Designing a Garden with Native Plants: A Guide for Homeowners

Learn how to use native plants in your garden design with this guide for homeowners! Get tips on balance, proportion, repetition, rhythm, simplicity, transition & unity.

Designing a Garden with Native Plants: A Guide for Homeowners

When it comes to designing a garden, balance, proportion, repetition, rhythm, simplicity, transition, and unity are all essential elements to consider. These design elements will help create a garden that looks carefully planned and organized. Native plants are an excellent way to add beauty and ecological benefits to your garden. However, they can be tricky to incorporate into a residential yard.

This article will provide tips on how to use native plants in your garden design and how to make sure they fit in with the rest of your landscape. When it comes to balance, you can create symmetrical or asymmetric designs along an imaginary line. Focusing on a landscape feature can also help guide visual direction or traffic. Proportion is the relationship between the elements, while repetition refers to the use of similar elements several times within the landscape.

This creates a sense of cohesion and rhythm in the design. Simplicity is the idea that only those elements that contribute to the unity and coherence of the design should be retained. Transition refers to a “gradual change in shape, size, or color” and unity is the “main idea” of your landscape. Unity is achieved by considering how well the garden adapts to the space or climate. Soil tests can measure macronutrients and secondary micronutrients which must be in balance for plants to absorb them properly.

The soil pH (how acidic or alkaline it is) also affects nutrient uptake. State or local ornithological societies, beekeeper associations, and city tree groups are great places to volunteer and learn about native plants and wildlife in your community. The downloadable version of Native Plants for the Small Yard contains nine design templates as well as other gardening information related to native plants. Once you've marked the location of your new native plant garden, spend a day tracking the sun in this space. Wildlife won't care if your garden looks like a House Beautiful page or rather a jungle, but neighbors you're trying to “sell” the native plant concept to might. Each design template is superimposed on a grid that can be expanded or collapsed to meet the dimensions of a person's garden area.

Unfortunately, native plants have earned a bad reputation among homeowners as they are messy and unwieldy plants that don't fit into neighborhoods with smaller gardens. Susan had been learning about native plants and their benefits thanks to a master's degree course in gardening that she was taking, especially in a segment on native plants taught by a member of the Virginia Native Plant Society. If the garden is mostly viewed from a distance, large plants with flashy foliage will stand out better, as will yellow, orange and pink. But there are plenty of beautiful natives that complement a residential yard and also provide ecological benefits. The Lehigh Gap Nature Center has developed a practical guide to native plant gardens for residents. There are some native plants such as large blue-stemmed grass and common milkweed that you may prefer in naturalistic prairie plantations and may not work well in formal front yards.

He picked up The Perennial Gardener's Design Primer by Stephanie Cohen and Nancy Ondra as his guide which provided ideas that sparked his interest. In other words, these design elements will help produce a garden that appears to have been carefully designed and planned unlike naturalistic meadows or recreated meadows where plants grow more randomly. If all you have are female plants they won't have berries which is sad for both you as a gardener and for the birds that won't eat them. The guide presents native plants that will work well for those with smaller gardens and provides practical examples of how to include native plants in the landscape that look good, are easy to care for and also support local ecology. With these tips you can create an aesthetically pleasing garden with native plants that fits into your residential yard.