Suggest some Garden Design books

PamCinMO(5b)May 18, 2011

Need a little help.

I have been planting different bulbs, annuals and perennials in a sunny garden area for the past few years. Mostly experimental to see what would do well in this particular area of my home.

I have experimented and learned what I want from the area, how much maintenance and the yearly expense I am willing to put into the area. I am also keeping in mind that this area will be mimicked further out from the house in a few years when we are able to terrace a steep corner of our front yard.

I am just not sure how to layout the plantings.

I have a tendency to plant in rows, symmetrical thus a formal look, I know I do not want strict formal look. I have tried my hand at planting in drifts and over compensate and plant too haphazardly.

I am still in the planning/experimental stage, hoping next year I will have a complete planting list if my experimental plants this year work out.

I have checked out a few gardening books but still on paper (top view and side views) the designs look like a nursery dumped their left overs in front of the house.

I know with books there are always some better then others, so any suggestions would be appreciated.

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I'm not sure from your post how technical the info is that you are looking for so I've got a couple of suggestions - one more basic and somewhat technical (although a very decent and understandable beginner's guide to garden design) and a second that is more about plant selection and placement.

The first is Better Homes and Gardens New Complete Guide to Landscaping, which covers all the basics including measuring, site analysis, layout and design principles. It also includes some info on plants and design construction and installation. You should be able to locate this in the publications area of Home Depot or other home improvement store. If you can't locate this, try Ortho's Creative Home Landscaping -- they are pretty much interchangeable :-)

The second book I'd suggest is Tracy diSabato-Aust's The Well-Designed Mixed Garden. This will provide a much broader picture of bed layout and planting combinations and placement. Lots of good photos and a mini-encylopedia of plants. This includes shrubs and trees in addition to perennials, annuals and bulbs. These are absolutely essential elements in the home garden to provide structure, mass, verticality and screening, as well as a year round presence, that annuals or herbaceous plants are just not able to supply.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2011 at 12:17PM
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Thank you gardengal for the suggestions, I can find BHG, Orthos and others such books in my local library branch and have been reading through those. I will request the Tracy DiSabato-Aust's books.
Perhaps I am specifically looking for "design fundamentals/principles/elements" and specifically "how to apply those concepts to gardening/landscaping."

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 1:45PM
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Pam, I have yet to read a book on landscaping that gets to the heart of your question. So many books. So many approaches. So much to understand only to end up confused and unable to find a starting point. May I suggest that you do a Google search to plan a landscape. Time spent reading and studying those sites should be helpful. Lots of succinct information to be found there.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 2:47PM
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One book that might be helpful if you can find it is THE SELF TAUGHT GARDENER by sydney Eddison. Its a very positive, go ahead and plant it - there is no wrong way to go about this - kind of book. Great plant lists, good pictures to help learn plant id and good gardening practices.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 3:34PM
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I'm sorry I don't have a direct link, but you might be interested in some sites/articles/books that explain, and give examples of, things like repetition, abundance, balance, unity, and several more. Fine Gardening (magazine) has done features on these principles and there are other short quick versions on the 'net as nandina advised.

If you don't get too overwhelmed by books, I also like Gordon Hayward's books because he links a discussion of the design goals and principles with the accompanying photos, and P. Allen Smith's book on how he designed his home landscape in Little Rock.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 8:08PM
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Another one you might want to check out at the library is Plant Driven Design by Scott Ogden and Lauren Springer Ogden.

I don't consider this to be a basic or beginner text - the BHG book will provide all that - and it is not just a plant encyclopedia. This is a text written by very accomplished gardeners and designers that takes the "right plant, right place" concept to a very high level. Of all the gardening books in my library - and there are hundreds - this is one I come to most often for inspiration.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 8:48PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

I also really like the Plant Driven Design book by the Ogdens, but from your dilemma with what you've been doing so far, I suspect that you aren't at a point to absorb what they are suggesting. It is a great book from the standpoint of "right plant, right place", but you need a feel for the ideas and approaches to getting the design basics of composition, repetition and use of color, texture, etc first. I don't quite understand Nandina's comments about how an internet search will be more comprehensible than a good book on landscape design basics, maybe she can elaborate as to why one is better than the other.

It may take reading several books more than once to really absorb the design principles, and you'll have to really study the photos in combination with the text to grasp the points being made.

I think it really helps to see live examples of good planting design, and take a photo and try analyzing what the design principles used are illustrated. You could also try just copying examples of plantings that you like that are successful in your area/your climate, as a starting point to developing your own style.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 10:12PM
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Bahia, I noted your question to me re my suggestion to do a search for "how to plan a landscape" in addition to locating books that might be helpful to our OP. It is a very busy time here so will expand on my thoughts later. However, I am curious. Did our OP do the search I suggested and if so, was it helpful?

    Bookmark   May 21, 2011 at 7:42AM
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Gardengal48, I have been reading through "Plant-Driven Design", very informative book and yes I am reading it a second time, lots of good stuff in this book to absorb. So in its essence I do understand the PDD concept of gardening design. However authors insight on gardening/landscaping are excellent regardless of design/style. This is the exactly the kind of book I am requesting suggestions for.

Bahia, your suggestion of reading the authors points and then studying the points made in the specific photos is excellent. In the PDD there is content specific to their photos, not all books are created as thoughtfully. I now understand why my previously mentioned drifts looked odd after reading the authors observations as to why so many gardeners fail at this. In this book they show proper drifts and explained them well.

To answer Nandinas curiosity I have done searches via Internet on "how to plan a landscape", I started searching garden planning, garden design, gardening, landscaping, designing etc. I have searched the forum, then I started searching for books, perhaps it is the natural progression of learning to return to books.

Most of the internet search pertained to how to draw the plan, figuring out the three Fs of each area of your landscape, analyzing site location, expense, time frames, hardscaping, preplanned gardens or the usual suburban foundation plantings. Fine Gardening does rank in alot of those searches. With that said, Internet was a good place to start. I know what I want to accomplish, know how to draw a scale plan, divided up projects into stages of progress (due to expense) and know how much effort and expense I am willing to put into the garden yearly and have been simply experimenting with plants zoned for my area. I go through the ones that thrive (not just survive)and decide as to whether or not we love it and why. The results lead toward the next experimental plants and so on.

It may be best to find (using Google images) a famous garden/landscape I love and hopeful the designer or someone has written about the designers process of creating the garden/landscape. I know the lovely natural gardens the PDD authors do so well, is not quite what I have in mind, but I am enjoying reading their thoughts, experiences and decision process of creating the gardens.

Drtygrl and frankie thank you for the additional suggestions, I will be looking into to those as well.

Again I do appreciate all reading suggestions as I figure out my "style".

    Bookmark   May 24, 2011 at 4:00PM
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You may be looking in the wrong place, aren't you looking for the way to combine plants rather than design a complete landscape? I am not sure if these two books are still available (maybe used) but "Classic Plant Combinations" by David Stuart and "Take Two Plants" by Nicola Ferguson could be more what you are looking for.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2011 at 6:02PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Effective informal grouping of plants is discussed in Garden Design Illustrated by John and Carol Grant.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2011 at 12:39PM
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IRuehl(8b-9a, Savannah GA)

I look on You can find so many, and read reviews, as well as look at pages. I have gotten 30$ books on there for 1.00$ with 3$ shipping. 4$ for a great book in slightly used shape is great for me!

    Bookmark   May 25, 2011 at 3:35PM
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Sorry for any confusion inkognito, I am designing a complete landscape for my home. As I design on paper, I try a few things out in the garden area, like my so called drifts or I will plant a five x eight ft section of my design to see it in real life. This has been helpful in seeing the plants true tolerance of the planting area and to see how it looks, smells, and feels.

Thank you and bboy for the suggestions I am adding to my list for reading.

An inspiring plant combo book I found was Designer Plant Combinations 105 Stunning Gardens Using Six Plants or Fewer by Scott Calhoun.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2011 at 3:49PM
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