gardens.
Colonial Landscape Design
The Colonial garden style dates back to when the Plymouth colony settlers arrived in America and had to re-adapt to not only a new way of life, but a different climate and soil. The Colonial design was introduced on the fundamental principles of survival. These gardens were used for cooking, baking and keeping away insects; with very few plantings for ornamental purposes. Today the style has combined the classic functional design with a loose combination of pastel colored flowers. The Colonial style is ideal for homes built with a colonial architecture or for homeowners wanting a functional, more formal landscape.
Elements within Colonial gardens:
- Picket fencing
- Stone walls
- Stone pavers
Colonial gardens can be broken up into 3 differing levels. The first being a landscape designed purely for function and survival, which often were seen in the rural colonial areas. The second resembling the formal gardens of Europe, having areas for function and then opening up into a more rural design further from the residence. The third design was almost a carbon copy of the heavily designed and maintained gardens of their descendants. These gardens consist of herbs and vegetables but they were located far from the home. Designed more for looks than for function, these gardens were those of the colonial aristocrats.
Common characteristics of a Colonial garden:
- Vegetable gardens – were necessary for the basic functions of survival during the colonial period. They were built in raised beds close to the home.
- Plantings – consisted mainly of species from Europe shipped in containers or by seed. Native American plants were incorporated as the colonies familiarized themselves with their uses.
- Gravel walkways – are straight and symmetrical between planting beds.
- Fencing – was required by law in the colonial times, even though it’s just an option today it is still a vital part of a colonial design.
- Color Palette – should be a mix of colorful pinks, blues and creams in pastel shades. The light color scheme softens the formal atmosphere in the garden.
Colonial landscapes, much like their architecture, are symmetrical and often broke up into four quadrants with walkways in between. Fencing was important as a divide between the home and strays; the most common type of fencing materials is picket, post/rail and brick. Most gardens were located adjacent to the home for easy accessibility. Raised beds were necessary due to the harsh weather conditions, and kept the soil warm in the winter. The design of Colonial landscapes are diverse, which dates back as early as they were introduced. Settler’s gardens varied from one to another depending on the needs of the homeowner, which is common still today; so get creative with your colonial design and design it to suit your needs and lifestyle.
Cape Cod Design
Cape Cod, the cape in eastern Massachusetts is the birthplace of the Cape Cod design style that has spread throughout the country. The homes are meant to blend into the landscape, however, still stand out with their charming character. The original Cape Cod home was built to endure harsh weather conditions; carefully placed within their surroundings, they are simple and elegant. The homes are usually painted in natural tones to reflect the light landscape, their design is not overpowering to the natural beauty of the area. The foundation and landscape plantings are kept minimal, just enough to accent the architecture of the home. Whether you live in Cape Cod or just love the architectural design, you can create the perfect landscape by understanding the basic principles of the Cape Cod garden.
Elements within Cape Cod gardens:
- Window boxes
- Picket fencing
- Traditional bird baths
- Bird houses
Simple, unique garden décor speaks volumes in a Cape Cod garden. With the homes effortless charm of shutters, planted window boxes and white picket fencing; the character can be carried throughout the garden with wildlife escapes and secluded seating areas. Natural stone walkways, pergolas, arbors, patio furniture, and container gardens all contribute to the overarching theme of the simple lifestyle in the Cape Cod.
Common characteristics of a Cape Cod garden:
- Foundation plantings – should be kept minimal, not taking away from the home. Using smaller plants will prevent the landscape from overwhelming the home.
- Xeriscape – is a great method to landscaping a Cape Cod home. Xeriscaping sustains natural resources by using native plants that require less water, no chemicals and represent the natural landscapes of Cape Cod.
- Native grasses – that grow along the beaches of Cape Cod, or are native to your area will keep the Cape Cod landscape truly original. Try to stay away from grasses and turf that require excessive maintenance and water.
- Cape Cod architecture – is simple, but powerful. Elements within the garden like gates, arbors, pergolas and lamp posts will all complement the beauty of your home.
- Container gardens – can be placed anywhere is the garden. Large, cast iron or glazed pots planted with flourishing flowers and lush greenery will accent small areas.
- Color – choices like white, grey, cream, or light yellow work best for the home, while you can make pops of color with annual flowers in containers or in the foundation planting.
Laying out the hard lines in your landscape plan will be the first step to designing your front or backyard. Hard lines include all hardscaping elements like walkways, driveways, walls etc. The landscape plantings should blend into the hardscape, home and surroundings without being too overwhelming. With the Cape Cod style you don’t want an overdone landscape, it’s doesn’t make for a successful design; what does is a landscape that blends in and contributes to the architecture of the home and its natural environment.
Spanish garden design was strongly influenced by the renowned Islamic, Persian and Moorish gardens. Originating in Spain, this style is now popular all over the world, especially in areas with a similar hot, dry climate. The Spanish combined the powerful elements of their influences and perfected the principle of separating spaces or rooms within the garden layout. Walled sections create intimate patio areas, courtyards house impressive fountains and terraces offering views into the landscape are all incorporated into the Spanish garden style.
Elements within Spanish gardens:
•Tiered Spanish fountains
•Carved cantera forms
Common elements within a Spanish garden:
- Courtyards – are designed down to the smallest detail. The architecture surrounding the courtyard reflects the architecture of the home with Spanish archways and mosaic accents. These courtyards always include a water feature or reflection pool.
- Terraces – are located throughout the design, often providing overviews of the gardens below. Seating areas and potted plants should be incorporated into these areas as well.
- Fountains – and the use of water are extremely important in the Spanish design. Getting their influence from Islamic gardens, the Spanish design differs by consisting of multiple small fountains throughout rather than one large fountain in the center of each outdoor room or courtyard.
- Reflecting pools – are also from the Islamic gardens, where they are often the focal point to major entryways and courtyards. Reflecting pools are designed amongst geometric shaped, symmetrical planting beds.
- Symmetry – is one of the main elements of the original Spanish garden. Although you may find they are changing, their design should have some symmetrical areas to hold the authenticity of the true Spanish garden.
Spanish gardens have a drought-tolerant plant pallet; large grassy lawns that require lots of water in a hot dry climate just don’t make sense, nor do they represent a real Spanish design. Ceramic tiles are used commonly in almost any hardscape elements of the design such as: built in benches, water fountains, reflecting pools, retaining walls, walkways, and are even carried heavily into the décor. Large terracotta pots, bright blue glazed accent décor, rod iron and unique urns against the light colored or white plaster calls for amazing eye candy as you’re walking through the garden.
The Spanish garden design has a unique way of incorporating architecture with private garden spaces, making it one of the most popular residential garden styles today. Before you start your design consider the architecture of your home and size of your yard. If you don’t have the space to design all of the areas of a Spanish garden, choose one or two and create a powerful design around them. Create focal points in areas and allow plenty of room for a nice outdoor entertainment area; possibly with an outdoor kitchen. The Spanish garden is all about relaxation, enjoyment, sustainability and attention to detail.
Traditional Landscape Design
Imagine yourself transported to 17th century France and strolling down the garden paths at Versailles. Traditional gardens like this one were originally all about appearance. Kings and Queens wanted to display their wealth and power to their subjects as well as leaders of other countries. Such gardens were filled with statues, elaborate fountains and highly manicured plants.
Today, the idea of a traditional garden, while inspired by the aesthetic of centuries past, is a bit more functional. Modern versions of traditional gardens often include cutting gardens or areas for growing edibles. They may also include outdoor living elements such as a fireplace or built-in barbecue. Common materials used in traditional landscaping are brick, stone, pavers and wood. The overarching goals of a traditional garden design are to create a well-defined and beautiful outdoor space.
A Traditional Knot Garden
Some of the most recognizable traits of traditional landscape design are the use of geometric shapes, the creation of symmetry and the inclusion of repeated patterns. A knot garden is a prime example of all three of these traits. This type of garden consists of boxwood shrubs groomed into a design that resembles an ancient Celtic knot. A knot garden is best when viewed from above, so consider placing it where it can be viewed from a balcony or second story window.
Fun in the Traditional Garden
If you have kids a maze garden can be a lot of fun. While not a knot garden, a maze garden is similar because it consists of groomed evergreens grown in a pattern. The evergreens are kept tall and narrow so that they create a confusing pathway that winds around and around and sometimes even leads to dead ends. Maze gardens are commonly found on palace grounds throughout Europe.
Another fun addition for a traditional garden is an oversized chess board. Like mazes, these are often found in European palace gardens. An oversized chess board can be made using two colors of large concrete pavers and allowing grass or a ground cover to grow in between. There are companies who carve giant chess pieces specifically for outdoor use.