Garden Design: Beauty Comes from Function

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At Spotts Garden Service, we know that function underlies everything else in garden design. When we design, we always start by asking “how do you want to live in your garden?” The garden should be a melding of the personality and desires of the gardener and the promptings of the genus loci, or spirit of the place.

This client wanted a garden to attract birds and butterflies right outside the window. The garden is full of berry-producing shrubs and nectar plants to lure them in. It's also a great place to sit in the evening.

This client wanted a garden to attract birds and butterflies right outside the window. The garden is full of berry-producing shrubs and nectar plants to lure them in. It’s also a great place to sit in the evening.

The Human Touch

We begin by asking a lot of questions of the clients, about how they want to live in the garden.

  • Do you plan to entertain in this garden?
  • Are you a cook? Do you want fresh herbs or a kitchen garden?
  • Do you like to drink your morning coffee or an evening cocktail outside?
  • When do you spend time in the garden: morning, evening, weekend?
  • Where do you keep your trash can? Grill? Compost heap?
  • Do you have pets or children? How do we need to accommodate them?
  • How much time can you devote to maintaining the garden?
  • What styles and colors do you love?
This full-sun border is most often seen from a distance, so we used brilliant colors and blocks of texture to give it pop from a distance. The plants were also chosen to lure butterflies.

This full-sun border is most often seen from a distance, so we used brilliant colors and blocks of texture to make it pop. The plants were also chosen to lure butterflies.

And What Does the Site Say?

The human element is only part of the equation. We also observe the site carefully for answers to these questions:

  • How much sunlight do different parts of the garden get?
  • What is the soil pH?
  • How much organic matter does the soil contain?
  • Where is the water source? How does water flow through the garden?
  • Are there views from surrounding properties we want to highlight or screen?
  • Are there boggy locations, spots with forgotten concrete under them, old tree stumps, microclimates, or other special considerations?
  • How can we encourage wildlife, make use of native species, and otherwise be good environmental stewards?

Pulling It Together

Good design can solve a multitude of woes in the garden. For example,

  • Regrading and installing a rain garden can eliminate a soggy basement.
  • A rose hedge can force people to go through the gate instead of cutting across the garden.
  • A pergola on the west side of the house can cool the interior of the house and create a shaded spot for entertaining.

Style—colors, textures, influences—all guide us in creating a garden, but they are secondary to how the garden functions. When we’ve created a great garden, the patios welcome gatherings, the paths lead you through and keep your feet dry, the plants thrive in their chosen spots, and the whole thing reflects the gardener’s personal style. Now that’s a garden that works.

Amy graduated from DePauw University with a degree in physics, a lifelong love of theatre, and a problem-solving style that combines the approaches from both those fields. A Master Gardener and long-time communications professional, Amy conducts gardening seminars and blogs about gardening in addition to her work with Spotts.

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