Planning a Stylised Garden

Although traditional gardening falls largely into the well-know divisions of “formal” and “informal”, the stylised garden is a type of landscape design which has been growing in popularity in recent years and which does not fit into either category entirely comfortably.

Often somewhat airily described as being more akin to a work of art than a garden, the goal of this approach is not so much to present the plants in a particular way as to produce a setting to support the display of assembled sculptural forms or the architectural grandeur of the house itself.

Here, plants are chosen not for their own sake, but exclusively for their utility and compliance with the wider theme. While this is, of course, a feature of plant selection for any design, it comes to assume still greater importance in the stylised garden.

The idea is not for everyone, but elements of this kind of design thinking can also be incorporated in smaller ways to create a mini-effect around a particular ornament or feature – and can even be used to provide an interesting solution to an otherwise awkward corner.

Stylised Vision

In a true stylised garden, the design is focussed from the outset on producing a stunning vista for maximum effect, eliminating personal preferences or dislikes in terms of plants, materials, colours or textures in favour of achieving the greatest impact. Although this approach requires considerable attention to detail to achieve a unified design, simplicity lies at the heart of most really effective stylised themes, with the arrangement of complimentary materials being used to form a cohesive whole.

While this obviously works best for truly large-scale projects, where there is enough room to allow sufficient distance and the interplay of perspective to be appreciated fully, it can also, somewhat paradoxically, prove surprisingly effective in more restricted areas too. It needs a little care to pull it off successfully, but if the overall design concentrates on relatively few elements and a strong theme, it can overcome the common problem of too much in too small a space, which often makes such areas seem fussy and cramped.

Home Style

For the average domestic setting, one of the largest problems to overcome can be deciding how best to match the stylised approach to the details of the house or its setting and which materials to use. Local native plants can be one possible source of inspiration, but grown in unusual ways – perhaps in unexpected containers, or trimmed to particular shapes. Gravel is a particularly useful medium for this kind of design and artificially coloured forms can be used amid plantings to create bold effects of contrast or tone.

Alternating tight geometric shapes in coloured chippings and dense plantings, for instance, can produce strangely compelling results, especially if bright gravel is used in areas of natural shade.

Stylised design can dispense with planting altogether, allowing hard-landscaping elements such as large rocks or water features to carry the theme alone, or integrate with areas of low-key planting to enhance the visual impact and add a defined focal point. Abstract sculptures, obelisks and other big forms can dominate in these vistas – or simply provide an accent to lift the overall impression of an otherwise simple gravel garden.

Producing a stylised garden is not to everyone’s taste and not everybody would wish to live with one. However, for even the most dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists amongst us, there are lessons to be learnt from the singleness of vision and clear sense of purpose that the best examples exhibit which can be usefully brought to other, more conventional designs. At the end of the day, you create your own garden to please yourself.