Growing beautiful plants is a science; creating a beautiful garden is an art. Like most works of art, the context in which we view them plays a big part in the impression they create. In the case of garden design, your home is the context for your landscape, and creating a garden to complement its style is the first step to making a pleasing composition.
So, how do we make sure our trees, shrubs and flowers set off our houses to their best advantage, and vice versa? How can we organize paths, structures, fences and ornaments to contribute to the overall picture as well? To begin, determine your house’s architectural style. All houses—new suburban or restored historical—have a predominant style, and planning your garden to enhance that will make both look as though they belong together. “Of all the important principles that make old gardens so successful, the first and broadest was the unvity of the house and yard,” writes Michael Weishan in The New Traditional Garden. “Historically, the entire property, buildings and garden together, was considered a single element.”
Owners of period houses, either restorations or reproductions, often want to create gardens in keeping with their homes’ style or era, but don’t know where to begin. Even gardeners who live in more contemporary abodes, such as a sprawling ranch or an ultra-modern house, should make choices that enhance a unified look. For example, a rustic split-rail fence doesn’t suit a Georgian-style, formal house, nor will a random flagstone path do much to enhance the sleek look of a cube-shaped urban dwelling.
Outlined here are five basic architectural styles: formal/Georgian, Victorian, cottage, casual/country, and contemporary/ranch, and the type of garden that will work best for each. Included are plants, design ideas, materials for structures and walkways, and other finishing touches appropriate for that style or era to help you make choices. However, if a formal cast-iron urn next to a white-washed picket fence beside your ranch in the suburbs delights your sense of adventure—go for it. Gardens are personal, after all.