Constraint, Repetition and Variation in Garden Design


Case Study
Example Garden

△ The area I call the White Garden runs along the back of my house, immediately in view from the kitchen and dining room. Being close to the house and always on show (the dining room has full height folding sliding doors) I wanted it to have year-round appeal. Evergreen topiary, including clipped box balls, domes and cylinders, provide a strong backbone to the planting.

The doors from the kitchen and dining room lead out onto a broad deck step (see photo above) and from there, via a short section of sandstone paving, to the brick path that surrounds the lawn. This paving divides the planting area into three beds which run right up to the house. In the photo above, I am standing on one path (outside the dining room) and looking along the back of the house towards the kitchen door. As you can see, the arrangement if the beds and the repeated planting creates a layered effect. The design is kept uncomplicated by sticking to a simple colour scheme of black, green and white.

A slightly different perspective across the same beds shows the eastern boundary, where an espaliered pyracantha creates a dramatic focal point against a black-stained fence. To the left of the picture, an Irish yew adds a vertical accent while softening the corner of the workshop. Like the clipped box, both plants are dark green, small-leaved and evergreen, differing only in their shape. Notice how the clipped box creates a kind of irregular frame for the tulips and pots of narcissi.

Part of the success of this design is the use of repetition and variation. The repeated use of clipped box balls is kept interesting through variation in their shape and size. Likewise, the repetition of simple bold white flowers is enriched by using different species in a controlled way. The primary flowers at this time of the year are just one variety of white tulip (‘Purissima’) and one of white Narcissus (‘Thalia’). The design could easily be weakened by introducing several different varieties of tulip or narcissus, or other flowers.

The photo above is taken in the opposite direction, with my back to the pyracantha, looking towards the western boundary. This side of the garden focuses on a beautiful multi-stem Amelanchier lamarckii, set off perfectly against a neatly pruned, 2 metre high, vertical hedge of evergreen shrubby honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida) — another small-leaved evergreen.

The layering effect is clearly evident again in this view, with the white flowers creating an elegant rhythm. This is enhanced by using the same clipped box shapes across the three beds: repetition with variation. The two paths from the kitchen and dining room doors provide areas for pots of bulbs and perennials, which are changed throughout the year. The more distant path has two round black pots of white agapanthus, which will flower in a couple of months.

The white flowers take up only a small fraction of the ground plan, but their impact is maximised by the simplicity of the clipped evergreens which surround and separate them. Despite there being only a few tulips in the far bed, and one clump of summer snowflake in the foreground, because they are all the same colour, they create a unified scene

NEXT: Let’s look at how these design principles apply to the hard landscaping…

7 thoughts on “Constraint, Repetition and Variation in Garden Design”

  1. What a FANTASTIC article!
    I feel like starting out on a whole new garden project, to work with all this superb advice.
    Perhaps this article should be seen as a seminar. Truly excellent!

  2. Again, I am smitten with this wonderfully inspiring article. Thanks and kindest regards from the industrial Rhur region in Germany – Your sincerely Monika

    • You are so kind Monika. I am glad you enjoyed it and hopefully got something useful out of it. I don’t know if I’ve said before, but my brother and his family live in Arnsberg so I have family and fond connections with Germany. Happy gardening!

  3. You’ve put into words what has been in the back of my head for years. Really helpful. Super article, better than all my gardening books and magazines. Thank you.

    • Wow Cat, that’s high praise indeed! Thank you so much. Like you, it had been in the ‘back of my head’ too. When I started writing the article it was going to be something quite different, but the more I wrote and rewrote it, the more I realised what I was trying to say.

      I’m soo glad it has been helpful!

  4. What a fabulous article, I too have trawled through books and websites to find a cohesive white garden plan and you have explained it so well…off to the garden centre I go! Thank you.


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