Garden Styles and Making your own Garden Art

Dianne and Gary Westlake


Making decisions on the style that we want for our gardens strikes at the heart of what gardening is all about. We take our small piece of the world and turn it into something that pleases us - something that has a little of ourselves in it. It satisfies a primitive urge to say that you are here and this is what you have to say about it.

We have seen many gardens in our travels and the ones that are memorable are not necessarily the ones that were grand or costly to create. The best were gardens where the personalities of the gardeners shone through loud and clear. Where from the moment you entered the garden until the moment you left, there was a theme running through. This theme was like a thread connecting the space together and to the gardener.

It is difficult to convey a style with your plant choices alone. A boxwood hedge says formal. Cosmos says country. But most plants can be either, depending on how they are placed and looked after or pruned. The difference is subtle and needs help from the structure of the garden and key objects to define a style.

One way to set a theme is in the garden layout. Straight paths and symmetrical beds define a formal style while meandering paths and irregular beds a less formal style. The choice of materials can make a statement. An arbour created of rough cedar posts has a different look to one made from lumber. A bench can be a traditional park bench or can be made entirely from natural rocks placed on each other. All of these choices have a surprising effect on the overall style of a garden.

If you are uncertain what style suits you, then examine your sock drawer. If it is neat and organized, you probably will like a neat garden. If it's just tossed then perhaps deep down you are wild by nature. No fair cheating. If someone else does your socks, then you will have to imagine how you would organize if you had the chance.

Nothing defines style in a garden better than the objects that are used as focal points. A Japanese lantern placed in a prominent location in a garden can suddenly set a theme. Other prominent objects in the garden will either relate to it or detract from it. Unless the style you are going for is eclectic, you may want to consider staying consistent.

For a city garden, ours is relatively large and we found that the cost of appropriate objects was daunting. So we began looking into ways that we could create some of them ourselves.

We were blessed with a large patch of rhubarb and have used the leaves to create stepping stones and even patio stones. The process is straightforward. We place a piece of plastic on our driveway, then turn a rhubarb leaf upside down (with the ribs facing up) on the plastic. We mix concrete from a bag purchased from the local building store and put an inch or two of it on the leaf making sure not to get it too thin at the edge. We then place some reinforcement like chicken wire or other metal grid on top and add more concrete. Cement is caustic to your skin so if you do this wear gloves. We pat the concrete to remove air pockets and allow it to set overnight. It can then be turned over cleaned and after an additional two weeks curing, it can be placed in the garden.

Working with the stepping stones gave us confidence to move on to larger objects. There are cardboard tubes that you can get the same place that you get cement. These tubes are used for deck footings and come in many sizes. If you mix up mortar cement (which has only sand and no larger stones) and fill a length of tube with it then let it set for two to three hours, it will stand up on its own. The tube gets wet so that you can carefully peal it off leaving a column of cement that is still soft enough to carve into with a spoon. We have made a number of interesting objects for our garden this way.

Copper pipe makes all kinds of great looking arbours and trellises for us. These range from the very simple to large elaborate ones. Copper pipe is easy to cut with a special cutter that plumbers use and it can either be soldered together in the traditional manner or we have discovered it can be glued together with two part epoxy glue that is suitable for metals.

These are only a couple of examples of the things you can do with readily available materials. You just have to look at the things in your local stores with a new purpose in mind.

Try to put as much of yourself into your garden as you can. You will probably find it easier than we do because most households only have one gardener while we have two. Think about how tricky it is to come up with a style that suits two different tastes.