Garden Styles and Gardening Concepts

Posted on Jan 10, 2012

The cooler months are the perfect time in Southern California to begin planning your Spring garden project, whether that is to completely redo your gardens or to simply make changes to an existing flower bed.

There are three words that we are hearing on a regular basis in the gardening community: sustainable, green and Xeriscape. These three terms or garden concepts have overlapping meanings that can cause some confusion. They are not garden styles, but rather descriptions of the practices to be used in the garden.

Wikipedia has a great definition of the concept of a sustainable garden, which is “integrate environmental, social and economic factors in an attempt to create a more sustainable future.” Practices to incorporate for a sustainable garden would include retaining as much water on your property from sprinklers and/or rain via bioswales, proper irrigation techniques, rain barrels, etc. to avoid runoff; incorporating native plants to foster our local insects and birds; the use of organic fertilizers; planting edibles; propagating plants through your own cuttings and/or sharing with other gardeners, or by purchasing through seed companies such as Seeds of Change (; using recycled materials whenever possible (i.e., the concrete pieces of a demolished driveway can be reset as stepping stones or used to create a patio); recycling your kitchen and yard waste by composting.

Green gardening overlaps a great deal with sustainable gardening, focusing on the use of organic fertilizers and pesticides or by avoiding the use of fertilizers or pesticides all together.
Xeriscaping does not mean a few lonely plants surrounded by white rock – an image often created by the word. It is the use of native plants and chemical-free gardening techniques. The key to Xeriscaping is to choose plants according to water needs, using not only natives, but primarily drought-tolerant plants.

All three of the gardening concepts described above have the same principles involved: 1.) plan and design, 2.) evaluate your soil and choose plants accordingly, 3.) consider the natural elements of the space, including sun and wind exposure, 4.) group plants according to water needs and irrigate efficiently, 5.) minimize turf areas, 6.) apply mulch.

Once you have chosen the concepts you wish to use to garden, it is time to select a style or a combination of styles. Some important factors to consider when choosing a style are your home’s architecture and your personal taste. The list of garden styles grows constantly, reflecting gardeners’ desires to mimic a place they have visited, include plants that bring back memories of childhood, or replicate a public or private garden they have recently visited. You need not limit yourself strictly to the elements of a particular style, but researching the various styles can help you define what it is you are trying to achieve and to create a plant palette. A web search on garden styles such as Tuscan, Cottage, French Country, Desert, Contemporary, Zen, Tropical, Traditional, and Woodland will produce results and photographs to help you zero in on what your preferences are. Design choice can get even more specific with the themes of a Moonlight Garden, Butterfly Garden or Edible Garden.

For a fun quiz from Better Homes & Gardens to help you determine your style, visit: