The importance of a unifying theme for landscape design cannot be overstated. Most of us have seen gardens that contain a "hodge-podge" of materials, plants, and garden ornament. A garden being constructed just a few blocks from my house demonstrates this error vividly. A 1950-1960 ranch-style house is enclosed with a 3 foot high antique brick wall. A golden colored sandstone path meanders toward the front door. On one side of the path is a representational cobble "stream" and a few Japanese lanterns. On the other side of the path is a7 ft high Italianate 3 tiered fountain that is completely out of scale with the long, low house. The plants have yet to arrive, but it will be very interesting to see the chosen plant palette.

Choosing a style or theme for the garden is a very personal matter. Although I design the garden, I don't have to live day to day with it. It is more important that the style please the client than represent me. Following are descriptions and illustrations of a variety of possible concepts for unifying a garden. On some properties different areas, or "garden rooms" may have somewhat different themes, but there should be something unifying the scheme throughout the entire site. On very large properties this principle may be "bent" a bit, but transitions from one area to another need to be carefully thought out.


The Mediterranean Garden is often formal in layout. Changes in level by terracing, formal water features, statuary, and evergreen hedges are a few hallmarks of the style. Representative plants might be palms, fruit trees, flowering vines, roses, iris, succulents, and a variety of bulbs. Many Mediterranean plants are drought-tolerant and somewhat tender.

Mediterranean Garden

English garden style can be varied (including both formal and informal layout) but lawn, surrounded by perennial borders, hedges and gates (often with arbors), and benches are some of the mainstays of the style. Planting is lush, flowers abound, and maintenance is often significant. The Filoli Estate in Woodside, CA is a wonderful example of a formal English Garden.

English Garden

Above all, a romantic garden should take one away from the everyday worries of the world. Planning for privacy with walls, hedges, trellises, arbors, and pergolas is paramount. Interesting views might be framed with one of the fore mentioned elements. Exciting the senses with fragrance, planting with sound in mind (running water, rustling leaves, etc.), and inspiring fantasy with unusual plantings all contribute to the romance. Thought should be given to creating small, private seating areas from which to experience the garden. Well placed garden ornament should also be featured.
Creating a wildlife habitat within an urban setting can be a gift to many creatures, including humans. Elements of the garden should include water (ponds, birdbaths, etc.), food (berries, fruit, birdfeeders) cover or places to hide (dense shrubs, evergreens, birdhouses, etc.), and flowers for butterflies and hummingbirds. Organic gardening practices are important to maintaining the garden.
The children's garden should be a place to explore. Avoid boundaries that limit them from areas of the garden, and toxic chemicals or plants that might poison them. Involve then children in the planning and planting of the garden; use both edible (climbing beans, pumpkins, and tomatoes are favorites) and flowering plants, and shrubs/flowers that attract wildlife. Provide meandering trails, pools or other water features, playscapes, wild areas, and small semi-enclosed areas to be used for hiding/secret places.
The night/moonlight garden might be a favorite for the many people who work long days and only have time to take care of/enjoy their gardens in the twilight or dark-of-night. Plan for light/white colored flowers (which show up more readily in the dark) and plants that bloom and/or release their fragrance only after dark (Ipomoea alba or Moonflower vine , some waterlilies, Nicotiana or night-blooming tobacco, Cerstrum nocturnum or night blooming jessamine, and many others). Plan a lighting system which features different techniques such as moonlighting, silhouetting, and up-lighting of trees. Include plantings which attract nocturnal animals and insects such as moths, fireflies, and owls image Moonflower or other plant, or lighting technique
Cottage garden layouts are usually formal; the front path always leads straight from the gate to the front door, beds are often edged with wood/stone/brick, and vegetables are usually planted in neat rows. Materials are often rustic (dirt paths, native stone or cobbles, wooden fences, arbors, and outbuildings). The plants themselves (herbs, vegetables, fruit trees and bushes, flowers, and vines) are usually grouped informally within the beds, often crowded and frequently self-sown. Flower colors are usually mixed, plants often scented, and there are seldom lawns. Some of the flowering plants most often featured in cottage gardens are: roses, pinks (Dianthus), jasmine, peonies, primroses, phlox. lilies, sweet peas, lavender and other flowering herbs, foxglove, lilac, columbine, nasturtium, poppies, daylliles, hydrangea, wisteria, hollyhock, and pansies.
Cottage Garden


  • ASIAN GARDEN (Hokone Gardens)
  • SUBTROPICAL (Huntington Botanical Garden)
  • DROUGHT TOLERANT (Ruth Bancroft Garden)
  • OASIS/PARADISE (Huntington Museum)
  • HEALING GARDEN (Chelsea Physic Garden)



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