Landscape Design Ideas, Styles, and Themes
The natural environment influences a garden strongly, and one's neighborhood look may or may not be sustainable. If it doesn't match the local environment, if it wasn't built to require as little extra nurturing as possible, then it will typically cost a lot of money and time to keep it healthy and looking good. To avoid that, you can change the look over time by replacing any exotic plants with variants of local plants.
To help you generate new landscape design ideas, here is a look at different styles and themes that match with different environments.
What is a landscape style?
Landscape styles evolved from attempts to mimic the best of natural landscapes in one's own home or locale. The American Southwest evolved a style that reflects the dry cliffs and arroyos of its countryside. The English Country Garden reflects the best of the English countryside brought into one place, nurtured by the constant mists they have there. And the Japanese Zen Garden is reflective of the Japanese countryside at its best. A natural or "native" look in one locale would be called "exotic" in another, because the environment is different.
In the southwestern United States, a Japanese Zen Garden is exotic. In Japan the Southwest or Santa Fe style is exotic. In any locale where a landscape is exotic, that garden will take a lot more time and money to make it grow successfully. However, it is also more interesting to look at for the local inhabitants, because of its "foreign" look.
Although a garden, in order to be sustainable, must have the main part of it based on its own climate or a climate-compatible part of the world, interest can be added with a little exotic touch here and there.
For example, in an Arizona landscape, a Japanese bridge could become a fake arroyo crossing. In California, a British willow pond could become a small water retention basin. In the Mediterranean, where rock walls of flowering plants in planter boxes are the norm, one rock wall could be replaced by brightly painted stucco in the Santa Fe style for an exotic touch.
Common Landscape Styles
The photographs below show examples of different styles of gardens around the world. Their descriptions show some of the typical features of such gardens.
English Country Cottage - Rolling lawns shaded by trees and fringed with areas of brightly colored flowers of different types packed together. Often the lawn will incorporate a pond of some sort and sometimes a little waterfall and/or stream with a bridge over it.
Mediterranean - Planter boxes atop walls of brick or stone, each filled with one or two types of flowering plants, especially those that spill over the side. Planters line stone pathways and small streets on both sides. They mimic cliffs by the seaside.
European Formal - Straight lines and squares of carefully pruned, dark shrubs creating privacy and/or leading the eye to a focal point or hidden spot. Includes highly developed, complex mazes with benches or other resting spots in the center. Often interspersed with fountains in courtyards that attract hordes of hungry pigeons.
Japanese Zen - Curved landscapes with fish ponds, bridges, and curving pathways. Flowers add interest, but do not dominate like they do in other styles of gardens. Tall, light bamboo forests. The overall effect is one of green or pastel peace and relaxation.
American Southwest - Lots of space and barren rocky, desert, or distant mountain views brightened by covered patios with vivid, painted stucco walls. The patios form outdoor living rooms and are filled with bright container plantings. There is often a pool for swimming, surrounded by drought-tolerant plants or cacti and light-leaved deciduous trees. Rock or gravel pathways lead the eye off into the distance. Mimics sandstone mountain cliffs.
Tropical or Semi-Tropical - Lush landscapes filled with ferns and shrubs with large, brightly colored flowers. Lots of birds, streams, and butterflies. Water and tall trees everywhere. Mats of fallen leaves and soil composting on the ground. Heavy scents in the air.
Each of these landscapes will be easy to take care of in the environments in which they developed, and difficult to take of in environments that are foreign. Because an area's overall environment so strongly affects the health of a landscape, a good designer will address the overall look first, before testing and planning for a site's various micro-climates, keeping in mind that landscape styles can be mixed and matched under certain conditions.
This design idea introduces another level of landscape design known as its "theme." Whereas style refers to the overall look of a garden, developed in conjunction with its native environment (whatever that might be), a landscape can have a theme as well - one of the major things a designer uses to add personality to a native landscape.
A theme is a focus around which the garden will be designed. For example, you might want a garden to primarily attract birds or butterflies, or a garden made of edible foods and herbs, or a garden that is all or mostly one color or shape. A garden can be created entirely of bushes or entirely of flowers or entirely of grasses, including what some might call "weeds" (weeds being unwanted plants that are hard to keep out).
Grow local with a vegetable or herb theme.
A real challenge (and joy) to a good landscape designer is to create a landscape with a common theme and limit it to native plants. For example, how would one grow a native vegetable or herb garden? Does anyone remember anymore which vegetables and/or herbs were original to the area?
Tomatoes, corn, and beans were all native to the Americas, especially the mid-western United States, and so were potatoes. Yet those vegetables are grown all over the world now, to the bane of people wanting to eat healthy foods grown without pesticides or herbicides.
Because humans insist on growing foods and flowers in exotic (non-native) places, which are thereby not supported by local weather conditions or birds and insects, plants are weaker and more prone to disease. Companies who make products that kill insects and prevent plant diseases are thereby making big bucks and, of course, promoting the more exotic landscapes. But there's a backlash.
Growers apply fertilizers that then contaminate water running over the area and out to the ocean. And they apply pesticides that then kill the birds that eat the problem insects. Many of the chemicals hurt humans too. These unintended results add to the desirability of growing native foods locally, and designing landscapes that are native and sustainable––that can thrive without the application of fertilizers and/or chemicals.
Overall Neighborhood Style
In order to keep peace with the neighbors, something about the new design you are contemplating should match or enhance the look of the neighborhood. Take a walk with your camera and or a notepad in hand to see which overall style, and individual styles and themes are reflected around you.
How compatible is the overall style with your local climate and land forms? What modifications have individual neighbors made? Is anyone designing with the style or theme you are most attracted to?
Talk to the neighbors and ask questions about the history of the neighborhood or about ideas they have contemplated. They might have some really useful information that can help you with making decisions. They might also have extra plants for you, so you save money. In any case, you'll make friends in the neighborhood you didn't have before and might give them some ideas too.