Sometimes a rant is in order and as a designer I certainly take issue with some aspects of design. After browsing a very popular home and garden magazine, I just have to speak up about all of those cute, fluffy cottage gardens with their little picket fences and the requisite matching arbor. I know that many people find this style of garden charming, but I’m not one of them UNLESS they are done really well. Usually, I find them ubiquitous and boring.
My major problem with these gardens is that they are usually a muddle of plants. Managing textures takes forethought (read: design) so that you can actually see different plants. There are more shades of green than plain green, too. And flowers are so ephemeral that if you’re going for that really think of when each of them blooms if you want to see them together. Tulips and Echinacea don’t bloom at the same time, so why bother trying to match those two? There are usually too many onesy-twosy’s too. Many designers will tell you to create “sweeps” and “drifts”. Well, I agree, but here’s my definition of sweeps or drifts: varied sizes of elongated triangles that interweave with one another. No drift should be fewer than 5 plants, otherwise it’s a clump.
Plants aren’t the only issue. If you thought I was going to ignore the picket fence, reconsider. I have seen some interesting picket fences that I would actually consider good design, so it’s not the idea of the picket fence. It’s that so many are identical as though no one could think of anything else to do. Really? Then there’s the matching arbor with the romantic rose arching over intertwined with Clematis. Okay, so I do like the roses and clematis, but I also like something more original that the expected arbor, too. Reconsider materials. Think about how it sympathizes stylistically with the house (or should). What about the color? Is it the major focus of getting to the front door? Perhaps it should be the same color as the front door to improve subtle way-finding.
In short, if you’re going for the cottage garden style, don’t copy the gardens you see in the magazines. One that works with who YOU are will be the very best.
Vanessa Gardner Nagel, APLD, NCIDQ