Tips for Designing the Perfect Garden


Get ideas for combining colors and textures from Virginia Amstrup, who created this beautiful garden in Alaska.

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Break Up Open Spaces

Back Yard

Give your garden an exciting, contemporary feel by breaking up the lawn into small sections. Here, the Amstrups gave their lawn a flowing design, punctuated by colorful flowerbeds. It adds more interest than colorful borders surrounding a big patch of grass.

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Direct the Eye

Garden Path

Use ribbons of lawn to create an exciting look and lend your landscape a sense of whimsy. Plus, it offers the feeling of discovery—you never know what you'll find as you follow different paths.

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Vary the Textures

Curved Border

In garden design, texture is as important as color. Repeating texture—in this case the dwarf spruce tree with golden Angelina sedum—creates a sense of comfortable consistency. But too much of the same texture gets boring, so don't be afraid to mix. Here, the smooth river rocks create a brilliant contrast.

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Use Interesting Edging


Edging gives your garden a crisp, clean look. But be creative and add interest by making your edging a design element. Here, the wide swath of rock between the lawn and the plantings creates the feel of a flowing river.

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Employ Garden Art

Garden Art

Create surprises and add interest to your plants with little touches of art. This bowling ball, for example, instantly became an eye-catching mosaic sculpture with the addition of some beads and broken glass.

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Create Movement

Container Garden

Ornamental grasses are perfect plants for giving your yard a sense of movement. Whether you choose varieties with soft, arching foliage or airy seed heads, such as this prairie dropseed, they create visual excitement in the landscape.

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Put the Right Plants Together

Irish Moss with Bleeding Heart

Put together a stunning garden simply by creating fun plant combinations. Look for great color or contrasts in texture. Here, for example, the ferny, blue-green foliage of bleeding heart is a perfect contrast for the golden carpet of Irish moss. Both are accented nicely by red sedum.

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Use Found Objects


Give your garden a one-of-a-kind look by using found objects. The gardener found a run-over steel fencepost on the side of the road. A simple coat of paint transformed it into an intriguing sculpture.

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Mix in Edibles

Garden Border

Take advantage of the beauty of edible plants and incorporate them in the landscape. Here, bright green and red lettuces form an intriguing border planting and eliminate the need for a separate vegetable garden.

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Play to Your Personality

Garden Art

The number one thing to keep in mind in designing a garden is that it needs to fit your personality. So find ways to incorporate things you like. It may be garden art, such as the musical instruments here, or particular plants, or even certain color combinations.

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Break the Rules


Don't take garden design too seriously. Have fun and feel free to break the rules. Your tallest plants don't always have to go in the back of the border. Plant some in the front to mix things up a bit.

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Look Out

Back Yard

Even the most die-hard gardeners don't spend all their time outdoors, so when you plant your garden, consider the view from your favorite windows.

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Use Interesting Plants

Begonia, Sedum

Include some plants in the garden that invite close inspection. For example, the real beauty of this Rex begonia leaf is in its swirling pattern.

Here's a hint: Notice how the curled leaves echo the curving shapes of this garden's borders. Paying attention to details like this helps your garden feel more put together.

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Embrace Color


This beautiful pink meadow rue looks great on its own, but it becomes a star of the garden in front of a blue-painted fence. Take note of how a plant looks with the others around it, as well as against any garden backdrops.

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Add Containers

Container Garden

Container gardens are excellent solutions because you can move them around and create color in spots where plants have gone out of bloom. Take your garden to the next level by coordinating the colors of your plants with the container. For example, this burgundy pot looks terrific with the rich purple-red thyme.

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Use Colorful Foliage

Silver shamrock Oxalis adenophylla

Contrasting foliage colors and textures can create even more impact than using flowers. This stunning planting, for example, employs blue-gray oxalis, purple polka-dot plant, and golden Angelina sedum.

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Grow Extra-Easy Plants


A beautiful, well-designed garden can be easy to care for if you include tough plants, such as this drought-tolerant hens-and-chicks. Make sure you pick plants well adapted to your climate and growing conditions.

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Pay Attention to Shapes

Container Garden

While most gardeners think mainly about color, don't forget to utilize different shapes. Notice how the bowling balls here are fun accents to the round wall hangings and spherical bunny-tail grass seed heads.

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Give Yourself a Place to Enjoy it


Make sure you give yourself the chance to sit back, relax, and enjoy your beautiful garden. It doesn't have to be a grand deck or patio. The Amstrups painted some garden furniture pieces and set them in a private swath of yard.

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