A design problem common to all gardens, but particularly pertinent to small private ones, is what to do with the different areas that surround the house. This question invariably arises in suburban plots typified by a front and back garden separated by the house, and an entrance way between the two.
One option often employed, is to adopt the same formula in both the back and front gardens, such as a lawn surrounded by planting beds, with a fruit or shade tree placed here or there. Another approach is to design the separate areas entirely differently, thereby effectively creating two or more gardens for the plot.
An excellent way of testing the suitability of a design solution is to ask the question – “If I do this, does it conform to the six main principles of good design, namely, balance, scale, emphasis, simplicity, uniformity and variety?” The last two, uniformity and variety are the principles that most concern us here.
Where two or more sections of the plot follow essentially the same pattern, it could be said that there is uniformity. But what about variety? Although the different parts of the garden contain diverse elements within themselves, such as grass, flower beds, trees and shrubs, it can compared to going to a restaurant and choosing the same dish for both the first and main courses. Or like a band playing the same tune twice at a concert! In fact the garden as a whole would lack variety.
The opposite extreme would be to make each separate part of the plot entirely different from each other. A restrained, Japanese garden in the front, a lush tropical garden in the back, and a desert cactus garden in the entryway to the house. Instinctively, most people would balk at such an idea, but looking at it theoretically, we see it may be strong on variety, but because there is nothing in common between the three sections, the garden as a whole falls down when it comes to uniformity. Think about a concert where the first piece is performed by a heavy metal band, followed by Cliff Richard and concluded with a Beethoven string quartet! So here are some possible answers to the question.
- The visually separate parts of the garden conform to one particular style, such as Mediterranean or Oriental, but clear differences are nevertheless noticeable between them. This could be affected by a dominant color motif in one section, or a lawn planted in the back garden, while pebbles are spread in the front.
- Plants of similar habit and form are planted throughout the garden, while avoiding the use of exactly the same species in the different parts of the garden. The idea of “variation on a theme” answers simultaneously to both the demands of uniformity and variety.
- In cases where there are more than two distinct areas, then one of them could be set aside for specialist plants like cacti, while the other sections relate to each other in some way, as previously described. In such a circumstance, I think it’s very important to choose plants exclusively for the specialist garden, without including species from the other places.
- An area is set aside to fulfill a distinct functional role, such as a children’s play area, or a pottery workshop. By being so obviously distinct from the ornamental parts of the garden, the issues relating to design principles do not really arise.