Design, Outdoor Living, Tips And Techniques

Expert Tips to Create a Beautiful Garden

Landscape hostas plant installation

When we start to discuss landscaping around the home, it can quickly become overwhelming. There are thousands of ideas and possibilities, making it difficult to decide on what you want to do with your space. That’s why we went to one of our landscape architects, Hilary Harrington, to learn about some of the fundamental guiding principles she uses when helping homeowners design their new outdoor space. To help you tackle your next project with confidence, this post will break down the different layers of a landscape, look at your own personal preferences, and help you pick plants with the local wildlife in mind.

Rustic cabin landscape flower bed

Start with vertical lines

As you begin to envision your space, think about your anchor points—vertical elements that serve to give the space structure. These may be mature shade trees that are already on your property, ornamental trees, or if you’re working in a smaller space, tall shrubs. As you think about these anchor points, remember to consider the architecture of your home and what feeling you want guests to have as they approach it. For example, tall, narrow trees near the corners of a home can help accentuate the home’s vertical lines giving it a more stately appearance, while trees with a large, round canopy can create a softer, sheltered look. Some of our favorite anchor points to use near a home include flowering trees, such as crabapples, dogwoods, Japanese maples, and unique specimen evergreens. Keep in mind that it can take your anchor point trees time to grow to their full size. Consider whether you want to spend more money for a mature tree to give your space that instant “wow” factor or spend less on a younger tree that needs time to grow.

Add middle-ground features

Once you’ve established your anchor points, it’s time to consider the space in between. Our designers use a combination of mid-size shrubs, ornamental boulders, and bright pops of color with mass plantings of perennials to create visual interest and guide your eye through a space. When thinking about this landscape layer, consider the environmental conditions. Is your location sunny or shady, damp or dry? These “site conditions” will help you narrow down plant selections and pick things that won’t just survive in your landscape, but thrive there. Some other middle-ground elements to consider might be hardscape elements such as bird baths, a bench, or sculptural features.

Don’t overlook your lowest level

Once you’ve decided on your anchor points and filled in some of the space with mid-size shrubs and perennials, it’s time to put the finishing touches on your design by going, or growing, low. Ground covers—like creeping thyme, deadnettle, or vinca—can cover a lot of space and bring life to the lowest layers of your landscape. Other elements to consider might be pathways, such as those leading to your front door or off to a small seating area in a side garden. Pathways can be made of wood mulch, rocks, or pavers. Add some definition to borders using annuals, perennials, or a combination of both.

Hidden Stone Path with plantings

Think about your own personal preferences

In the end, the space you’re creating is your space, so create a space you’re going to love! While your site conditions will give you some dos-and-don’ts in choosing plants, there is a wide palette of flower and foliage colors to choose from, as well as overall garden styles. Do you prefer the tumbling, natural look of a cottage garden, or do you prefer tidy shrubs and a more formal appearance? Do you like energizing reds, yellows and oranges, or are you looking for the serenity of blues, purples, and whites? Does your space need winter interest from evergreens or deciduous trees with unique bark textures, or are you focusing mostly on creating a summertime spectacle? Narrowing down your own preferences is a great guide and will help you create a space that feels uniquely your own.

Consider the local wildlife

More and more we’re talking about “deer-resistant plants,” and often we’re learning that what is resistant to some deer in one place might not be resistant to deer in another place. Like us, deer have different foods they prefer, so it’s difficult to make a list of plants that all deer will stay away from.

There are certain plant characteristics, however, that deer tend to avoid.
Many deer don’t like eating plants with fuzzy or spiky textures. There are also scents and flavors that deer dislike, including the oniony scent of alliums or the smell of lavender. Consider planting in locations that deer are less likely to frequent, such as near your porch or in an area that feels small and enclosed. It should be noted, though, that a hungry deer will eat just about anything—and young deer are still learning their likes and dislikes and will try anything once! A little plant nibbling may be unsightly and disappointing, but it shouldn’t harm the overall look of your garden.

If the deer are feeding heavily on a specific plant or in a particular area, there are repellents that can be applied to deter and discourage deer from using your landscape as an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Stone paver driveway landscape surrounding tree

Create your unique space

Landscapes are full of possibilities that are limited only by your imagination—and those possibilities shouldn’t be a cause of intimidation, but rather a source of inspiration! As you embark on your next landscaping project, we hope these design principles will help you confidently create a space that’s uniquely yours.

If you want to take your landscape design to the next level, contact our team today to find out what Drost can do for you.

Reprinted with permission of the Home Builders Association of Northern Michigan. From Northern Michigan Homes and Remodeling magazine, 2023.