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Design advice for the garden

Design advice for the garden

People ask me if I do garden consults and how much I charge. 

I don’t and I don’t. 

Foolishly in the past I did a few, and foolishly I didn’t ask for money. I spent a lot of time suggesting plants, supplying photos and advice. In the end the person planted dreadful stuff.

It reminded me of the time I went with an interior designer to a new client’s house. He looked around and said, “ You don’t need a designer you need a psychiatrist.”

  In 35 years writing about gardening I have interviewed a lot of garden designers and gone to many lectures. A few design tips stayed with me. 

Rake the path

  If you have a path in the garden, have a good one. Weed it, rake it and edge it. It makes the whole garden look like you care. 

A well tended path makes a design statement in the garden
Kathy Renwald photo

  If you have curves is the garden, have a good, strong one. People tend to get carried away with curved edges, making too many and too small, they end up looking like an earthworm trying to escape a fishing hook. 

  Island beds stuck in the grass are popular, but once again, show restraint. I’ll never forget former RBG director Alan Patterson saying isolated garden beds stuck in the lawn looked like dog turds.

  Embrace the straight line. Sometimes they are the best way to shape a path, or define a border. 

Use plants with big leaves

  Embrace plants with big leaves. In our growing zone most perennials, shrubs and trees have  small leaves. So nothing looks better in the garden than a showcase plant with fat, juicy leaves. Hostas are an easy choice, but choose a bold one with broad leaves. Put it in a handsome pot and place it on some bricks or pavers to elevate it above the perennial border. Tropical plants have the same impact, bananas, elephant ears, monstera, look fabulous in the garden and will overwinter indoors..

A hosta in a pot is a bold contrast to small leaves that dominate the garden
Kathy Renwald photo

  Use big plants in a small garden. Some wise person said that once in a lecture and I agree.  Our front yard is tiny, but I pack it like a jungle., ornamental grasses, tropical plants, giant tobacco plants, exotics given to me by people I trust, it’s dense. I love it, maybe other people think it’s vile.

Some see a jungle, some see paradise
Kathy Renwald photo

  Herbs have a place too. I keep pots of basil, mint, oregano, rosemary and  Vietnamese coriander near the front door. They are just a few steps away from the kitchen, where, they can be picked and added to any meal.

If you don’ t care about design, fine, just plant good things, especially trees.

  The garden is a place of great pleasure. After the long winter, during the roving lockdowns, they are one of the few places to escape, contemplate and enjoy. And they are essential.

Further reading: Hijinks at the community garden

learn how to grow food:

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