The Gardening Diva
Never be too busy to stop and smell the beautiful flowers.

Amazing Garden Design on a Dime


How to Design
an Amazing Garden on a Budget

Story and photos by LMG Calla Victoria



     Usually the only way to get an amazing look to your garden is to hire a landscape architect, at a pretty penny, and let him or her do all the work. However, there is another way to achieve your garden masterpiece. Take pen and paper, cameras, tablets, or cell phones in hand and visit amazing gardens on Secret Garden Tours and take notes and images. As most of the gardens featured in “secret garden tours” have been designed by the most renowned landscape architects, you can take those ideas home and use them in your garden. Scores of attendees were doing just that a few weeks ago at the 2015 Secret Garden Tour in New Orleans.

     As a Master Gardener, I was invited to be a “garden expert” at one of the gardens on the tour. On an hourly basis, tour guides walked the attendees to each garden on the tour. At each garden the “garden expert” would explain the planting techniques used in that garden, identify plant materials, and answer any questions. To my surprise many of the attendees were from other countries including Canada, Japan, and France.

     The garden that I worked with was the Spencer Garden in the lower garden district. The garden was designed by noted landscape designer Rene Fransen. The lovely Victorian home stood behind a splendid wrought iron fence laced with climbing roses. The formal front yard features a lush dark green carpet of dwarf mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus 'Gyoku-ryu') bordered with a dwarf boxwood (Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffructicosa’) hedge for that formal parterre look. And along the front walkway were knot gardens edged with boxwoods, enter-planted with variegated English ivy that skirted dwarf lilies. In front of the veranda was a tiered planting of shrubs that included azaleas and camellias. As you entered the side/shade garden there was a privacy hedge of confederate/star jasmine with a repetition of Louisiana irises along the fence.

      The backyard was a serene oasis with a lovely pool and crape myrtles with amazing petrified trunks, a bathroom, and outdoor kitchen. Between the pool, and in front of the back fence was a bank of Japanese blueberry (Elaeocarpus decipiens) trees that were under-planted with hydrangeas and plumbago (Plumbago auriculata). Then off to the left of the outdoor kitchen was the service yard which backed up to the neighbor's large concrete building. The otherwise intrusive structure looked like a beautiful living wall of green as it was masked beautifully with fig vines.

      I loved this garden because so many of the garden design principles were present. There was Rhythm created by multiple plantings of the same plant materials, as with the climbing rose bushes on the gate, also the Louisiana irises along the jasmine hedge; and the bank of Japanese blueberry trees. Entry was obvious with the majestic tall wrought iron gate. Mystery was created as you rounded the veranda on the pathway leading to the side garden. Each garden had its own Focal point, the mondo grass parterre in the formal front yard, then there was more dwarf mondo grass in an oval enclosure in the side garden which drew your eyes, but did not obstruct the pool and fountain which are definitely the focal point of the back yard. Then finally, the fig vine wall was the focal point of the service garden. Framing the view was achieved in the side yard as Japanese maples and gardenia trees flanking each side of the walkway as you neared the pool area. Texture and pattern were obvious with the knot garden, the dwarf mondo grass, and the tiered plantings of shrubs. Finally, Time (age) was defined by the hardscape materials of Pennsylvania flagstone used to create the appearance of an older garden.

     All of the gardens on the tour utilized several of the same design elements. Most utilized both dwarf and standard boxwoods used for structure and texture. Also star jasmine, another evergreen shrub, was present in most gardens providing screening, fragrance, and whimsy. Finally, almost every garden featured two more evergreen shrubs, camellias and azaleas. Because evergreen shrubs were abundantly planted in each garden, all of these gardens will be beautiful all year.

     Do not miss the next secret garden tour in your area because you can gather a wealth of garden design information. Most secret garden tours are fundraisers for worthy causes, so if you cannot afford the price of the ticket to the tour please consider volunteering.

  This article was published in the April 3, 2015 edition
of Data News Weekly.

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Remember, never get too busy to stop and smell the beautiful flowers!























Knot garden 



 Dwarf mondo grass lawn


Tiered plantings


Side garden



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