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Thoughts on Garden Design
by Veronica Sliva
by Veronica Sliva


Veronica has been gardening for as long as she can remember. When other kids were reading comics, she was reading the Stokes Seed Catalog. In the past 25 years Veronica has written hundreds of articles about gardens and gardening for magazines and newspapers. She also develops online content for Internet websites. Her regular newspaper column, In the Garden is enjoyed by readers in Durham Region, and The Garden Party is read throughout the greater Toronto area. She is also a regular contributor to

When not consumed by her garden she enjoys photography, birding, spending time at the cottage and ballroom dancing.

Veronica makes presentations on gardening topics to a variety of groups including horticultural societies, garden clubs and service clubs.

Veronica owns Sliva Communications, a business that provides a full a range of writing services including business and marketing material, technical documentation and anything that requires a wordsmith. She is a seasoned technical writer with a post graduate diploma in Technical Communications.

Veronica is a Regional Director for Canada of the Garden Writers' Association, Chair of the Oshawa Valley Botanical Garden Task Force, and a past president of the Brooklin Horticultural Society.

February 16, 2014

Most gardens happen by chance. You start with a plant here and a plant there and before you know it, you have your garden. The result might be a delightful hodge-podge...or not. If you are someone who likes to elevate your gardening efforts to a more predictable art form, you may want to pay attention to some of the principles and elements of design. Artists and designers of all kinds embrace a universal definition of these “rules. Here are some basics:


Straight or curved, line is an important element in your garden because the eye automatically follows a garden’s line. The lines that you create are bound to trigger responses from the viewer. Gentle, curving lines are relaxing and restful. Straight lines create excitement and “tension”. Not surprisingly, whatever lines you choose to work into your garden will expose something about your personality.


Form is the shape of the different elements in your garden space... the outline of the different plants, trees and shrubs. A variety of shapes gives character to a garden and determines whether it adopts a formal or informal style.


Texture is all about visual excitement. The different textures of flowers, foliage and tree bark, provides interest and establishes a mood. Rough textures project an informal atmosphere. Smooth, velvety surfaces like that of a rose petal lend a more a formal and elegant feeling.


Introducing fragrant plants to a garden creates another dimension. Scented plants located near a path or sitting area will be appreciated mos. A simple tub of petunias can provide an intoxicating scent, especially in the evening hours.


Gardeners spend too much time worrying about complex colour rules that someone else has invented. Following nature’s lead is the wisest and easiest route to follow. Think about how the colours in a wildflower meadow or a natural wooded area are put together. A colour wheel can aid you in putting different colours together. Warm colours like oranges, reds and yellows create a more intimate feeling. while cooler colours like blue, purple, green and white, open up a space and make it seem larger.


Repetition in the garden often is the most overlooked element of all. It is far more pleasing to the eye to see form, line, colour and textures repeated several times within a space than the hodge-podge effect.

Focal Points

A focal point in your garden gives it balance. An interesting shrub, bird bath, garden art, or perhaps a garden pond, a gazebo or a pergola, can be the starting point with which to create your garden around.

Personality Plus

While considering the elements and principles of design gives us some guidelines to follow in designing our gardens, you’ll probably be happiest if the outcome reflects your personal tastes. How you decorate your home will give you a clue as to what kind of garden design you’ll likely be comfortable with. If you like a look that’s clean and sparse, you’ll probably want lots of open space in your garden design. If you like to surround yourself with treasured keepsakes you’ll enjoy creating secret nooks and crannies in the garden and locating a surprise element around every corner. It could be something like a small, still pond or an obelisk or even a surprise planter. If you love bold, bright colours inside, chances are you’ll probably enjoy using hot colours like red, orange and purple in the garden.

Location, Location, Location

Make sure you put your garden where you can see and enjoy it, not in an out of the way corner or behind the garage. Start by looking out your windows and doors and take note of what you see. Is the view restful or can you see the compost heap or the neighbour's garbage bin? If what you're looking at isn’t attractive, consider a way to disguise the eyesore either with plant material or a hard structure like a screen of some kind.

Try something new.

Be adventurous and try something new each season. Whatever you decide to do, your garden should express your personality. You’ll be happiest if you follow your instincts even if they don’t always align with the so called ‘rules’. You are only limited by your imagination.

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