Building Good Bones: Garden Structure

Posted on 12/18/09

Let’s examine basic garden layout and its structural components - paths and areas of paving, lawns, trees, hedging, pergolas and other features - and how they can contribute to the overall style of the garden.  These form the garden’s architectural framework and give it its unity:  a combination of hard building materials and living plants inside which more ephemeral and colourful ’secondary’ planting schemes are contained.  Without this framework the secondary planting, however pretty, may lack coherence and fail to satisfy.

Interestingly, in many successful gardens, when the secondary planting has matured, the garden framework may become unobtrusive and quite difficult to analyze, but its very existence gives an air of purpose.  It also provides strong and dense shapes, whether of walls, fencing or evergreen shrubs and hedges, which are essential backdrops for brighter flower and leaf colours. A black and white photograph of a garden, or a pencil sketch using just the vertical and horizontal lines, will reveal the garden’s components without the distraction of colour - just as the winter picture of the Canneman garden clearly gives its shape and outline.  In monochrome, plants become structural and have density and weight, contributing balance and rhythm.  They are playing architectural roles, whether singly as focal points, in pairs or groups to frame a scene, or arranged in a continuous line as hedges or, like grass or other groundcover, massed together in a horizontal carpet.  Plants form the bones of the garden through all the seasons.Canneman garden in Summer

The structure of a garden does not have to be complicated; in fact, as with all garden themes, an essential element is simplicity to achieve balance.  It is the fussy, over-elaborate design which can damage the garden’s atmostphere.hobhouse-garden2.jpg


excerpt from Garden Style by Penelope Hobhouse