Garden Aesthetics: How to Pick a Style for Your Landscape

Foundation planting.
David Beaulieu

Landscape design is concerned both with aesthetic and functional elements of landscaping. When planning your landscape design, it is important to choose a theme that you consider pleasing to look at. The theme will help inform you of your planting and material choices, resulting in an aesthetically pleasing landscape. The theme you choose for your yard is ultimately based on what you appreciate and perceive to be beautiful. Here are a few basic guidelines to help you create an aesthetically pleasing yard that's also practical and functional.

What Is an Aesthetic Landscape?

An aesthetic landscape is pleasing to the eye and evokes feelings of joy when viewing the scenery.

Types of Garden Aesthetic

Here are examples of themes and some of their elements that you can consider when designing your landscape.

  • Butterfly and hummingbird gardens: Invite pollinators into your yard with a sun-soaked property filled with flat stones, a water source, and appropriate native plants.
  • Cottage: An informal cottage garden can be marked by a wild riot of color with distinctive plants arranged to make you feel relaxed and comfortable.
  • Cutting garden: Plant annuals and perennials that bloom at different times, such as wildflowers, lilies, and roses, so you can fill your vase all year long.
  • Desert: This beautiful, native theme relies on warm sage colors of sculptural cacti, succulents, and flowering plants in blues, reds, golds, and oranges.
  • Dog-friendly: Consider a clover lawn as an alternative groundcover for a dog's paradise.
  • Edible: Plant herbs in pots, squash, beans, pumpkins, and edible flowers to add beauty to front and back yards.
  • Formal: A classic, formal design is based on symmetry and precision, including neatly manicured hedges of English boxwood used to set off topiary plants. Consider various types of formal landscapes, such as French gardens.
  • Kid- and family-friendly: This type of outdoor oasis includes plenty of space for play and entertaining, low-maintenance plants, plus a lush lawn.
  • Mediterranean: An old-world landscape theme like this replicates European gardens with elements such as a ground of stone versus lawn, classic statues as focal points, and water features.
  • Moon garden: An array of glittering, white, and aromatic nighttime blooms, such as moonflowers and evening primrose, invites relaxing nights outdoors.
  • Tropical: Tropical landscaping features hot, bright colors and plants with large leaves, such as banana trees and ferns, that can do surprisingly well even in cooler zones.
  • Wildlife: This theme includes longer grass, water features, and birdhouses to create a nature reserve that attracts animals and insects.
  • Woodland: Perfect for properties with lots of dappled light, shade, and moisture, the woodland theme uses lots of ground covers, native plantings, and shade-loving flowers.
  • Xeriscape: Conserve water and enjoy less maintenance with native, drought-tolerant plants in a xeriscape garden.
  • Zen: This landscape design invites serenity with stone elements, winding paths, flowering cherry trees, and bamboo plants.

How to Choose a Landscape Aesthetic

When choosing a landscape design theme, think about if the aesthetic fits the architecture of your home or the region where you live. You may have a specific color or group of similar plants that you'd like to use. If so, then you might consider finding a theme that unites all of your wishes and fits your location. For example, a desert-themed landscape with succulents may fit your yard better than a woodland-themed yard filled with shade-loving plants if you live in a state that's hot or dry and arid.

When choosing a theme, anticipate how practical and functional it will be for your needs. Think about the following points and practical considerations when planning your aesthetic landscape:

  • Maintenance: Choose plants that you can easily care for and water unless you are a gardener who prefers more challenging gardens.
  • Toxicity: Select flowers and plants that are non-toxic if young children and pets will use the yard.
  • Safety: You may love the look of roses and other ornamental shrubs but many plants have thorns that can tear into the hands of young children.
  • Space: Consider the practicality of a large, well-manicured lawn if your family spends time playing sports outdoors and needs a yard with plenty of open space.
  • Privacy: Think about how much privacy you want and if the theme, plantings, and materials you choose can fulfill your needs in an aesthetically pleasing way. For example, a landscaping berm alone may offer privacy, but it can be enhanced with pretty shrubs.

Finding Plants to Fit Your Aesthetic

Choosing your plants and flowers to fit your theme is half the fun of creating your new landscape design. For best results, select appropriate plantings for your landscape's growing conditions and planting zone. Your property's growing conditions are based on the following:

  • Lighting: Map out where on your property you have shady, partial shade, or full sun exposure so you can choose the right plants for the location.
  • Soil: Contact your local extension program or consult a garden center for soil testing so you can know what plants will thrive in the dirt or if it needs amending.
  • Rainfall and moisture: Do you live in an area that receives loads of rain or do you need drought-tolerant plants? Also, map out low areas of your property that stay soggy after a soaking rain or any high spots that dry out considerably fast.

Consult the USDA map to find your planting zone, and check if your chosen plant will do well in your region. For example, you may love the look of a plant or flower which grows easily in the tropical temperatures found in some southern states but fails to thrive in colder regions of the northeast. The planting zone is less critical for selecting annuals but most important for choosing perennials, vines, shrubs, and trees.

How to Create a Cohesive Landscape

Creating cohesion in a garden takes some planning. Even informal gardens can look cohesive. There are a few points to consider when choosing plants within your theme and growing conditions, including the size, height, color, and texture of plant groupings and the need to create focal points in the landscape.

  • Groupings: Repeat larger groupings of plants for a restful, lush look rather than sporadic or anemic groups of one or two plants that can tend to look chaotic.
  • Plant heights: Choose plants that have a variety of heights and put the tallest plants in the back of a bed and shorter plants in the front.
  • Color: For perpetual blooms and color, choose flowers that bloom in early spring, late spring, summer, and fall. Look for plants with foliage that has color for winter landscapes.
  • Texture: Choose a variety of flowers, ground covers, ornamental grasses, shrubs, and evergreen plants for textural interest during every season.
  • Focal points: Focal points can include fences, fountains, or an ornamental plant or tree, and use outdoor lighting to further enhance your landscape design.