Garden Design Tips from YGP You Can Use

By Mary-Kate Mackey  

Editor’s Note: Summer has started and you’re probably busy working and playing in your garden. One of the fun and practical reasons to attend early spring garden shows is the take-away ideas that can be used in your own yard. Mary-Kate Mackey, one of the three display garden judges for the 2012 Yard, Garden & Patio Show (YGP) and an award-winning garden writer, was kind enough to share her collection of ideas garnered from the seven YGP Showcase Gardens and the Edible Garden. These ideas might work in your garden. Save the date for next year’s YGP: February 8-10, 2013!

Garden of Pompeii by Froeberland Landscape Architecture, Viewscapes Landscape and Design—Sometimes, as home gardeners, we simply don’t extend our imaginations far enough. This garden gave permission to play with extravagant flair. Every detail celebrated fun luxury—from the large opulent center pool with its arching jets, fire dish and sparkling blue liner (Photo 1) to small ornamentations such as the Greek-style fencing motif (2). And members of the gardening public responded enthusiastically. The most overheard remark here was, “Oh, we could do something like this.”

  • Take into account the message—”You can live the sybaritic life in your own back yard,” and add elements that bring you pleasure. 
  • For a sun-bright look, you may want a colored pool liner instead of black.

Le Confort Francais (French Comfort) by L. Meyer Design and J.P. Stone Contractors—This garden brought patterns into focus. The cobbled floor, the pedestal entry lights fashioned from cut-out ceramic urns, (3) and the incised patterns of sunflowers in the metal screens, (4) created an effect that was both lively and calming. Bright country-French table linens (5) contrasted with the more formal color control in the surrounding white and green plantings (6).

  • Become aware of existing patterns in your own garden and plan for more.
  • Be bold—mix both formal and informal elements, to keep your garden exciting.

Portuguese Courtyard by Lapis Lazuli Tile & Garden Design and Professional Grounds Management Inc.—The rolling herb cart was an eye-catcher, (7) surrounded as it was by raised beds of mixed herbs and vegetables. But the hand-made tiles—reproductions of ancient designs—brought this display to life. Glowing blue-and-white tiles (8) appeared on the facing of the water pool, the stair risers, and the arching niche (9).

  • Can’t find a charming cart? Follow the sun in your garden with an ancient wheelbarrow or other rolling container (with drainage) to show off your favorite herbs.
  • Experiment with bright sharp colors—these tiles are just as suitable in our gray Pacific Northwest as in sunnier climes.

Sultan’s Paradise Persian Garden by Paradise Restored Landscaping & Exterior Design—The dramatic entry enticed crowds of people who waited patiently to walk down the allée, with its enormous urns. The containers were planted with magnolias and featured taps that poured water into the fountains flanking the walkway (10). The opulent use of colorful accessories (11) in this garden gave plenty of ideas for achieving this luxurious look at home.

  • Oversized equals high drama. The water feature walkway was simple—size made it memorable.
  • Try this neat idea at home—a large square paver formed the edge of a raised bed. Two more squares on a diagonal led into a tiny seating spot (12).

Contemporary Japanese Tea Garden by Treeline Designz and Baseline Landscape LLC—The changing stonework materials underfoot were particularly effective for encouraging a contemplative pace through this garden. Checkered squares alternated stones and groundcover (13). Wide bands of pavers were bordered with narrow lines of shiny black river rocks (14). Slowing down allowed discovery of the garden’s treasures—two-hundred-year-old statuary, modern sculpture and elegant arrangements of plant material (15). An exquisite detail was revealed on the stacked stone fountain. It was dry, but was crossed by a shadow purposely cast from an overhead bamboo pole. The shadow mimicked the way water would run over the stone lip and down the front (16).

  • Plan on pattern change in your own pathways. Any time you do, walkers will slow down—and notice more.
  • Think about adding unusual small details (like that shadow) to create delightful discoveries.

Formal English Garden by Aspen Creek Landscaping—Colorful surprises distinguished this classic circle-in-the-square design. Pink and reddish shades of plant material popped up in the middle of traditional green boxwood and led the eye directly to the bright winter-red stems of the Japanese maple (17). Simple moss and sedums topped a formal gray urn that echoed the same shade of the magnolia bark behind it (18). Smiling round heads from The Funny Thing™ acted as finials to give the formal design a tweak (19).

  • Use colorful foliage and flowers in similar shades to draw your eye around your garden.
  • Note where color echoes occur between man-made and natural elements.
  • The unexpected always enlivens designs, particularly in formal settings.

Chinese Garden by De Yang, Dennis’ 7 Dees Landscaping—Sometimes, when a plant blooms, it steals the show. The focal point for this whole garden was the paper bush, Edgeworthia chrysantha (20). Although the pagoda arbor and bridge with its black shining pool worked beautifully, they were simply supporting players for the paper bush’s scented white blossoms. Its glowing bare stems drew visitors in from every entrance. This garden was lush with numerous plants that are easy to grow in the Pacific Northwest but whose origins were from China—often by way of Japan—such as the dark red foliage of Loropetalum chinenese (Chinese fringe flower). It was combined with similar colors and dissimilar textures of Japanese skimmia (Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’) and pink hellebores in center (21). A knock-out arrangement.

  • If a plant has more than one season of interest (the paper bush has tropical-looking summer foliage) let it take center stage in your garden.
  • Create no-fail combinations with close colors and wide range of textures.
  • Honor the place and history where you live—in this case, our Asian Pacific Rim heritage—with plants that can thrive in a similar climate.

Garden to Table by Calendula Garden Design and Melingo Studio—This exciting farm-at-home display was filled with great ideas. The suspended barn ladder created an arbor over the seating area (22). Wide-mouth cheap-and-cheerful glass vases were turned upside down as cloches in the center of the raised beds (23). The garden was chock full of chickens, an outdoor canning kitchen (24) and a welded wire and woven wattle compost bin (25).

  • Even vegetable beds benefit from a design with a focal point, like those cloches.
  • Repurposed lumber gives an instant feel of age to the newest garden—and often, it’s cheaper.
  • Why not do your canning out of doors on the hottest summer days?
  • Now you have yet another use for pruned tree suckers and vines—weave them into a wire cylinder for the most attractive compost bin on the block.