Birdbath, fence and rocks for garden design. Tom Seymour

Have you ever looked at someone else’s garden(s) and wondered why you are unable to create similar conditions?

It’s all a matter of imagination. People who transform even run-down backyard spaces into places of beauty and contentment did so because they were able to see the finished result in their mind’s eye.

I once knew a man who built several houses, but didn’t rely upon blueprints. “I could see the finished product in my mind,” he said. Many gardeners have a similar prescience.

For most of us, though, it’s awfully difficult to see the end result when we begin with immature plants and seedlings. Add the fact that in perennial beds, it may take up to three years for the design to fully present itself.

That requires not only imagination, but also a degree of trust that the plants will eventually grow as they are supposed to.

Lack of imagination coupled with a lack of trust in a seed’s potential is why we plant such things as lettuce and chard far too thickly. We don’t want any blank spots, even though the directions on the seed packet clearly state how far apart to plant in order to achieve maximum growth.

Of course, in the case of leafy greens, we can always thin the young crop. Even then, we usually don’t thin enough and in the end, fail to get that big, robust lettuce or those huge, stately leaves of chard. When dealing with perennial plants and shrubs, it’s a different story.

There, we must believe in our plans, since changing them once things begin to grow becomes far too disruptive.

There’s also the rub. A garden plan doesn’t come to fruition overnight. Also, one or more plants may not grow as hoped, due to differing requirements for sunlight, moisture and nutrients. Most of the time, though, if we only exercise patience, our gardens will turn out as hoped.


In garden parlance, a foil is something we use to showcase our plants. This can be anything from a fence to an old-fashioned hand pump.

In my youth, colored glass globes on pedestals were all the rage. I knew that when I became old enough to have my own place and garden, I would certainly want a globe. But when the time came, globes fell into disuse. That doesn’t mean they can’t add to your garden scheme; it simply means most gardeners don’t use them anymore. I say, however, whatever you choose is good, as long as it reflects your tastes.

Fencing can play a big role. Better yet, you don’t always need to erect a full-length fence. Sometimes only a short section will serve your needs.

For instance, two, short fence sections, set at an angle in a corner, can act as a backdrop for perennials. With the fence sections in place, you can plan a garden scheme around them, perhaps with tall flowers on either side and shorter ones in front. You may want clematis or even morning glories to climb your fencing for added appeal.

Fences can serve dual purposes, the first of which is to present itself to view from the outside. But on the inside, the fence can help to create an intimate, multi-dimensional atmosphere. Hanging baskets of all kinds make the inside of a fence more attractive. Shelving can bring a fence to life, especially if plants in containers line the shelves.

Espalier fruit trees perform nicely on the inside of a fence, preferably the south-facing side. Even vegetables such as tomatoes can make an interesting statement when trained to grow on a fence.

Then there are gates. Garden gates are the stuff of music and poetry, love songs and legends, interwoven with the earliest civilizations and continuing on through the present. A garden gate usually is accompanied by fencing, but not always. Sometimes, a gate permits access and egress through narrow openings.

But either way, a gate invites the wander to enter, to peruse and to soak in the atmosphere.
Gates can come in a wide variety of forms, my favorite being a wooden gate, perhaps with picket tops to the posts. But wire gates and even plain metal gates all have their place.


Statuary has its place in garden design, but beware. Too much of a good thing can have an opposite effect, busying and cluttering the landscape. A tastefully set statue, though, can form a center point for all sorts of plantings.

While discussing statuary, let me also add sundials and even those terracotta, bas-relief faces of the sun or of people and animals. All these have their place but again, just don’t overdo it.


Mini-windmills, whether operational or not, make a fine center of attention. These can support various vining plants for added appeal.


Finally, we have stone. This includes rocks, boulders, slate and flat stones. Walkways, dividers, fencing, all made of stone, enhance our garden scene. We here in Maine are fortunate to have so much natural stone available to us. It isn’t so everywhere.

One man I met from Florida was seriously contemplating renting a flatbed trailer to haul some glacial erratic boulders from my woodlot to his home in the generally flat state of Florida.


Anyone can create an enviable garden setting. It requires forethought, planning and not a little imagination. But you can do it. Just be patient and it will happen.