The most important and fundamental principle of good garden design can be summed up in a simple phrase: “right plant, right place”.
In other words, when plants are placed in spots where they have enough room to grow to their mature size, where they are getting the right amount of sunlight, when they are in the right type of soil, when they aren’t overly exposed to the elements, and when they’re not crowded and competing with each other then one can create landscapes of incredible beauty and harmony from the vast and diverse palette of plants that are available to us. We are especially lucky in southern coastal British Columbia where growing conditions are so ideal for so many plants.
The best garden designs are always the ones that are adapted to the specific conditions of a site. And when they are well designed, then garden care is actually quite easy and enjoyable. When trees and shrubs are given enough space to grow and reach their full potential, then only a limited amount of pruning is necessary. And when plants are rooted in the kind of soil they need, then there is not a lot that needs to be done, other than keeping up with good soil practices like adding compost and mulches as needed.
Unfortunately there are a lot of examples out there of bad design. Oftentimes this is born out of pure ignorance of the growth habit and needs of the plants. I’ve seen way too many rhodos that are meant to be 7ftx7ft planted in 1ft wide border beds or trees that have grown up to block ocean views. Or daylilies that need rich, fertile, and decently moist soil planted in sandy, hot beds by busy streets, where they dry out before they can even form a flower bud. Or hostas that get chewed down to nubs by rabbits and deer. I could cite many more examples, but in each case the problem could be solved by planting something that is more suited to the site in question.
It’s easy to be at the nursery or garden centre and want to take every plant home! They all look so pretty and compact - it’s hard to imagine that they can and do grow many times their present size. It takes discipline to read the growth and cultivation information on the tag, and ask “is this really the right plant for the space I want to plant it in?” The homeowner can be forgiven for making this mistake, but unfortunately many landscapers don’t ask that question either.
Any time I’m designing or re-designing a garden, I always ask, how much space is available, what are the soil conditions like and can they be amended, how many hours of sunlight does this spot get, how exposed is this spot, what are the other colors in the garden or the yard, what season do we need more color in, are there deer or other animals to worry about, and of course what does the homeowner want to see and how will they use the space?
I use these questions to guide me in creating gardens that are beautiful, harmonious and a joy to be in no matter what time of year
In the end what motivates me is seeing the happiness and tranquility that my clients feel when they experience the natural landscapes that I create and care for.