Friday, July 22, 2016

My Three Elements of Garden Design

A concept sketch for a client 
There is an awful lot to consider when designing a garden, besides the aesthetic design part.

I sat down a while back to organize my thoughts for a presentation at Foothill College's Environmental Horticulture and Design program, about how I approach a garden design project. There are numerous things to consider, but I was able to condense it down to three categories with basic points for each.

An edible garden I designed where the landscaper built beautiful raised beds

My categories below are all equally important, but sometimes one or another becomes the dominating constraint:

  • The site: climate zone, exposure (sun/shade, wind), topography, current condition of soil &; existing plant material, etc.
  • Type of garden maintenance desired for upkeep
  • Use sustainable practices and climate appropriate plants
  • Budget 

  • Plant likes and dislikes, style of garden desired, color preferences
  • Allergies, other concerns (example- poisonous plants)
  • Kids, pets
  • What will the garden be used for? 

Besides listening carefully to our clients, a designer's job is to come up with interesting and exciting possibilities that fit their lifestyle. I try to come up with at least one or two ideas that are "out of the box" to nudge my clients into thinking creatively about using their new garden space for maximum quality of life. 

In addition to select native and ornamental plants, many succulents are "climate appropriate" for our area

  • Style of house (architecture), style of existing garden (things that will stay)
  • Views (desirable & not), what can be leveraged to advantage?
  • Dominant existing features (walls, large trees, colors) elements adjacent to the property
  • Creating a beautiful planting design and suggesting enhancements (complimentary containers, water features, hardscape, etc.)


After gathering and considering all of the elements above I ask, "how can I create a beautiful and satisfying garden for this client that is in harmony with the environment?"

As daunting as this task may seem, I find it helpful to remind myself what I was taught in my design classes: 
A “Problem” (or constraint) Is An Opportunity
For example: California's drought has created a myriad of opportunities for creatively rethinking what we plant in our gardens, and how we use them. I think this topic would be a great blog post! Stayed tuned...

Echeveria cante is a lovely succulent that adds style and beauty without a lot of fuss
Photos: Patricia Larenas, Urban Artichoke