What comes to mind when visualizing a native plant garden? For many, it’s a somewhat wild garden space, filled with grasses and wildflowers. For some, this aesthetic is whimsical and right for them. For others, this type of garden feels unkempt and to be avoided. At Green Venture’s EcoHouse we decided to redesign a garden space using native plants that could demonstrate that native gardens can come in all sizes and styles.
The need for gardeners to include more native plants in their gardens is essential with the increasing impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss. Several of our most beautiful and ecologically foundational insects have relationships only with plants that evolved in this area. They need these plants in order to complete their life cycles and their lives are the basis of our local food chain, supporting local birds and mammals. Native plants are also adaptable and a large range of plants can thrive in all different types of garden conditions. Lastly, native plants have unsung aesthetic appeal. With a diversity of flower and foliage forms and colours, there is plenty of interest for anyone’s garden.
A more formal style of garden may appeal to those who like a “cleaner” garden look, with trimmed and orderly plants, easily identifiable patterns and strong form. When redesigning this space, we looked at what components make for a formal garden style. The following characteristics help define a more formal style garden:
- Strong lines
- Focal points
- Exact placement
Formal style gardens also use:
- Mounding, elliptical, squared or pyramidal forms
- Good foliage in addition to flowers
- A more orderly sequence in blooming
- Evergreens or other plant forms that provide all season structure
At EcoHouse on the north-east side of the house is the historic front entrance to the house. With its line of white cedars leading to it and the trimmed evergreens along its front, it reflects the house’s historic and formal style that we wanted to enhance with improved, native plantings. Previously, this garden was filled with a hodgepodge of native and ornamental plants, some planted and some volunteer. In fall 2021, we found new homes on the property for these plants except for existing, large evergreen shrubs and trees which could help anchor the design.
We focused on repetition and symmetry, focal points, plants with orderly or shapeable forms, and all season interest for our redesign. We somewhat modernized the design by including two different grasses.
This spring as part of a team building exercise we began our native garden planting and we will share more as the garden progresses over the year. Feel free to stop on by to see it grow and mature.
To learn more about different native plant garden styles, check out the following resources:
An article on using native plants from the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center in Texas
An entire botanical garden dedicated to native plants in Delaware. Take the tour of their formal garden through the seasons.
Thomas Rainer is a registered landscape architect, teacher, and author living in Arlington, Virginia. Thomas is a leading voice in ecological landscape design.