What’s your garden style? 5 outdoor designs to inspire you

Formal or natural? Classic or contemporary? Discover your outdoor identity with these 5 popular styles and use it to design your dream garden


What’s your garden style? 5 outdoor designs to inspire you

If it’s true that a person’s house says a lot about their personality, what do our gardens reveal about who we are? Gardens can be a sanctuary from the busy world or a party venue for entertaining friends or family.

Some of us fill our gardens with plants, water and all things natural, while others prefer minimalist outdoor spaces where plants are the backdrop for man-made art and objects. Take a look at the five popular garden styles we’ve selected and see where your green heart lies.


Productive garden

Vege, kitchen or edible gardens are very much on the rise with younger gardeners, but they never really went away with those over 60. Contemporary productive gardens look more attractive than the traditional types, with the emphasis less on orderly rows and more on diversity of plants, good design, high-quality materials and plenty of bee-attracting flowers. Well-known edible-garden designers include locals Xanthe White and Joanna Hamilton, as well as Australian Jamie Durie.

Food tastes better fresh from the garden; you know what’s been used to help grow the fruit and veges (ideally few or no chemicals); growing your own food is hugely satisfying; it doesn’t take a lot of space to grow edibles with good planning.

Can be frustrating as it takes skill to grow many fruit and veges without losing them to pests and diseases; good planning is essential for production all year round; can be labour intensive; productive gardens can look scruffy at certain times of the year.


Formal garden

The formal garden has been around for centuries and certainly isn’t fading from fashion any time soon. Formal gardens beautifully complement contemporary houses with their emphasis on architectural planting.

Think hedges, screens and edging plants that soften but also reinforce the built forms. Formal gardens in the 21st century are less about box hedging and more about using natives and plants suited to their environments, albeit in a structured way. Two of the best known designers of contemporary formal gardens in this hemisphere are Australians Paul Bangay and Peter Fudge.

Well-designed formal gardens have a harmonious, balanced look that appeals to the neat freak in many of us; they generally look good all year round and are low maintenance.

The formal approach doesn’t allow for the happy accidents that nature sometimes presents us with, such as self-seeding flowers.


Natural garden

Big sweeps of grasses, flaxes and flowering perennials characterise the natural garden. The idea is to replicate in a stylised form the way plants grow naturally together in meadows and rural areas, by choosing species suited to the environment so they can thrive with minimal care.

The natural garden style works well on large sites but can easily be adapted for small, urban gardens. Dutch designer Piet Oudolf, along with Americans Wolfgang Oehme and James Van Sweden, made this natural style famous.

Sustainable; has a harmonious, relaxed feel; if you choose your plants carefully, this style is low maintenance once established.

Good plant knowledge required; not for neat freaks.


Minimalist garden

The minimalist garden is less about plants and more about form, whether it’s the built form of structures such as walls and pergolas, sculptural artworks, or architectural plants such as cycads and succulents.

Clipped topiary has its place too, especially the cloud-pruned Japanese types. In fact, the Japanese pioneered the minimalist garden with their Zen courtyards of raked gravel adorned with just one beautifully shaped bonsai or water bowl. Highly regarded contemporary minimalists include Shodo Suzuki, Andrea Cochran and New Zealander Ted Smyth.

Simple; sculptural beauty; easy care.

Can feel sterile if you don’t get the balance right between plants and hard materials such as paving and walls.


Cottage garden

The cottage garden is a traditional, informal, English style known for its profusion of flowers that cascade over walls, trees, paths and fences. The style has been in and out of fashion over the years, but is making yet another comeback now, as gardeners realise we need to plant more flowers to help save endangered bees. The greater variety of blooms in the garden, the better.

Ideal for older homes; romantic and colourful; virtually any flowering plant will work, although pastel colours are best.

Seasonal, with best time in spring and summer; can be untidy in the off season; reasonable maintenance involved (watering, feeding, pruning, replanting annuals every season).

Words by: Carol Bucknell.

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