What makes a beautiful garden?

 I was among those who had a peak at the semifinalists for this year’s Beautiful Garden contest yesterday, and that was the question we asked ourselves. While beauty will forever be in the eye of the beholder, there were some common elements to these superlative gardens:

1.    Design elements that draw the eye through a space. From a meandering path to a well-placed archway or specimen tree, gardeners who gave Mother Nature a helping hand with design produced spaces you want to linger in.

2.    Curves nearly always beat out squares when it comes to design, with the exception being a well-thought-out formal garden where the lines are clearly delineated.

3.    Infrastructure can play a great supporting role. Paths, patios, benches, tool sheds, trellises, unusual fences and garden art both serve a purpose, and give a garden focus and pizzazz.

4.    Color need not be present to win: Oddly enough, it’s not required for a spectacular garden. We saw many cases where the main color in the garden was in effect multiple shades of green, and it still worked. That said, vibrant blooms please the eye. From a loose cottage style garden to a formal planting, color adds zing. The gardens that made the best use of color tended to group pairings of like or complementary colors, and paid attention to relative heights rather than just plunking in a welter of colorful blooms.

5.    Segmentation: While some wonderful gardens had park-like vistas, several others made gardens within gardens, dividing the space into outdoor rooms that unfold one into the other.

6.    Scale: Good things come in small packages, medium packages and big packages. We saw amazing gardens of all sizes. While bigger gardens offer more scope, sometimes bigger was not better, it was just bigger. The common thread regardless of size was that the scale of elements matched the space.

7.    Plant selection:  While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with hosta paired with impatiens, branching out to include a broader range of specimens can pay off visually.

8.    Someone clearly really, really cares. The gardens all show signs of careful tending: weeding, mulching, trimming, thinning, etc.

9.    And the main common element: Even all the gardens that didn’t make the final cut are way, way better than mine, and all inspiring.

Photo by Jeff Wheeler of previous year's Beautiful Garden winner