Boring gardens & how to avoid them (part 1)

stuck for ideas? email Rachel – design@plantplots.com

I have yet to find anyone who doesn’t like having a garden or outside space of their own.

Even the tiniest balcony provides a welcome escape from the world of indoors. Having a garden enables you to enjoy the outside without the inconvenience of being outdoors; the kettle is only a few paces away and it’s easy to duck back into the warmth if the weather decides to misbehave. So our gardens should be wonderful, exciting and happy places that entice us outside to enjoy the world; sadly though in many cases the garden simply doesn’t. It is boring.

Boring; “so lacking in interest as to cause mental weariness”.


What then has happened, after all nobody would consciously design a garden to be boring or dull, so why do so many gardens end up as uninspiring places?

The most important point to remember though is that boring gardens aren’t designed, they evolve. They creep up slowly without you noticing, for example when that lovely flowering plant died but wasn’t replaced or the hanging basket display never quite looked like it should but also because those reliable (but indestructible) shrubs just grew to such a size all the space left to plant anything pretty got used up. This post will look at why the garden is boring in the first place, and the simple changes you can make that create interest, next week will focus on the design and layout and how easy changes can make your garden a whole lot more interesting.


Boring gardens then by definition lack anything interesting but more importantly they lower your mood whilst raising the feelings of negativity. It becomes a vicious circle, the less you use or enjoy a space the less you care about it and the less time you want to spend there. Which is such a shame.

A new garden is start of an interesting journey

As a garden owner then, you need to know how to haul a boring garden back from the brink and secondly how to stop the descent into boredom in the first place.

How to make a boring garden less dull!

All gardens need to make you feel something, it must generate an emotional response, we are all driven and controlled by our emotions. If we feel hunger we eat, sadness we cry or happiness we laugh; these emotions are to a large extent driven by our senses. Prick your finger, it hurts and we feel an emotion to either yell out or wince. Stimulating your senses are then key if the garden is to become a place you enjoy being in.

If the garden is a place that smells lovely, is filled with interesting textures, and there are places that invite closer inspection, it becomes more interesting. The problem is how do you do that in a small space or what do you do if you aren’t an expert gardener.

Gardens don’t need to only look like this to be interesting

The first step is to give yourself a break; a garden does not need to be filled with unusual plants or be expensively designed to be interesting. Fabulous gardens can be created in small spaces and for not much money. The essential elements responsible for capturing and holding your attention are the same whatever the size of the garden:

  • MOVEMENT
  • SMELL
  • TOUCH
  • COLOUR

Movement:

Our eyes are amazing and incredibly adept at spotting things that move. Which is a evolutionary trait that helped our ancestors find food and avoid being eaten! Clearly we are less reliant on survival these days, but if in your garden things move, you will automatically notice them. Adding movement has a double benefit too, most gardens are urban and surrounded by buildings, which don’t move, adding plants that dance in the breeze provide a clear contrast with the surroundings. The plant’s dancing becomes even more noticeable and enjoyable to watch.

Gaura ‘Whirling Butterflies’
  • use tall willowy plants like grasses
  • site plants where they can cast shadows on walls
  • have plants that flower on taller stems or that have tiny flowers like Gaura, Geums or Alliums
  • plant in groups, more dancing is definitely better!
  • hang small mirrored balls that dance tiny blobs of sunlight around the garden.

Smell:

The importance of Scent is often forgotten when choosing plants. It should be the primary reason the plant is purchased. Scents and perfume evoke memories, possibly of holidays and other happy memories, so use them in a garden. Many plants that flower in the winter months have amazingly beautiful scents, plants like Sarcococca (which should be essential in every garden by the way..), lavenders, thymes, some geraniums, sage all add to the experience in the garden. I fact I would go so far as to say in a small garden you shouldn’t choose any plant if doesn’t have a scent as well as a lovely flower.

Salvias smell lovely

Touch:

We are tactile creatures, babies use touch and taste to make sense of the world and so do we as adults. You add levels of interest and enjoyment if when walking down the garden you can run your hands over plants, releasing the perfume or just because it feels nice. Use plants with soft furry leaves as well as the softer more tactile grasses. Add to that taste and you are onto a winner, having scented plants with edible leaves (herbs) or edible flowers (nasturtiums or violas) add so much more to the garden.

Colour:

The common mistake regarding the use of colour in a garden is to have too much. The theory being more colour must be more interesting, when actually the reverse is true. Too many colours causes your brain to have a visual overload, you actually end up noticing the garden less because your brain filters out the ‘noise of colour’. A smorgasbord of colourful plants placed in pots in front of the shed (to hide it) won’t; why, because your brain prefers to notice the simple information instead which is the shed. The kaleisdoscope of flower colours gets downgraded in importance by the data processing parts of the brain.

Use complimentary colours or contrasting ones
How to use colour in the garden

The dominant colour is going to be green, this is the backdrop, you can choose to then contrast or coordinate. Ideally use no more than 2 colours of flower but within that have different shades of the same colour.

a lovely use of different shades of yellow
Bright colours stand out against the background and scream ‘look at me’.

Place a few blobs of this ‘look at me’ colour in different places, your eye then searches for these colours around the garden. They don’t have to be the same plant by the way, just the same colour.

Colour can be used to capture attention, placing these ‘look at me’ plants in different locations, helps draw attention away from the less attractive places. Putting the ‘look at me’ plant in front of the shed, just makes the shed more noticeable, instead put it elsewhere to draw the attention away from the eyesore.

Geums are great ‘look at me’ flowers!
  • use green plus no more than 2 colours
  • have one ‘look at me colour’ and pop it around the garden
  • use complimentary or contrasting colours schemes – not a mixture of both
  • Reds, Oranges and Yellows will appear closer, Blues, Purples and Blacks further away. White is bright so will pop out anywhere

Boring gardens can be made better

All these tips help to make any garden feel more interesting and it won’t cost much either. A few carefully chosen plants will can have a big impact in a small garden. Choose the plants by how you want to feel, if the scent reminds you of your grandparents garden or you remember that holiday from the scent of another – great! Including these in your garden will help transport you to another place it will capture your attention and boring fades into the distance.

The garden is making you feel good.


Stuck for planting ideas – visit our design shop

Next week Part 2 – what makes the design interesting and banishing boring borders!