University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Anytime Article


By Dr. Leonard Perry
Extension Professor

If designing a garden, you may want to consider one of the following garden styles that are presently popular.  Make sure what you are choosing does not clash with the surrounding landscape or your home.

American: generally characterized by mass use of tough perennials like Autumn Joy Sedum, Goldsturm Rudbeckia, and ornamental grasses, popularized in the 1980s by Oehme and van Sweden; includes other styles, such as historic and cottage gardens or regional such as Southwest or Northwest; basically, very diverse reflecting diverse cultures and regions.

Chinese: Often design elements, as in Penjin, reflect man in collaboration with nature; when seen, are often gardens and structures typical of Ming Dynasty (mid 1300s to mid 1600s); levels, mountains, lake often with island or "boat" structure, waterways or waterfalls, temples in larger gardens; intricate detail and patterns in paintings on structures and in paving; founded on
principles of Feng Shui, and often designed as a painting; focus is on rocks and water, then architecture, lastly plants.

Cottage: may include small formal front gardens, but generally flowerbeds appear casual and unplanned; better gardens often have attention to form and color in design; often unpaved paths, often lined with single flower, often annuals and perennials mixed, lots of different plants with traditional varieties for accurate historic gardens; seldom with any lawn, even if space; include  vegetables and fruit trees, if space.

English: can evoke various images from the natural-appearing landscapes of Capability Brown of the 18th century (focusing more on large scenes and mass plantings of trees with ponds and sweeping vistas) to formal borders (often a result of using abandoned walled gardens in the 19th and 20th centuries) and cottage gardens (popularized by Gertrude Jekyll in the late 1800s).

French (not southern, which is Mediterranean): often very formal, masses of annuals often in patterns (Mosaicultures), clipped low hedges in patterns (parterres) or knot gardens, with flowers between, or red stone (reflective of Persian tapestries), or vegetables (potagers); often includes taller flowers underplanted with lower ones; often includes espaliered fruit trees, water features, stonework and statues-very classical; exceptions would be an artist's garden such as Monet's Giverny, or the English influence in Normandy.

German/Belgium/Dutch: traditionally more formal, with bedding schemes such as in French; evolving more recently to more natural and ecological; public parks and gardens often include space and opportunities for people and their interaction.

Italian/Mediterranean (including Spain): characterized by very columnar conifers, stonework structures and fountains, containers with flowering plants or citrus; pastel colors in pots, paving, structures and even plants; sometimes cactus and succulents in warmer areas; trees such as olives, grapes, bougainvillea, sunflowers, lavender, rosemary and similar plants for hot and dry climates.

Japanese: one of the most copied and popular styles; follows very prescribed rules as with bonsai, reflecting control of man over nature; often uses round lantern structures, bamboo water feature, zigzag bridge, arched red wooden bridge, tea house and similar structures, pond, koi fish, waterfall or stream, clipped plants as in bonsai; favorite plants include pines and azaleas.

Persian/Islam (Mideast, India): highly regarded for centuries and key in life and religion and so influenced; geometrical, generally rectangular, and divided into four quadrants with a central pavilion or water feature to divide (water, still or cascading, is often a key point,); private, so usually walled; paths (paved or mosaic), terraces, defined flower beds, often fragrance is included as well as fruit trees for shade.

Scandinavian: emphasis on nature and use of garden as outdoor rooms, for social purposes;
other adjectives for this style might include clean, uncluttered, simple, sophisticated, casual, sometimes abstract, simple, contrasting forms and lines from foliage and trunks; public spaces often include circular seating, reflecting hundreds of years of such use going back to Vikings; often seen in regional art.
Southwest/Mexican: similar to Mediterranean, being influenced by a similar climate and early
Hispano-Moorish settlement, later by European settlers; often found in public parks and spaces, often geometrical, incorporating and featuring building elements and water; courtyards with tropical plants and fountains.

Tropical: predominance of plants of tropical origin with large leaves, exotic flowers, fragrance;  emphasis on form and texture; few if any structures except perhaps beds or stone boxes appearing to float in a pool; may include water stream or waterfall, often a pool, often with
tropical water lilies or plants; should include vines and lianas (tropical, woody), epiphytes (orchids, bromeliads, ferns), and understory plants if sufficient height.

Victorian: reflective of industrial age, more affluence and so money and leisure time,
more availability of varieties from afar and beginning of breeding, and reaction to earlier natural landscapes; originally English and patterned after European; often with elaborate bedding-out schemes, iron fences and structures, and use of some tropicals with large features for contrast.

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