A garden has many purposes. It's a place to grow delicious tomatoes and mouthwatering fruit picked ripe off the tree. It's a place to read your favorite book on a comfy chair in the shade. It's a place to watch birds and butterflies when they visit the flowers you've planted just for them. It's a place to go when you need to get away from all the hustle and bustle of daily life. And it's a place of healing.
I recently lost my little cat, Jasmine. I forgive her for the occasional bird she caught. She really wasn't a hunter. Mostly, she liked to just lay around in the shade.
There is so much life in a garden. For now, mine will be a healing garden, making me feel calm and comfortable and less stressed.
With our lovely summer weather, our gardens truly become another room.
We all recognize a well-designed garden when we see it. All the individual parts make sense together. They feel right. That's why some gardens not only look better, but feel better than others.
There are several design principles you should use to get your garden to look its best. Once you have them down, a garden practically designs itself.
First, you want to create unity within your garden. Plants and other hardscape elements in a garden — decks, paths, even rocks — have visual weight and need to be balanced so everything appears in proportion. A tall tree and low mounded shrubs growing across from a group of airy perennials around a fountain looks natural and random but balanced. Think of a mimosa tree underplanted with Gulf Stream nandina opposite a group of monkey flowers.
Your garden should include a variety of textures, seasonal interest and color, to hold your attention and create excitement. Things should stand out from each other. Choose one or two contrasting elements — such as the small green leaves of loropetalum against broad, variegated hostas, or a tall, vertical Emerald Green thuja against low, mounding Kaleidoscope abelia — so your garden doesn't turn into a jumble.
A garden needs at least one object or area that is noticed first and most often. Your focal point could be a red Japanese maple rising above a low, wild ginger groundcover or a water fountain that instantly gets attention. The sound of water is soothing, and it's fun to see all the birds and butterflies that come to visit.
Because our area is nested among trees and other wild areas, I think an informal, naturalistic garden looks more like it belongs here. Curved paths and planting beds move the eye slowly through the landscape and invite visitors to explore every corner and curve. Stillness and reflection result when gently rhythmic, repeating groups of plants curve toward a tall garden arbor, for instance. Create smooth transitions from one area of the landscape to another.
Repeating forms, textures, colors and sizes makes a garden easier to look at. Repetition sets the rhythm for the eye to move around the garden. Evenly spaced plants produce a predictable, well-controlled, peaceful feeling. A staggered, uneven repetition will have a bouncy, energetic effect.
All these elements combine to make a good garden, but you make it your own.
n Jan Nelson, a landscape designer and California certified nursery professional, will answer questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Email her at email@example.com, or visit www.jannelsonlandscapedesign.com to view past columns and pictures.