While designing gardens for homeowners over the past 18 years, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the just plain unsightly. Most of the time, it’s the same simple design errors that leave a yard looking disorganized, unplanned, or bland. From the initial site selection to choosing plants and positioning them in the landscape, pulling off a gorgeous garden does take a little know-how. Whether you’re planning a pollinator garden in the Midwest, formal garden in the Northeast, or drought-tolerant display in the Southwest, the same design considerations apply. Here’s how you can avoid making the most common garden design mistakes before even starting your project.
1. Even Numbers of Plants
While natural things often come in pairs (two eyes, two legs, two wings, etc.), it’s best not to pair up or use even numbers of plants. Outside of framing a walkway or entrance when pairs and even numbers draw attention to a single location, using odd numbers keeps the eyes moving across the field of vision and gives your landscape a more natural, dynamic feel. Avoid awkward-looking symmetry by placing groupings of plants in odd numbers from 3-11 and avoid planting them in overly straight lines. Anything past 11 tends to be too much for the eye, so even numbers can be used then, if desired.
2. Clashing Colors
More often than not, we plant our gardens to be colorful. But when those colors begin to clash with other plants and nearby structures, the whole effect becomes overwhelming and washed out. It tends to happen when someone really loves bright colors; for example, a bright yellow house with bright yellow flowers everywhere. To remedy clashing colors, choose flowers that stand out against their backdrop such as yellow, white, and orange flowers in front of dark houses and blue, purple, and red flowers in front of lighter colored houses.
3. Mismatched Garden Style
When it comes to garden design mistakes, not paying attention to the architectural design of a house or other buildings is a major blunder. For example, a renovated Victorian style home with its classical style and bold character can look out of place and overbearing paired with the clean design of a modern style garden. Likewise, the smooth lines and angular form of most modern and contemporary-style homes would be overpowered by large, showy flowers. Avoid this huge mistake at all costs to avoid remodeling the whole yard yet again.
4. Empty Beds
One of my top pet peeves in garden design is when plants are unnaturally spaced out in mostly empty planting beds, surrounded by mulch. I often come across this look in commercial and dense residential landscapes because they’re thought to be “low maintenance.” However, they’re quite the opposite because weeds will eagerly try to fill in the gaps all the time. Plus, these mulch gardens aren’t exactly pretty. A more naturalistic and fully planted design would not only look better, but require less frequent weeding.
5. Not Following a Plan
Over the years, gardeners can end up with a hodge-podge of various plants that don’t really go well together. I’m often asked to redesign landscapes like these, which have been planted, replanted, and then planted again until the mashup of plants just looks messy. To avoid this garden design mistake, it’s important to create a plan and stick with it. This plan should be consistent across the entire field of vision, meaning all areas viewed from a given angle should match.
Creating a garden is an excellent way to get outdoors, enjoy the natural world, and let your artistic side shine through. However, you’ll get the best results by avoiding these common garden design flaws.