Boring Gardens and how to avoid them (part 2)

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Boring gardens & how to avoid them..

Last weeks post looked at why boring gardens evolve and how plants can create more interest by stimulating our senses. Changing the planting is a simple and cost effective method to avoid the descent into boringness. This week I am discussing how some simple changes to the garden’s layout will also keep your garden looking its best.

Structural changes to the garden however are more permanent, requiring time, effort and money. It is vitally important to consider what you intend to change and why, before starting any project. Changing the design of the garden is easy, but so too is making the wrong change. Sadly structural mistakes are the most expensive mistakes to make! Take this image of a garden, it is not the most exciting space. Before any improvements are made, why the space is boring needs be analysed. The starting point is understanding how we see things.


How do we see?

Duh, with our eyes I know, but the question is deeper than that. I mean how does your brain process the information it receives, what is it looking at most? So taking this garden, what are you noticing?

Boring gardens and how to avoid them

Most likely the three elements that jump to the fore are the fence, the path and the edge of the patio. Now these aren’t the most dominant just because of the size, these catch your attention because of the lines created.


Image Patrick Fore via Unsplash.com
where do the lines make you look?

Your eyes follow the lines in the garden, so in this case because there is very little else in this garden – that’s what’s noticed. Secondly, the planting in the garden doesn’t demand any attention either, it’s just green, very static and shaped in a rather unusual array of domes!

Putting this garden right then involves understanding which changes will bring about the greatest benefits. Which for this particular garden are:

  • Breaking up the dominance of fence, path and patio lines
  • Creating a contrast with the surrounding landscape

This garden only needs two structural changes. Replacing the green barrier fence with a more open one and secondly, removing the path to nowhere. The other changes relate back to last week’s post, and adds movement, scent, touch and colour.

But there’s another equally important element of design to consider – curiosity

When was the last time you walked up to a door but never opened it, or you reached a bend in the road but never went round it? Humans are inquisitive beings, it’s why we love science and sending rockets into space, it’s why we try new things and explore unknown places; the garden can tap into this too.

Obviously the curiosity level is not quite so grand as space travel, but the concept is the same!

Take this garden for example which it is nice enough. There are attractive plants in the borders, but is this really the best that could be achieved?

Making an entrance

Gardens should make you want to walk into them, creating an entrance is an easy way to make this happen. A doorway makes us want to walk though, but this doesn’t mean there must be an archway or pergola, borders can be entrances too:

The garden now has a ‘come on in’ pathway, and if we add the same plants back in…

it looks OK, but the garden is still not making itself interesting.

The problem is the whole garden is visible from the patio, so why would you bother walking down the garden?

Adding a curve to the border adds interest to the garden, but only if you can’t actually see round the bend.

Our inquisitive nature makes us want to see what can’t be seen. Just make sure there is ‘something’ there to actually see!

In this case adding height to the border stops the view round that bend. Once there, the black plant in a tall pot is ‘discovered’. To add a little more interest, this feature can be repeated elsewhere too.

Boring gardens & how to avoid them - simple ways to make garden design work

Making a garden less boring is not just about adding more ‘stuff’ to the garden.

The key point here is to ask why. Asking why any feature needs to be added to the garden justifies it’s inclusion. For example, you would like to put bench in the garden, but rather than just plonking it in the sunniest corner, justify why it needs to go there.

Questions like; why would you want to walk there and what would there be to look at once you sit there?

Too often more is just added to the garden, more pots, more flowers, a statue or a water feature. However, without a purpose for why an object is being put somewhere, the garden will quickly lose it’s visual design. The space loses it’s ability to capture and hold your attention – it becomes boring.

Simple design rules to remember:

  • Straight lines are visually dominant in a garden – break up long straight lines (like fences) by using tall plants
  • Straight lines lead your eyes to the end, so make sure there is something there to see.
  • Entrances add interest and invite you through
  • Add curiosity by stopping all of the garden being seen from the house
  • If the garden goes round a bend – have something there to discover
  • Ask the question why; why is this feature needed
  • Lastly you, remember the garden only needs to be interesting to you

Read more about designing a garden:

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