BOLD: The Secret to Good Garden Design

Beautiful, bold curves at 'Bowylie'

Beautiful, bold curves at ‘Bowylie’

When I first started exploring garden design, I expected to pick up a book, read it, memorise it and be all set to create stunning designs.  I got dozens of books from the library, googled non-stop, asked my tutor where I could find this elusive content but I never did find the magic answers all laid out.

I think there are a few very talented people in the world who can just look at a subject for the very first time and intuitively see what looks right.  Whether it is garden, interior or graphic design, they don’t have to learn, their brains just instinctively picture a glorious image.

For the rest of us, we learn design either by first studying the principles and/or by looking at hundreds and hundreds of examples of design and gradually learning patterns of what works and what doesn’t.  We all see different patterns and have different preferences, leading to different styles developing, but fundamentally it is the same process we go through.

I remember learning about repetition, rhythm, proportion and balance and starting to understand each as discrete entities.  The word that either I didn’t read much about, or perhaps didn’t take in the importance of at the time, was ‘BOLD‘.

As I design gardens today, ‘bold’ is the most useful single concept I have.  My feeling is that if you forget everything else, but remember to apply boldness, your design will be 80% of the way there.  So if you are not one of the 0.01% of people who can design without thinking, my advice is, think bold!

The concept of ‘bold’ applies to all aspects of the garden.  Let us explore this a little.

Bold, mass plantings at Melbourne Botanic Gardens

Bold, mass plantings at Melbourne Botanic Gardens

Firstly, you need bold structure.  Even the most delicate cottage garden only works because the flowers are set off against large, square, deep green, bold hedges or rigid, unifying, bold, stone walls.  In any style, you want to create bold, clean lines – whether that be geometric straight edges and perfect circles or organic, flowing curves, they always need to be bold.  There is nothing worse than little wiggly edges or fiddly angles in garden design.

Once the bold structure is in place, you need bold planting.   Yes, even with our cottage garden, we need to think bold.  The key trick is to be very sure what your desired theme or style is and then apply it with gusto.  If you want a cottage garden, cram it with every flower you can think of, filling every little space.  Don’t dot the odd perennial around and then throw in a tree to be done.

Bold, geometric structure at Cranbourne

Bold, geometric structure at Cranbourne

In a more contemporary style of garden, don’t plant things in 1s.  Plant them in 3s, or 5s, or 7s.  Bold clumps of the same species will have vastly more impact and create a more serene picture.  As an aside, if you have always wondered why we are told to use odd numbers, it is because with 2, 4 or 6 of the same object, our eyes naturally divide them in half and we see two equal groups.  As we are seeking boldness, the last thing we want is to see smaller groups, so odd numbers avoid this funny quirk of the brain.

For specific types of garden; if you live on the coast and want to play to the sense of place, think boldly of coastal, coastal, coastal.  Use pebbles for mulch, use maritime items for ornamentation and use rope instead of wire.

A classic mistake that most of us make when we start out is to not size up enough.  We go to the nursery, find a beautiful, enormous-looking pot, struggle to carry it home, only to find when we put it on the patio, it looks like a very small, very lost dot.  It is almost always better to go bigger than you think – bold pays off every time!

One final useful concept is to add bold focal points.  These draw the eye and allow the brain respite from jumping from one thing to the next and the next.  But focal points only work if they are bold – by definition they must stand out.

Whatever type of garden you seek, be clear about what you want and then boldly stick with that vision in every decision you make.  You will be a long way towards your beautiful garden if you always think BOLD!

9 thoughts on “BOLD: The Secret to Good Garden Design

  1. Robin Powell says:

    I think you are so right Janna. Those of us who love plants are always making the mistake of planting one of the thing we just fell in love with, squeezing it in somewhere, and then wondering why our garden doesn’t come together in the harmonious way we want it to. As you say we keep having to remind ourselves to think in terms of bold, big and lots!

  2. Janna Schreier says:

    Thank you both for your comments. And yes, I am guilty as charged with trying to fit one of everything into my small urban garden. It is so much easier to be disciplined when you are designing someone else’s!

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