In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
April, 2012
Regional Report

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This metal pelican makes a strong style statement wherever he lands.

Find Your Garden Style

We go to garden shows each spring to see the latest in new plants, learn something from professionals and veteran gardeners, and to seek out our personal garden style.

Establishing Garden Mood
Everything you do in the garden establishes the mood of your garden style. When you choose plants, hardscape, and ornaments for the balcony or backyard, each creates a voice that, hopefully, harmonizes with the others to create your good mood. The colors, shapes, sizes, and materials you use can be wildly diverse or "of a piece," each chosen to reflect a particular attitude.

If you love retro, for example, the colors and materials can be widely varied so long as each piece draws on that whimsical, arty style. But if you like brick walkways and raised beds, your style is as constant as the North Star. You may add seating, planters, and accessories, but unless they are as coordinated as the other hardscape elements, the mood will be unsettled.

Your own garden mood might be set more by plants, exuberant and fantastic plants that change the scene with the seasons as in a cottage style garden. My acre is a study in managed chaos by design and happenstance, its mood as changeable as mine. The smaller gardens are sometimes better organized, but still suit my relaxed mood. I am always in search of a place to sit and enjoy the garden view, without seeing too many unfinished projects!

The mood you set may be naturalistic and yet carefully planned for completion in reasonable stages. Or it may be eclectic and grow randomly as you collect iron sculpture, or hostas, or expand food growing to take in every sunny spot. Your garden mood tells visitors to look closely, come in, or pass on by, but the bottom line is this: if you are not comfortable in your own garden, you should make a conscious change in its mood this year.

Sculpture Speaks
Garden style can be set with plants, like the martial regularity of clipped hedges or the romance of an allee of oak trees. But the sculptures, ornaments, and accessories are more likely to tell the style story in your garden, and their materials play a big role. My neighbors are moving soon and plan to leave an 800 pound statue of Michelangelo's David in my front garden. Such a huge piece of stonework and a universally recognizable icon will immediately change the style of that space. What was a plant collection will now have a large, naked focal point and how I style it will determine whether it becomes a joyful addition or a hideous distraction. Luckily, I have been adding dwarf shrubs and roses to that bed already; if I am successful, David will show his back above a host of flowers with bees and butterflies to soften his impact.

While concrete is imposing, wood seems comfortable in the garden. It may sound trite, but wood is the most natural material to use in the garden. When left to age or simply sealed, wooden chairs and tables can seem to grow out of the earth below. Even when painted, wood makes for strong organic style. Metal, on the other hand, can speak in modern, cool, clipped tones or be a down-to-earth, rustic voice that deepens with age. Crafted into op art mobiles and highly polished geometric shapes, metal catches the light and both lifts the eye and the garden mood. My fondness for old, rusty metal means that metal signs and sheet sculptures can be left in the rain for years and only improve to my eye.

Other garden ornaments are less permanent, like the wired wood hoops that will be installed soon. Built for a recent interactive outdoor art project, their life expectancy is about six months, the same as the lablab vines that will grow over them. Their voice is decidedly whimsical and designed to provide a temporary source of inspiration not to be missed.

Size and Perspective
Style elements in your garden can be accents or can be designed to dominate the landscape. Sometimes their size is the point, as when you have to stoop to see small sculptures among daylilies or turn a corner to gasp at a huge pergola covered in roses. The most positive expressions of style are those that simply seem to fit into the scene and the size of each ornament matters. Consider those same small animal sculptures that seem to peek out of each daylily clump. Now imagine the same 4 inch tall cuties clustered at the base of a mature oak tree where they will seem out of place, a leftover pile of garden junk.

A final note on finding your garden style: it is literally everywhere, including in your choice of containers and utilitarian garden tools such as watering cans, wheelbarrows, and hose reels. Invest a little to get tools you really like and will want to display to reflect your style. Indeed, consider the utility of a beautiful fountain in your choice of materials, to set a calming mood in the garden, and muffle the sounds that would distract you and your visitors.


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