Well-designed gardens all have a unifying principle, a central idea that creates a cohesive, integrated look. To produce beautiful garden designs, move away from the Victorian notion of including lots of different landscaping elements in the garden just because you can. It’s tempting to rush out and buy plants, gnomes, birdbaths, and water features that have no relation to one another, and then dot them around the yard. But the results look messy and unfocused— they lack a big idea to bind the design together.
To avoid this mistake, establish an overall look for your garden at the planning stage, and get a feeling for the essence of your design. The essence is conveyed when visitors take a glance at the garden and immediately understand what it’s all about. It should also reveal something about your personal style.
Take, for example, a garden with a central, rectangular lawn, flanked by neat shrub borders, with a large urn on a pedestal at the end. You instantly know this is a formal space, governed by clean lines, and designed by someone with a clear vision who likes order. An informal garden with a winding path flowing through borders of grasses and wild flowers produces a very different image, yet it still has a cohesive design—the big picture is clearly drawn and understood.
But the big picture doesn’t have to be a specific style, such as romantic, contemporary, or Japanese. You may be influenced by these ideas, and then adapt them to suit you. The most important thing to keep in mind is that your design should be coherent: it should lead visitors around your space, show them where to look, and, most of all, reflect your personality and individual style.