Garden style ideas – find the one that’s perfect for you – The Middle-Sized Garden Leave a comment

April 22nd, 2023 Posted In: Garden trends & design

If you’re planning or re-vamping a garden, then start with a list of garden style ideas.

A good garden style can often be summed up in one word. Or it may be a phrase or a trend. It may be a feeling or a philosophy.

But once you’ve decided what you want to see and feel when you step out into your garden, then it simplifies your choices. Instead of being faced with a confusing array of options in plants, hard landscaping and garden furniture, you’ll be able to focus on what’s right for you.

This is the second half of two posts on how to choose a garden style.  The first post has 12 popular garden styles to start you off. Here are 10 more:

Garden style ideas – or are they?

You may consider some of these to be more of a trend, a philosophy or a feeling than a specific look. Read on for the key elements of each style.

Naturalistic or prairie gardenEco-friendly gardenUpcycled or recycled gardenPlant lover’s gardenCity or courtyard gardenRock, mountain or alpine gardenWoodland gardenNative plants gardenRustic gardenEdible garden (potager/food forest)

Naturalistic or prairie garden style

This has been one of the most revolutionary garden style ideas of recent years. It started with Piet Oudolf and has been used in big public landscapes, such as the New York high line or the Hauser & Wirth gallery in Somerset.

Now it’s influencing smaller gardens. I talked to garden designer, Michael McCoy in a naturalistic planting style garden he designed in around three quarters of an acre. He also has it in his own garden, in a much smaller area.

You can also see the style at Marchants Hardy Plants in Sussex in The Best Time to Plant Perennials.

Naturalistic planting means choosing plants that grow well in your area, then planting them in large blocks with lots of repetition. There are usually lots of ornamental grasses, too. You probably won’t have a lawn, just paths winding through the planting.

One of the most influential garden style ideas today is naturalistic planting

Naturalistic planting in three quarters of an acre, designed by Michael McCoy (top). The pic below it shows the garden at Marchants Hardy Plants in Sussex, which also majors on resilient perennials, planted in blocks, interspersed with ornamental grasses.

Foliage contrast and plant shape are key to this look, rather than an emphasis on flower colour. However, the big blocks of planting do have a strong colour impact, too. So it’s a different approach to the traditional herbaceous border, but it uses many of the same plants.

Naturalistic or prairie style is about the planting. There’s relatively little hard landscaping and you can choose whatever furniture style you like. But it’s a good backdrop for contemporary garden furniture. You can position this in a natural-looking clearing.

Eco-friendly garden

The eco-friendly garden overlaps with several other garden style ideas. If you’re after an eco-friendly garden, you may recycle or upcycle garden furniture, you may use native plants and you may aim for a wildlife friendly garden (one of the garden styles in the first Garden Styles post).

The eco-friendly garden puts all this together. The main emphasis is the use of resources, such as water, the carbon footprint of hard landscaping and choosing plants that help absorb pollution. In some ways it’s more of a philosophy than a style.

Eco-friendly garden style

Two completely contrasting types of eco-friendly garden style. The top pic shows the Eco-City show garden by Hay-Joung Hwang for RHS Chelsea and below it is the wildlife friendly small town garden designed by a student doing an environmental science degree.

The eco-friendly garden can be quite relaxed and wildlife friendly, like Anne Vincent’s charming small wildlife garden, which uses rainwater run-off from the house’s guttering to create a pond and a bog garden. It was designed by her son while he was doing a degree in environmental science.

Or the eco-friendly garden can be quite high tech, with irrigation systems and automation. The Eco-city garden at RHS Chelsea a few years, for example, included a green roof, feeding plants through aquaponics and solar energy to power lighting. It also majored on plants that are particularly good at absorbing pollution. It was very much an ‘outdoor room’ but the choice of plants maximised its effectiveness.

There was a lot of moss between pavers, for example. Twelve square metres of moss (the size of a small lawn) absorbs more carbon dioxide than 275 mature trees. The technology and many of the plants could also be used in balcony gardening.

The upcycled or recycled garden

This look overlaps with the eco-friendly garden because re-using something is very eco-friendly. You’re not using up resources to make something new and not sending anything to landfill.

Generally the upcycled garden is the less smart end of the eco-friendly gardening, because there’s less reliance on technology. It’s based around re-using hard landscaping materials and furniture, often re-purposing them in interesting ways.

Two show gardens featuring upcycled and recycled hard landscaping and furniture.

Two show gardens re-using hard landscaping and furniture. Top is the Old is Gold Garden by Anna Pawlowska with old doors used as fencing. Below it is Peter Cowell’s show garden made entirely with recycled elements, both for BBC Gardeners World Live.

Plant lover’s garden

This is a style that evolves. It’s defined by lots of plants, often unusual or interesting ones.

All other elements of style are secondary, although they’re often delightful.

One of the best plant lovers’ gardens I know belongs to Stephen Ryan, a plant grower and broadcaster who is one half of The Horti-Culturalists YouTube channel.

Stephen’s passion is rare plants, which he grows for sale in his nursery, Dicksonia Rare Plants, near Melbourne. His own garden is a jungle of interesting specimens, interspersed with paths, seating areas, a pond and practical working areas, placed where they naturally need to be.

Stephen and his partner Craig unified the architecture of the house and the design of the garden by using the garden sheds as a blueprint for the house. It’s an unusual switch from making your sheds tie in with your house architecture. You can read more about it in Don’t Hide an Ugly Shed!

A plant lovers garden

Stephen Ryan’s plant lover’s garden is a jungle of plants but the house and shed are tied together visually by the use of colour and materials.

If plants are your passion, then you’ll always want to put them where they grow best. That trumps having a particular ‘style’ but Stephen’s garden shows you can still have a charming and cohesive look.

City or courtyard garden

This category was suggested to me by one of the comments on my original 12 Garden Styles video on YouTube. My first instinct was to say that this term defines a space rather than a style. You could have a contemporary city garden, for example, or a cottage-garden inspired city garden.

However, I think it does deserve a category of its own because it is a very small space. You will only have a few elements and each one will be very visible.

City or courtyard garden style

You can either have a smart contemporary garden this one designed by Charlotte Rowe (top) or a cottage garden style like this one designed by Jane Scott Moncrieff.

One of the Middlesized Garden’s most popular posts is Why a Small Garden Needs a Big Idea. A small garden needs a big idea because it stops it looking cluttered. So if you’ve got a city or courtyard garden, you’ll need to think about garden style ideas in order to pick one that works.

Rock, mountain or alpine garden

People who live in mountain areas have specific practical issues, such as how to plant on a slope. It’s difficult to have lawn in a sloping garden, and plants may need to be extra resilient to cope with drought or wind.

And there’s always something special about a garden reflects the feel of the countryside around it. Commenters on my YouTube channel have said that ‘South African mountain garden’ or ‘Rocky Mountain garden’ are well known garden styles in their own country.

But even if you have no natural mountains around you, any slope (large or small) gives you a chance to create a rock garden. Rock gardens became very popular in the UK in the Edwardian age, so I interviewed Amicia Oldfield of Doddington Place Gardens about their Edwardian rock garden, rock garden style and how to adapt it to smaller gardens.

Key points include choosing local stone, if you can, because it will look more natural.

Rock garden style

Visit some of the great Edwardian rock gardens to get inspiration for your own rock or alpine garden, like this one at Doddington Place Gardens.

It’s also important to pick drought tolerant plants because water drains down a hill and is less likely to stay held in the soil. However, that does mean that your rock garden will withstand drought without being watered, once it’s established.

It’s worth looking for alpine plants, which come from mountainous regions. (They don’t just come from the Alps in Switzerland!). These plants are often small or low growing, with vivid jewel coloured flowers.

Woodland garden style

‘Woodland garden’ was one of the most popular garden style ideas suggested in the comments to my garden style video.  I hadn’t originally included it, because I felt that ‘woodland’ was more likely to be a part of a garden rather than the whole space. Even in a small town garden you may have two or three trees at the end, which create a woodland area.

However, woodland gardens are becoming increasingly popular. Trees are so valuable to wildlife and they improve air quality.

Woodland garden style

Woodland gardens are usually associated with grand gardens such as the top pic of Leonardslee Gardens in Surrey. But the pic below it is of the show garden designed for RHS Chelsea by the Duchess of Cambridge, Andree Davis and Adam White

A woodland garden probably won’t have a lawn as grass struggles to thrive in shade. But you will have paths and seating areas (like a clearing in the woods!). Curves probably work better than straight lines.

The other element of a woodland garden is layers. The trees are the top layer, then there are shrubs below that and ground cover at the bottom.

The shrubs and grounds cover need to be shade-loving plants. If your trees lose their leaves in the winter, then your garden may be sunny in spring, so you will be able to grow sun-lovers in spring. Find out about the different types of shade here.

If you already have trees, it’s usually best to leave them because a mature tree is hugely valuable to wildlife and the environment. If you’re planting trees, plant native trees if you can.

Native plants garden

Once again, this isn’t a specific style. A native plants garden in Australia would look very different to one in New England – or even old England.

It’s also possible to plant mainly native plants into any garden style. For example, Bill Bampton plants as many native Australian plants as he can into the English cottage garden mash-up style garden at The Diggers Club, Heronswood.

However, I think it does come under the heading of ‘garden style ideas’ because when you are choosing the plants, you’ll probably think more about the environment in which they grow. It’s a starting point for a garden that reflects your local landscape. You may also think about using local hard landscaping materials and traditional garden furniture.

Here in the UK, we have less awareness of native plants than in some other places. In British towns and cities, more than 80% of our garden plants are likely to be non-native. We have had thousands of years of trade and migration with Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Indigenous wildlife – up to a point – have adapted. However, our wildlife is also very endangered, mainly by loss of habitat through building.

Even if you don’t necessarily want a ‘native plants’ garden, it’s a good idea to discover which plants are native to your area and to plant as many as possible.

Native plants garden

A native plants garden can be almost any style, but you may want to take inspiration from your local landscape and architecture.

Rustic garden

This is another of the garden style ideas suggested by Middlesized Garden YouTube viewers. It was defined as a ‘Western( as in cowboy) garden with large old trees and rusting farm equipment’ used as ornaments.

The equivalent in the UK could have chestnut hurdle fences and recycled agricultural equipment. It’s a variation on the upcycled style, but with a country theme.

I saw a garden around a renovated barn, which qualifies as a very elegant version of this look. (See this post on two very different kinds of country garden.) They used corten steel to symbolise the rusting farm equipment. They also planted rows of lavender and nepeta to echo the idea of a row of crops.

Rustic garden style

The top photo shows the very stylish garden belonging to garden writer Francine Raymond. She re-uses agricultural troughs and other equipment. The photo below it shows rustic chestnut hurdles.

Edible garden/potager/food forest

Once again, food growing didn’t make the original list of garden styles, because this is usually part of a garden rather than a whole garden in itself.

But an increasing number of gardeners are now mixing food and flower growing, planting food crops in ornamental borders and flowers with the vegetables. It helps to encourage pollinators.

There are also a surprising number of ornamental flowers which are edible. Day lilies are widely used in Chinese cookery. Dahlia tubers can be roasted. There’s more about edible day lilies here and you can find out more about edible flowers here.  The important thing is to make sure you know what you’re eating and that you know it’s safe. Day lilies (grown from a rhizome) can be eaten. Ordinary lilies (grown from a bulb) are toxic.

A food forest is a low-maintenance, sustainable way of growing food and other useful plants, based on fruits and nuts from trees, vines and perennial food plants. It aims to mimic the growing patterns found in nature rather than those of traditional farming.

Edible garden style

Gardens that combine food growing and flowers include the Abbey Physic Garden in Faversham and the show garden designed by Lucy Hutchings of She Grows Veg for Hampton Court Garden Festival.

See more of these garden style ideas in video

You can see more examples, and more of each example in the Garden Style Ideas video.

Garden styles video

Pin to remember garden style ideas

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Garden style ideas to inspire you


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