Designer Landscapes at Home

August 21, 2014

How to give your home garden the landscape designer make-over . . .

limited palette garden

Eringium, Russian sage and Phlox are the three players here – just three plants repeated to create a fantastic effect, planted by the professionals at Wisley (Royal Horticultural Society gardens, UK).

Here’s the big garden question: How do I get a professionally designed look without hiring a professional? Or in other words: I love my bitsy garden beds, but sometimes I do wish they had a bit more style about them. What follows is the answer, and it’s not only easy to understand but even easier to carry out…


To start with, accept that less is, in fact, more. It’s a lot like when you’ve dressed for a night out, and looking in the mirror you know there’s too much going on. You have the sense to take off the scarf, or the earrings or the necklace or the hat – whatever it takes to simplify the look. It’s the same with a garden filled with plants. There is no place here for greed: accept that some things may have to go.


So stand in front of the area you’re planning to give a design face-lift and count the number of different types of plants currently growing there. When you reach ‘three’ stop. Seriously. Good garden designers limit the number of plants they combine. Brilliant ones can work with more than five, but that’s not relevant here. If you want to create a really great looking landscape, select your three favorites – or up to five if you must. Pull out and relocate (or give away) everything else, then fill the gaps with more of the chosen three plants. What you have created is a garden filled with a limited palate of plants and if they are mixed around, you could call it cottage style, meadow-like or just a loose arrangement.

Cottage Style gardens

More massed meadow-like plantings from Wisley. Again the number of different plants is very limited and it’s the repetition that makes it work so well.


Now here comes another trick. Let’s assume you’ve identified your three to five plants, but you want to create something edgier and are prepared for a bit more disruption and effort. Instead of filling in the gaps with more of the same, empty everything out of the garden bed and keep the plants you’ll be using alive on the side (in pots or lightly tucked into a nearby patch of accommodating earth). Buy more of the chosen plants so that you’ll have enough to fill the bed when it’s replanted, then put in all the plants but this time, arrange them in massed blocks. If you’re not sure how best to do this, default to common sense and stick the taller ones towards the back of the bed. A month or so later those all-the-same-plant chunks will look really, really good.


This planting at Keukenhof in the Netherlands is a good example of massed planting in blocks.

mass plantings around pond

A more natural arrangement shows a softer result, still based on the same approach where plants are planted in large groups.


Tropicanna Black canna

Canna Tropicanna ‘Black’

And finally, if you want something shockingly restrained and impressive, reduce your garden to green plantings. Keep the conifer hedging, the clipped ivy, the trees and the lawns and limit your color or flowering moments to localized points of emphasis: planters filled with flowering annuals or canna Tropicanna by the front door; a border of spring-flowering bulbs to edge the drive; a wedge of roses alongside the steps or pool.


That’s it. Easily done – but only if you’ve the courage and conviction to pull it off. If you’re nervous, why not test-drive the theory somewhere smaller and less conspicuous first? Odds are you’ll be trotting out the approach across the yard in no time because it works and the results are so rewarding.

simple garden ideas

Banishing color from this garden has made a feature of the white birch trunks.

Carpet roses The clipped mass of the four evergreen pillars are softened by a glorious mass of Flower Carpet Coral roses.


To obtain downloadable hi-res images for this piece, click each image directly or click here for a link to a full Designer Landscapes at Home Story Starter Flickr image folder.


Click here for a downloadable Word version of this Story Starter.

Need help?  Contact Judie Brower at



Previous post:

Next post: