How to Make a Garden More Interesting

How to Make a Garden more interesting or rather how to avoid creating a boring garden!

Gardens come in all shapes styles and sizes, but the key feature we all want from any garden is that it is an area we enjoy using. Now all the pictures below show lovely gardens, but are these interesting as well? What is it about a garden that captivates inspires and interests you? Well you might think it is about the spectacle of the garden, but actually it’s not. This post on How to make a garden more interesting focuses on why gardens capture and inspire you, and what simple easy changes you can make to your own garden – so that it too becomes a wonderful and captivating space.

These gardens are all lovely in their own way, all are functional spaces with seating areas flowers and paths – the question is how interesting are they? What elements demand attention or a closer look, what part of these gardens invite you to come and explore?

There is a trade off in garden design between function and feature, in that the garden has to be a usable space, features add interest, the exciting elements in the design though, should not compete with the usability of the garden.

Take this show garden design for example, as a feature this rill and circular water fountain is an eye-catching; the problem though is, it is entirely unworkable in any garden.

The rill here was deep, possibly 2ft in depth, now two problems emerge, firstly all the crud and debris that will fall into the rill – gumming it up. But also imagine you are taking a stroll down the garden at night… one misstep and you will break your ankle (not to mention poor old hedgehogs falling in and drowning)!

It is not the stuff we add to a garden that makes it interesting – it’s what the garden does to us, that makes us interested.

And how does a garden do that – it’s very simple; it makes you FEEL something.

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. Gardens too should always tap into our curious natures.

Obviously the curiosity level in the garden might not be quite so grand as exploring space, but the concept is the same!

How do gardens make you feel?

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 essential elements responsible for capturing and holding your attention are the same whatever the size of the garden:

  • MOVEMENT
  • SMELL
  • TOUCH
  • COLOUR
Who doesn’t love watching butterflies?

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.

  • 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.

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:

Geums are great ‘look at me’ flowers!

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.

Place a few blobs of one eye catching colour in different parts of the garden. 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.

Curiousity – make the garden ask a question.

What’s in here or round the corner. What is that shining in the undergrowth? Where does this go, what happens if I touch this, what is that noise, where is that lovely scent coming from?

Gardens should make you want to walk into them, creating an entrance is an simple way to make this happen. The garden now has a ‘come on in’ invite. Add to this by limiting how much of the garden can be seen at once.

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 – and it doesn’t have to be expensive, interesting fun and quirky have a place as well. See Cool Stuff for the Garden

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:

A new garden is start of an interesting journey
  • 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:

Visit our Designs Shop for lots of planting ideas to make your garden more interesting

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