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How to Design a Garden


Whether you're starting a garden in a newly built house, doing a garden makeover where you're the second or third homeowner, or just want to learn how to design a garden, here are some garden design concepts for you to think about. 


In interior design, you use sofas, easy chairs, sofa tables, end tables, lamps, paintings, family photos, mirrors, as well as your collectibles and memorabilia, to create your own personal space. The principles of garden design are very similar. Think of garden design as “interior design, but outside.”


The big difference, of course, is that landscapers and garden designers work with so-called hardscaping (or permanent surfaces) as well as live plant material. You can easily move a chair or a lamp; large trees are not easy to move, plus some cultivars (specific species of plants) dislike being moved altogether.


A well designed garden will look better and better over time. A poorly designed garden will start looking overgrown early on, and will need a lot of maintenance to keep it looking its best. Resisting the urge to over-plant a new garden pays off;  it saves you money, time and ongoing maintenance. 


To work well, every garden needs:


Unity and Balance - Unity in a garden can be achieved by a common colour scheme (for example, cultivars with white flowers), with style (an Italian, English, or French garden, for example), or by using plants of the same shape (round cultivars, for example). 


Proportion and Scale - Even in a small garden, the plantings should relate to each other. But it is a mistake to only use small-leaved cultivars everywhere;  these gardens suffer from lack of variety.  


The Four Senses - A garden is about is about sight and sound and touch and fragrance. A garden is about colour. Flowers are obvious, but at, we like plant material that is variegated (leaves with two or more colours), with colourful stems and interesting bark. We like grasses that rustle in the wind. We like fuzzy plants that are pleasing to touch. We like the fragrance of flowers like hyacinths and lilacs.


“Good Bones” – The "bones" of a garden are trees, evergreens as well as hardscaping such as a deck, a patio, or an arbour. (Some landscaping companies will sell you all hardscaping, with hardly any trees, shrubs and plants;  this type of garden will give you a view of concrete and pavers.) In smaller gardens, evergreens function effectively as part of hardscaping as well.


At, we design your garden to look interesting in the winter. Garden designers refer to a garden as having “good bones” if it still looks good in the winter. When spring and summer flowers are added, your garden will look even better.


Part of having “good bones” is deciding what style you’d like for your garden. Straight lines are permitted in a design for a formal garden, but keep in mind that very few things in nature are straight and you are probably better off with curved beds.


Mass and Void – There must be a balance of plant material, lawn, and hardscaping. In order for some plants to stand out, others must play a secondary role. All plant material cannot be the same size and shape, for example.


Focal Point – Like a painting, every successful garden design must have a focal point. A focal point can be a number of things including:  a stunning specimen tree, a pond, a birdbath, a sundial, an urn, or a piece of sculpture. In your garden, where do you want the eye to go?


Texture and Contrast – Leaves come in a huge variety of colours and shapes, from green, to acid green, to maroon, to pink, to silver. Variety of leaf shapes makes your garden much more interesting than a garden of all small-leaved cultivars.


At, we love creating high-contrast, colourful gardens with just leaves. We like flowers, too--they're a bonus. This means low maintenance, giving you more time to enjoy your garden. 


Here are our horticultural credentials and our garden design expertise


Contact us to get started on your garden design today. 


Garden design and landscaping consulting in Oakville, Milton, Burlington, Mississauga, Etobicoke, and Toronto.

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