Our gardens are a reflection of our styles – a fashion statement of sorts. If you like life neat and orderly, with everything in place, then American formal garden styles, similar to the classic gardens of Versailles designed during the reign of Louis XIV, matches your personality perfectly. For those of us who can never find our sunglasses and thrive in chaos, the disorderly beauty of a cottage or English country garden is so totally us. Hungering for authenticity? Prairie style and native gardens recreate the essence of the American prairies and are thought to be best for protecting the local ecosystem. And for those looking for peace and serenity, Asian gardens, which can range from just a simple stone and a few trees to more asymmetrical and elaborate designs with water features and more hardscape, are the thing.
“Garden styles depend upon the personality and desires of the garden owner,” said Melissa Mravec, a landscape designer at Allen Landscape Centre in Highland. “Some people like the more deliberate, symmetrical manicured look of formal gardens which have fewer colors in the palate. While English country gardens gives you differences in textures, a real strong vertical element and lots of colors which can pull you through the seasons.”
According to Doug Werner, a Registered Landscape Architect at Martin Landscaping and Landscape Design in Cedar Lake, very seldom do people request a certain type of garden style. Instead the style evolves from the lifestyle of the owner.
“It’s do they want formal or casual and how much maintenance they want to do and why did they call me,” said Werner. “Like kitchens and bathrooms, landscaping needs to be redone. And if it’s a garden redo, I ask what plants do they want to keep, add or want to get rid of. All this develops into the style of the garden.”
Werner said when he’s working with people in helping them decide on what type of landscaping they want, he often asks permission to drive by their house because he wants to make it their garden not his.
Mravec said when designing a garden to keep in mind what it will look like in the winter.
“Plants like Knock-Out Roses which are prolific and great bloomers are great during the summer and fall,” she said. “And they also give the garden structure in the winter because of their branches and rosehips. Also trees with interesting bark, ornamental grasses which are not cut back and vertical structures made out of metal and wood also are an important part of the winter garden.”
Like fashion, garden styles come in and out of style, too.
“It’s like bell bottoms,” said Werner, “only because gardens grow more slowly it takes longer for the fashion trends to pass. In the 50s and 60s, landscapes were green with three trees here and a yew there. Now we have more colors from leaves to flowers. And now there’s a style making its way to the Midwest from the West Coast. People tend to edge the sides of their homes with plant borders. They’re easy to see from the street but you have to stand on your tip toes and look down from your window inside to see them. Now they’re moving out and away from the house so people inside can enjoy them.”
Werner also offers some relief for those who ponder and worry about what plants to buy and where to put them when working on their gardens.
“Basically when it comes to garden styles, there are no rights or wrongs,” he said. “There are technical mistakes like a tree that grows so tall that it blocks the front window instead of having planted a dwarf tree, but that can be fixed.”