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Locating Your Garden

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Plate 1. The garden should be located near the house and closely connected with it.

First of all examine your property to determine the best site for your home garden, and then let the site dictate the design. Never choose an arbitrary pattern and try to impose it on a site, regardless of existing advantages or limitations. Where a choice exists, consider carefully. Often the site that seems most obvious at first glance turns out, on mature thought, to be less advantageous than some other. In any case try to place the garden near the house so that you can enjoy it closely through each season and have many pleasing views from indoors. (Plate 1.)

The location of your garden necessarily depends upon the shape and topography of the lot, the type of house, its position in relation to property lines, and the location of garage, driveway, walks, and service area. It is desirable in the northeastern states to have the garden on the south or west of the house. A southern exposure offers a better growing place for plants and, since the living rooms are likely to be there, it is easy to work out an intimate relationship between garden and house. If the land is level, or nearly so, it need not influence the choice of site, but if there is a decided slope, the design of the garden will have to be adapted to it. If the lot is partly flat and partly sloping, the garden will naturally be placed on the level space, other conditions permitting.

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Plate 2a. The Evolution of the Garden Pattern - The Existing Conditions

The establishment of an axial line or backbone is the first step in evolving a pattern. You will note that we say evolve rather than select a pattern. This choice of words is deliberate. If you expect to have an unusual and interesting garden, let the pattern evolve from the site, evolve meaning to grow out of or to develop naturally from the existing conditions of the site. (Plate 2.)

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Plate 2b. The Evolution of the Garden Pattern - Main and Minor Axes Located

The size and shape of the planting areas, their location and general character, is determined by the use to which the area is to be put, and the pattern adopted. No one can give specific rules for the determination of these things. They must evolve from the requirements of the site, through the imagination of the designer. This is indeed true. Design to be vital must arise from the inherent qualities of the situation. When a design is arrived at in this fashion, it has individual charm and is rarely stereotyped. People are often tempted to adopt plans and patterns without change from books and magazine articles and to force them onto a site, whether they fit or not. This is the wrong approach.

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Plate 2c. The Garden Pattern Takes Shape - The Plan Roughed Out
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Plate 2d. The Garden Pattern Takes Shape - The Finished Design


As it develops, the axial line may be emphasized by balanced beds on either side, or it may be left practically unnoticed, as in a naturalistic setting. Nevertheless the axis needs to be there to give the pattern unity, and to provide a link between garden and house, or other principal point of view. The axis line should start preferably at some door or window of the house and be terminated at the farthest end by an important feature. If a strong cross axis exists, the feature may be located where the two axes intersect in or near the center of the garden.

This principal feature or focal point must dominate the scheme. It must be the most important thing in it, the highest point of development. Towards this the rest of the design and the planting lead. When there is no focal point, or when there are several equal ones fighting for attention, unity or harmony is lost and the serenity of the garden destroyed. When there is one point of climax, an orderly sense of design results.

The mere placing of a feature on the axis is not enough. It must be treated so that it does in truth become the focus, the natural center of attention. It must have adequate background and flanking plantings of the choicest material, and the area around it must be designed so that it represents a pleasing picture.

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Plate 3. The terminal feature must be emphasized by the details immediately around it.

The widening of paths around the focal point and the treatment of the adjacent area so that it has form — circle, oval, square, or oblong — does much to increase the importance of the feature. If it is located at the far end of the scheme, a good background planting, a bit of wall, fence, lattice, or hedge, will block the view beyond and throw the feature into higher relief, thus capturing the attention. To emphasize and strengthen the focal point the area around it can be raised or lowered a step or so from the main level of the garden. Such an open area creates a foreground for the feature and gives a feeling of openness, and dignity. (Plate 3.)


Where the focal point occurs at or near the end of the central axis, the garden design is called the terminal-motive type.

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Plate 4. A terminal-motive design around a featured large tree. All lines lead toward it, and the finest planting is here.

It is simple, straightforward, pleasing, easy to accomplish. It is best suited to long, narrow garden sites.

The simplest of all patterns is then a balanced arrangement on a central axis, strongly terminated at the farther end, and of course adequately enclosed. The lines of such a scheme are usually straight, parallel to the axis, and the result is a simple formal pattern — two wide borders flanking a path. If the area is large enough to accommodate a more complex pattern and still remain in scale, a cross axis may he developed halfway or two-thirds way down the main axis, and running at right angles to it. (Plate 4.)


When the principal feature is located at the crossing of the major and minor axes, a central-motive design is created.

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Plate 5. Where the feature is centrally located, the area around it should be emphasized.

This produces a rectilinear, square, or round scheme with two or more strong axial lines crossing in the center. In this design the central focal point, unlike the terminal, must rarely be above the level of the eye, for the view of the garden beyond should not, ordinarily, be obstructed. For a central feature, a pool, sundial, or birdbath is excellent. Interest can be heightened by accent plants at the corners of adjacent beds, and by the use of choice plants close by. In simple gardens, a feature may be omitted and only the surrounding accent plants used. Nevertheless the centrality of such a scheme will be as strongly felt as though an actual feature were present. (Plate 5.)


Each minor axis in a design must also have its termination. These lines cannot be prolonged indefinitely into outer space. They must be stopped. Sometimes the minor axes are more than adequately terminated, and too many focal points are created; or the designer fails to terminate them at all. There can be only one principal focal point, but minor features, if kept subordinate, heighten the effect of the main one.

Adequate termination is merely a sense of definite ending. In a small simple garden, an interesting tree or shrub set a little forward of the enclosing wall, fence, hedge, or shrub border may be all that is needed. Something is there to stop the eye from continuing in that direction and turn it back on the garden. In a larger, more elaborate garden a bench of plain design set against a good background, or a colorful pottery jar or vase on a low pedestal, makes an excellent termination for a pathway. In more pretentious gardens a piece of fine sculpture serves the same purpose. All these, of course, must be selected with the main focal point in mind, for they must always be subordinate to it.

If a pathway goes through the garden enclosure into an area beyond, a gate will serve as a termination, provided it is kept closed. An open rose-arch does not terminate an axis. It enframes it and makes it all the more important by attracting attention to the vista beyond. When a minor axis leads out into a lawn area or to another garden scheme, the center line of the path can be prolonged across this area and terminated there by tree, shrub, or more important feature, and this terminal can be independent of the main one in the garden. Since it is outside the enclosure it will not compete with the focal point of the main garden.

Naturally the focal point of a rather formal scheme will be more highly developed architecturally and therefore seem more important than one in an informal or naturalistic design. A focal point, however, is no less necessary to the informal development. In such a scheme axial relationship is not stressed. The focal point, although often located on axis need not be developed so highly as in a formal pattern. Though it may be a wall fountain or garden house, it can be simple, rustic in character, and unobtrusive. Groups of interesting plants, trees or shrubs of pleasing shape and texture, may be used instead of architectural detail. A group of hemlock accented by a tall cedar and edged down with laurel would be an example. Well placed groups of garden furniture or sculpture will serve, if they are enframed and given a background that ties them harmoniously into the scheme.

Because so many gardeners are horticulturally minded, and want flowers above all, they do not always realize the importance of this structural aspect of garden design. They rely too much on planting for effect. During the winter when planting is not at its best, a well-designed garden is still beautiful with attractive features that create a picture and engage the attention. Many an otherwise admirable garden is not as effective as it might be because the principal feature has never been placed. Try to avoid this eventuality. As compared with plant material, structural features are generally more expensive, but they are nevertheless indispensable, and should really go in first.


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