A Good Home, Canadian Gardens, Gardening, White gardens

Exterior Design – Gardening for Impact


I’m an amateur gardener. Many of you know more about gardening than I do.

But I’ve learned a few things over the years and I shared some in my previous post on affordable gardening. 

This post is about creating impact.

Blog Photo - Hosta green around tree

The first thing I’ve learned is that you can create impactful garden scenes with a fairly small range of plants – if that’s your preference. At the farmhouse, we had many kinds of plants. At this new garden, we have far fewer. So we use a lot of hosta, hydrangea, ferns, and boxwood throughout our garden.

Blog Photo - Hosta around tree

I’ve learned that structure matters. Plants of the same variety massed together in a circle or  semi-circle make a strong structural statement.

When we lived at the farmhouse, a neighbour was throwing out clumps of green-and-white hosta. We gladly took some.  We divided and planted them around this tree, below.  They formed a lush circle in just two gardening seasons.

Blog Photo - Afternoon Tea guest in garden

My husband created two circles, above – one with hosta and one with boxwood. Look closely and you’ll see a taller boxwood semi-circle too.

Boxwood is perfect for creating structure. We buy them small (aka inexpensive) and let them grow. These ones, curving along our present garden path, are now two years old and will be trimmed and shaped soon.

Blog Photo - Boxwood along path

Contrast is another way of creating impact. The hosta and Japanese forest grasses, below — planted along another curve in the path — make a nice contrast.

Blog Photo - Hosta and Forest Grass

 Meanwhile, ligularia’s dark leaves, below, contrast well with almost anything.

Blog Photo - Ligularia

It’s a backdrop for the light-green hosta. But notice the green-and-white grass, below left.  Alone, the shape and colour of its blades would contrast nicely with the leaves of that hosta too. 

Blog Photo - Hosta and contrast

Contrast can also be created using varieties of the same genus of plants. Note the different kinds of hosta used below.

Blog Photo - Hostas of different colours

While contrasts are striking, we also like the harmony that comes from repeating a single colour throughout the garden at certain times of the year.

The red blooms of bee balm, below, echo the red of the chairs.

Blog Photo - Red Bee Balm and Bird Bath

Blog Photo - Red Bee Balm and Red Chairs

And the white blooms of bridal wreath spirea reinforce the white-stained arbour, below.

Blog Photo - White garden Bridal Wreath and Arbour

Sticking with colour, let’s talk about single-colour gardens and borders. 

Blog Photo - White garden Hollyhock single

Blog Photo - White garden Daisies

The white hollyhocks and daisies (above) and Annabelle hydrangea, below, are striking when grown en masse.

Blog Photo - White garden Hydrangea CU

Blog Photo - White garden Hydrangea several

Fast-growing and easy to divide, they are popular in all-white gardens. (Vita Sackville-West’s white garden at Sissinghurst in the UK is most famous, but many gardens, both private and public, have these plants in their white borders.)

Courtesy: Parkwood Estate, Oshawa, Ontario

Of course, we’ve also learned that a single plant can make a magnificent statement, as does this giant Sum and Substance hosta.

Blog Photo - Hosta Giant Sum and Substance

And this equally striking goatsbeard.

Size, form, texture, contrast and colour: all can make a strong impact in your garden.

61 thoughts on “Exterior Design – Gardening for Impact”

  1. As we would say in Maine, you have some garden. Wowsah! Very good points to keep in mind.

    1. Thank you, Brad. Hope the weekend goes well. I was quite taken with that story about the harmonizing of some Buddhist and Judeo- Christian beliefs in practice.

  2. Lovely gardens! I’m wondering if you have deer in your area. In the past, that was an issue in my yard with hostas, since they LOVE to eat them. The bee balm makes a great addition of color, and the spirea reminds me of my childhood home.

    1. I like the sound of that. Today I weeded while lying flat on my front. A neighbour called that devotion to my garden, while my poor husband called it utmost stupidity and I called it a very sore back and leg!

  3. Your lovely garden is making an impact on my day. So beautiful to see. It also makes me feel nostalgic about my long lost hostas, all gobbled by greedy slugs and snails. 😦

  4. Wonderful to see your gardens again Cynthia – your advice is great for novice gardners like myself. Love the designs of the variety of plantings and impact they make on your landscape overall. Just beautiful! We are having a tough time growing things this year because of the lack of rain and high temperatures. Happy gardening to you and your husband.

  5. Beautiful! I love the spirea. my problem has always been lack of gardening discipline. I buy stuff because it’s on sale but doesn’t fit my garden “plan.” My goal this fall is to dig most of it up and organize. This post inspires me to do it!

    1. I hear you. That was me exactly, in years past. The shiny new stuff is so tempting, isn’t it? (Big smile) I’m glad the post inspired you. It will be fun to reorganize.

  6. I love all those cool greens from your hostas and boxwood, grasses and other perennials. Any flowers you have really stand out, like the bee balm and all the white flowers of hydrangea and daisy. A lovely informative post, Cynthia and well illustrated too.

  7. I remember goatsbeard from back east. It grew wild ion many places. Here I have had to keep the annual summer drought in mid when selecting plants. They must also be able to cope with the winter rains, and heavy, continually wet clay soil.

  8. Thank you for the tour of your creativity in the garden. Here, I am limited to potted things on my porches, so I especially am enjoying the luxurious beauty of your arrangement. Beautiful work, Cynthia!

  9. Still catching up here. How many ways are there to say your garden is stunning. I have trouble with slugs eating my Hosta’s and am unwilling to use any chemical to kill the slugs. I have to find something to surround them that slugs won’t go near. Your’s are just so healthy and beautiful.

    1. Methinks our slugs are having way too much fun eating the leaves of our vegetables! But the rabbit gave developed a taste for hosta stems and leaves. Can you believe it?

  10. Perfectly crafted about gardening. By reading it we are getting the new information.

    I love this article and waiting for another one so I can gather more information.

    Thank You

  11. Someone rightly said, “Great things are not done by impulse, but a series of small things brought together.” and here you have done some great design by adjusting small things into your garden. Thank you for sharing your beautiful design ideas.

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