Lessons from English Gardens for Americans #6: Go Big, or Go Home

The sixth in a continuing series of design articles…
Outdoors, it’s all about scale. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of the vignette in small gardens. In large gardens, on the other hand, small features have a tendency to disappear, and what’s required are big splashes painted boldly across the garden canvas. Take a look at the vegetable garden above (yes, vegetable garden!). The main axis pathway is lined with nepeta, one of my favorite plants for long-season color. Not only are the lines of purple/blue breath-taking, but the specific variety of nepeta has been carefully selected to rise precisely to the height of a low shrub, effectively hiding the not so attractive utilitarian aspects of a production garden.

The nepeta (catmint) family, by the way, is an often overlooked clan of tremendously varied members, who differ considerably in height, flower color, and length of bloom. (For an in-depth look and cross comparison, including a rating of varieties, click HERE). The great thing about nepeta is that the flowering time is extensive and reliable in American gardens, in a way that lavender, another English favorite, is most certainly not. And I suppose that’s another entire lesson in itself: while good design principles remain the same across the globe, the specific application of these principles have to be carefully adapted to your local climate and conditions. Slavishly attempting exact duplication of features from one garden to another generally results in great expense — and mediocre results.


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