Recommend a book to teach me the principles of garden design

jayco(5b NY)May 30, 2012

After a number of years of gardening at our house I realize I have not been planning the design in any coherent way. In the style of many homeowners I have gardened haphazardly, plonking things down and then trying to figure out what other things to put next to them and so on.

But now I'm ready for a change. I would like to be able to take more control of the design of my garden. Where should I start? A good book? A good website?


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I have read some garden design books for five years.I used pencil and paper.But I don't feel nice.I decide to learn visual garden design,study some 3d program such as 3dsmax,maya...In some forum,people often ask me what software do you use?Now,I don't like garden book,wordy,paper and pencil,feel they be the tool of the Stone Age.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 9:57AM
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Using the search feature at the bottom of the opening page, there are quite a few old threads with recommended reading. Here is but one thread. There are a lot of gardening/landscaping books in print - how about your local library?

Making use of "Stone Age" tools, accompanied by something wordy, might spare the forum of.....

Here is a link that might be useful: Some of the many books recommended in past threads

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 10:50AM
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With your own garden you recognize that something is lacking. When you look at other gardens that you admire do you recognize what it has that yours doesn't? If you don't know what a well designed garden looks like you will not be able to draw one or slap one up on your computer. The first step I think would be to visit lots of gardens locally and in books to familiarize yourself with what works and what doesn't and try to analyze the difference in your own words. Look at the shapes and texture and what holds everything together don't ignore the flowers and their colour but try to look beyond that. Then when you pick up a book on design principles you will know what balance is,for instance although you might have called it something else.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 12:06PM
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Wow! Designoline I'm with you. Years reading garden book make my head hurt! Stone age tools only good for caveman house landscape!

@ Jayco... a word of caution...books have some good, basic information but take it with a grain of salt and a whole lot of real-life observation looking for good examples. If books also didn't give plenty of bad advice, good landscaping would be the norm. It's not.

A good landscape generally begins with function. Decoration would be eventual, but secondary.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 1:04PM
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Am I sensing a line being drawn in the sand: re-inventing the wheel on one side against the possibility of learning from someone who has already built a wheel on the other. Since the principles of design have been around for a while, I understand Fred Flintstone followed Vitruvious, it is possible that there is some value in studying them. Remember the OP is about learning the principles so that she can better understand how to design her garden in a coherent fashion and learning how to use MS Paint 'aint going to do that.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 2:45PM
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Any basic how-to book on landscaping would be a good start. There's a couple listed in the thread duluthinbloom linked to but you can find similar texts in any library and most book stores. These are a good place to start because they tend to take you step by step through the design process, which many designers find essential in learning how to interpret and apply the visuals you may encounter on garden tours or in photos & mags, etc.

Unlike our photoshopping friend, skilled designers understand that tools - like paper and pencil OR the computer and software - are not going to help create a thoughtful or attractive garden plan until one has the underlying design skills to make those tools useful. And this doesn't happen by osmosis for most of us but only through study of the what the principals of successful design consist of. The Gordon Hayward books are excellent to that end.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 3:08PM
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IMO you can *learn* what you love by simply looking at pictures of landscape design, or is it because i'm a visually oriented person, which definitely helps. Anyway, continue to look thru pictures, on line or in books, as this will help you determine what it is you like or prefer about certain designs, as well as plant life. ;o)

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 3:53PM
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I don't know about books, but I get mine from goodwill for 1-2$ a piece, just got a nice 1980's blub book and its got some really useful information.

Check out P allen smiths garden home, george washingtons, Thomas Jefferson for some cool ideas on functionable time tested edible landscapes.

Also check out the cloesest arbetoreums, your sure to get ideas there just take note, like the one in Dallas here has given me a ton of ideas from what to plant, to growth, quantity, and even training/trimming.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 4:01PM
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jayco(5b NY)

Thanks, all, for the advice. I looked at a few old threads and will get some of the books recommended there.

Yes, I have looked at my share of botanical gardens, but it's a bit hard to translate a garden served by dozens of professionals into my own little home garden. I guess I should try to focus on the principles applied there, not on scale and types of plants.

I think I'm just not very good at visualizing how plantings will look. But I guess like everything it just takes conscious application and practice!

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 6:03PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

Botanical gardens tend to be a slightly different beast. Places like Wave Hill, Stonecrop, Naumkeag, Innisfree, and Kykuit are more where you should be going. Then there are the Garden Conservancy Open Days gardens. I see Duck Hill is open this weekend, as well as many others. The idea is to see what people with more resources, but possibly the same goals have done.

BTW, I *love* the part about Kykuit where John D Rockefeller didn't really care what the house looked like so long as it had rooms for all the grandchildren. It reminds me very much of my FIL.

Here is a link that might be useful: Garden Conservancy Open Days - New York

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 7:22PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

If you live in an area that has an active garden community you might get some great ideas by attending an "open garden" tour .
The Garden Conservancy has a wonderful program and you might find that some other schools/ churchs/ non-profit organizations in your area also host residential garden tours.
The residential open garden tours are a fun way of seeing what other local gardeners are growing and how they have used their space.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 7:22PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

How to apply, combine, and balance the principles can be the subject of lifelong study (or, in my case, constant trial and error!), but what the principles are can be fairly easily be divined. I've posted the link below a few times as it is succinct and fairly clear.

One book I enjoyed was by Joe Eck, where he makes it clear - if you can get through the fawning introduction written by his partner - that the first thing to do is establish an objective. "What are you trying to accomplish?" I think is his question. It is quite legitimate to have an objective like "create a place to grow lots of plants" or "house my fuschia collection" but it helps to name it.

The most important thing for making the change in style you are trying to make is that landscape design is not all about the plants. What plant combinations to use is the last question, after you have laid out paths and sight lines and beds. And you design with plant shapes, not plant names, when you do get to that point. Remember it is LANDscaping, where what you are doing now (and I've been there, done that) is mostly PLANTscaping. Read a bit of Melle Sacto's recent threads (the cottage garden one) to get a flavour of someone else's journey in the same direction.

Karin L

Here is a link that might be useful: principles

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 10:42PM
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