Designing a garden is like choosing a style for your home. It should suit your tastes and needs and speak to you on a personal level, says landscape architect and Greener Spaces Better Places (greenerspacesbetterplaces.com.au) ambassador Charlie Albone. “You’re the one using it the most, so you should feel most comfortable with the style,” he says. Follow our helpful guide to four great garden looks.
Formal gardens are all about structure and geometry, with a strong focus on symmetry. “If you design a garden to a certain style, it looks more considered and refined, and therefore is more visually appealing,” says landscape architect Sophie Greive of Think Outside Gardens (thinkoutsidegardens.com.au).
Most formal gardens are organised around a central axis, says Charlie. “Drawing a line through the garden will allow you to design your garden off this point, giving it a feeling of formality,” he says. Mirroring elements on either side can also give a strong impression, but be careful it doesn’t feel boring, says Charlie. “The repetition of plants or certain features helps create flow and maintains a sense of balance.”
In this style of garden, keep planting simple, says Sophie. “A minimal palette of lush green foliage plants maintains year-round formality,” she says. Ensure there is variation between species to sustain interest – different heights, textures and shades. Use hedges, topiary plants or pleached (woven) trees to emphasise the formality.
Focal centrepieces help punctuate plantings and draw you into the garden. “A feature pot on a plinth, a teak garden bench or a water feature are common,” says Sophie. Statues, large urns or archways are also suitable.
Tip: Low hedges give formal definition to a garden, while providing planting pockets for feature trees.
Cottage gardens are much more informal and relaxed. “Their structure is less defined, with gravel-lined, meandering paths and garden beds adorned with lots of charming annuals and perennials,” says Sophie. Look for soft, wispy flowers and cascading foliage as they contribute to the overall unrestrained appeal. Sophie suggests French lavender, Mexican sage, rosemary and climbing roses.
Charlie recommends planting with the seasons to maintain year-round interest. “The aim is to get various plants in the ground that perform at different times of the year, so you always have a reason to head outside,” he says.
The materials palette is mostly traditional, adds Sophie: “Decomposed granite, natural stone walls, sandstone flagging or second-hand bricks are often used as paving.”
Tip: “Cottage gardens are all about meandering, soft pathways in gravel and lots of planting creating a tapestry of colour and texture,” says Charlie.
Coastal gardens are typically landscaped with hardy species and hard-wearing materials, particularly in exposed locations with sandy soil, brutal winds and salt spray. Tough plants like coastal rosemary, blue chalk sticks, licorice plant and creeping boobialla embrace the salty air.
“Plant in drifts or prune shrubs into balls for interest,” suggests Sophie. Many hardy coastal plants have silvery-grey foliage to cope with extreme conditions (the silver is fine hairs, which protect from heat and drying winds); this colour scheme teams beautifully with aged hardwood timbers, concrete and metals with a patina.
While there can be structure in the design, coastal styles are usually relaxed, with organic curved paths and garden beds offering texture that suits the surrounds. “Coastal gardens are often very drought tolerant, and so they generally low maintenance, too,” says Charlie. While these elements suit seaside locations, the same principles apply to any backyard where you want a relaxed, coastal vibe.
“The focus of a contemporary garden is to enjoy an outdoor lifestyle,” says Charlie. As a modern extension of the home, the garden should blur the line between interior and exterior spaces. This can include a large entertaining area, an outdoor cooking station and a structure to provide shelter from the sun, says Charlie: “It is designed to allow you to focus on being outside.”
The plants are simple, but impactful. “There is a strong focus on leaf shapes and architectural foliage,” says Sophie. Try giant elephant ears, giant bromeliad and aloe ‘Outback Orange’. They can bring warmth to the space, softening hardscape materials such as steel, masonry or large vitrified tiles.
Bold, geometric lines enhance this style, and should also be coordinated with the furnishings and accessories. “Metal sculptures, laser-cut screens and flat-bar steel balustrades are all complementary to a modern garden,” says Sophie.
Tip: Framing pavers with groundcover or grass provides a soft, organic feel.
Check out our essential guide to the ultimate alfresco entertaining space.
Photo Credit: Gap Interiors/The Contented Nest, Sue Stubbs and Gap Interiors_Bureaux and Brigid Arnott.
Some photographs feature products from suppliers other than Bunnings.
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