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Gardening Articles: Landscaping :: Yard & Garden Planning

Perennial Garden Style

by National Gardening Association Editors

Gardens with Style

Gardens with Style

Choosing a garden style is a little like getting dressed. You might choose a "tie and jacket" look for your garden, using formal, symmetrical plantings, sheared hedges, and rows of flowering plants. Or you might be more of a "blue jeans" gardener, opting for an informal layout with rambling plantings. Or maybe you are somewhere in between.

Formal or Casual?

Just like your closet, which may contain formal wear and sweatshirts, and everything in between, you may choose a blend of styles for your gardens. For example, you might like a more formal look for the foundation plantings around your house, where shearing keeps hedges and shrubs inbounds, well-behaved perennials are carefully mulched, and annuals are planted in a symmetrical pattern.

Your island beds--those surrounded by a sea of lawn--might be a little less formal and consist of shrubs and perennials allowed to grow more naturally, with perhaps some annuals tucked into the spaces to add season-long color. Edging and mulching keep the bed looking tidy.

Naturalized Gardens

The gardens on the borders of your property might be on the wild side. Here, rambling shrubs, self-sowing wildflowers, and spreading ground covers might predominate. You may not bother with mulching or adding annuals, since this type of garden has a natural beauty all its own.

Generally speaking, the more formal the garden, the more regular maintenance it requires. (Note, however, that all perennial gardens will require some maintenance.)


Well-behaved perennials, such as liatris, won't flop over or sprawl. They work well in formal gardens.

Consider the size of your perennial bed in relation to its surroundings. For example, a tiny island bed in the middle of a huge lawn may look a little lonely and lost. If you are new to gardening, small plantings near the house are often a good place to begin. Design the beds so that you will be able to enlarge them in subsequent years, rather than overdoing it the first year.

Also consider the size of the plants in relation to the size of the bed. Overly large plants in a small bed can look awkward and out of proportion. On the other hand, a few well-chosen and well-placed large plants can liven up a bed. Similarly, small-leaved, tiny-flowered perennials can get lost in a huge bed. But these, too, have their place and can be used to unify a diverse planting.

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