How to Design Your Garden Like a Pro

April 27, 2020

In his new book Garden Design Master Class, author Carl Dellatore gives us unprecedented access into the minds of 100 of the world’s leading gardeners and landscape designers and shares their valuable insights on everything from follies and vanishing pools to wildflower meadows and vegetable gardens.

“Amid the bustle of our twenty-first-century world, Cicero’s two prerequisites for a fulfilling life—the garden and the library—resonate more than ever,” Dellatore says in his new book’s introduction. “From the ancient Orto Botanico di Padova in northern Italy, which featured medicinal plants, to Piet Oudolf’s elevated railway garden on the High Line in New York City, the idea of cultivating plants has fascinated nearly every society since the birth of agriculture.”

Here, we’re sharing our favorite musings from 5 of the tome’s featured green-thumbed maestros.

On the Natural Garden by Edwina von Gal

“We got rid of crew cuts and girdles—why do we still need our landscapes to represent relentless control? Why not respond to our casual lifestyles and live in landscapes that serve up a sense of wonder and unending new delights?” suggests the East Hampton, New York, landscape designer.

“Take a look at natural landscapes, the places we treasure and protect. How about going back—or is it forward—to that? How about letting things happen? Could nature join your design team? It may be scary at first, but not once you get to know the players. Is it more work? Not at all; it’s actually less and far more fun.

“Isaac Mizrahi once commented that overmanaged landscapes look like bad plastic surgery. How right he is: Arresting a natural process is tricky work, hard to do right, and lots of work to keep it right. Unlike the frozen-in-time versions, it will always provide new and interesting opportunities. I am still learning where to impose my will and where to let go. I hope that never changes. It’s a rather good lesson for everything in life.”

Not just focused on avoiding the use of pesticides, von Gal also focuses on attracting insects as a way to restore natural balance to the landscape. To that end, she included an array of pollen-producing flowering plants in this verdant East Hampton, New York, garden.Allan Pollok-Morris

On the English Garden by Jinny Blom

“Along with their enthusiasm for dogs and the weather, the British speak gardening fluently. Quite literally, every British householder with access to a scrap of earth will garden in some way, shape, or form. Charmingly disheveled and brimming with a nonchalant assortment of summer flowers tumbling this way and that, they are as well known worldwide as Her Majesty the Queen,” notes the London-based garden designer.

“So what is the essence of an English garden? In my opinion, it has to be a subtle balance of structure and disorder. A really good English garden can be viewed with pleasure at any time of year, even in winter, when the bones are laid bare. Fascinating networks of paths lead to secret garden rooms. Arches in hedges open onto magnificently framed landscape vistas and then turn back toward the ‘wilderness’ of naturalistic gardening. The English garden is salted and peppered with charming details like sculptures, fountains, meads of long grass, lakes, and that prince of the English garden, the ha-ha, or sunken fence, the purpose of which was to provide the illusion of unbroken lawn from the house, while still containing grazing animals.”

Around this very old house, the ground levels vary considerably, so gravel was chosen as a flexible choice that suits the age of the building better than hard paving. Trained vines and roses on the wall add structure and architectural interest to the tiny fifteenth-century window.Andrew Montgomery

On the Italian Garden by Luciano Giubbilei

“The characteristics we associate with the structure and atmosphere of Italian gardens originate in Renaissance preoccupations with science, mathematics, art, and humanity,” explains the Siena, Italy, native. “These are gardens defined by their bold geometry and extended lines of perspective, articulated in stone, verdure, and water, but this is also territory designed for human movement—of the body and the eye.

“There is an idea that, historically, there has only ever been a very subordinate place for flowers in Italian garden design. The rigorously restricted palette that developed in response to this belief, however, has resulted in some of the most exquisitely refined, spatially charged gardens to be found anywhere: places of graphic clarity and tonal subtlety, where the visual field is filled by a thousand shades of green and the mellow hues of weathered stone.”

Originally an awkward and angular site, this garden was carefully carved into a series of different entertaining and green spaces. Lines of trees allow for privacy while still making the space feel open. Yew cubes running the length of the garden provide the signature interplay of light and shade.Steven Wooster

On the Vegetable Garden by Carolyne Roehm

“Over the years, my vegetable garden has evolved. Spring begins with masses of bulbs blooming: tulips, hyacinths, and jonquils, which give way to the planting of all that we have grown in the greenhouse. The small veggies are planted in geometric shapes and then bordered by flowers, usually different varieties and colors of my ubiquitous marigolds. At the end of the summer, the sunflowers are usually ten feet tall and the dahlias higher than my head. As autumn comes and the pumpkins, gourds, and brussels sprouts begin to flourish, I introduce chrysanthemums as the decorative element,” says the New York-based author and avid tender of her famed Connecticut garden. “This seasonal redecorating keeps the garden interesting and fresh.”

“The notion of gardens as rooms, such as those found at Sissinghurst outside London, inspired me to decorate my vegetable ‘room’ with trellised obelisks for roses and clematis to wander up, plus benches to sit on and enjoy a glass of wine at the end of a gardening day. Topiary boxwoods help define the space; the anti-deer fence is planted with espaliers of apples and pears to serve as the walls of this room.”

The patinaed martin birdhouse stands as an invitation for local birds to visit the gardens at Weatherstone, Roehm’s Connecticut estate. Interspersed among the vegetables and herbs are clematis and Eden rose-covered obelisks that add height and bring a brushstroke of color to the garden.Carolyne Roehm

On Architecture by Isabel and Julian Bannerman

According to the U.K.-based husband and wife duo, “A shelter is useful in any size garden and in any climate, be it a breezy colonnade or a cozy den. In England it is almost always about to rain, and the eighteenth-century landscape garden for which the English are famous took this into account. Temples, grottoes, and little Gothic cottages provided retreats from the rain and served as trysting places.

“In a successful design, architecture can be transformed by planting and vice versa. A great garden should be a brilliant balance of both. When making a garden of any shape or size, the point is to make a place of magic, a sheltered place of great intimacy, and a place in which one wishes to stay for a long time—a miniature Eden.”

At Houghton Hall in Norfolk, England, the Bannermans dreamed up this rustic temple as a focal point for a huge main vista flanked by wide borders that start in hot colors near the greenhouse and end in cool blues at the temple.Isabel Bannerman