Picking a garden style that works

Tropical gardens, Zen gardens, Victorian gardens, French formal styles and contemporary styles are names you’ll come across whenever you browse the kinds of gardens out there.

Although none of them is cast in stone, selecting a theme and style that runs through the garden helps you stay consistent and gives you control over the final outcome.

Many times, your garden style will be inspired by the architecture that is dominant on site.

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For instance, a minimalist architectural style can be matched with a minimalist garden to reinforce the character of the house.


An element, form or material that has been used on the house can be repeated in the garden to create unity between the house and the garden resulting in a distinct style inspired by the house.

Context or setting will be equally important.

In the rural setting for instance, there is a strong argument for the use of native plants to ensure that there is integration of the garden into the broader landscape. 

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Using locally sourced materials including gravels, timbers, paving and ornamental features and objects that are relevant to an area also helps to reinforce styles that are based on location.

Start by making reference to gardening books and other gardens to help you understand the styles you are interested in in a deeper way.

Big Kois in the pond
Think carefully about your lifestyle too so that the design establishes an environment that encourages and supports it.

Discipline and consistency

Achieving a successful interpretation of any garden style demands some degree of discipline and consistency.

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A Japanese garden as with any other garden styles requires a consistent palette of plants and materials; gravel, preferably artistically raked, rocks, water, clipped plants and bamboo fences and furniture.

Terracotta pots, on the other hand, have no place in such a garden. Apply each style pragmatically and avoid forcing any aspects that don’t fit into your particular context or circumstances.


There are styles that may have considerable appeal but may not travel well.

A traditional Japanese garden is appropriate in Japan or around a Japanese building, but may appear somewhat odd against an African Style building.

That is not to say there are no elements of the Japanese style that can serve as a design theme to be reinterpreted with an African flavour such as the use of rock placement and gravel with native plants and decorative features.

The writer is a landscape architect

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GardeningLandscapingGarden stylesHosea OmoleZen gardensVictorian gardensTropical gardens