Gardens come in as many shapes, sizes and purposes as there are gardeners. Leaving the practicality of the vegetable garden and the specialty of the shaded foliage garden aside, the flower garden is planted for the sheer beauty of its presence. By looking carefully, observers can identify the type and purpose of a flower garden--and take home ideas for their own garden.
Annual plants mean that a garden is new, kept by a gardener who loves to putter and dead-head flowers. If flowers are planted in rows like a vegetable garden, it may be a cutting garden. Perennials mark a long-term commitment to plant culture and a garden that's a permanent part of an overall landscape. Trees and shrubs form the "roof" in a woodland garden, which is often populated with wildflowers. Cottage gardens often contain practical flowering herbs and vegetables like squash interplanted with ornamental flowers.
Enthusiasts may expand their gardens to fit the space available. Hobbyists' gardens contain a variety of one species like roses or daylilies that betray their gardening interests. Estate gardens cover acres and are often dotted by ponds. Within cultures, flower gardens vary widely in size, too. Tiny Japanese gardens may contain only a single flowering plant, but Japanese strolling gardens can cover acres and contain hundreds of flowering trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials. Borders are gardens that are longer than they are wide. These can be found framing yards and dividing areas.
Symmetrical, balanced arrangements of flowering plants, often complemented by statuary and architectural elements and arranged on terraced levels, typify the formal garden. Asymmetrical arrangements or natural features are informal. Prairie, woodland and wetland gardens are informal gardens full of native flowering plants. Rock and alpine gardens dictate compositions based on arrangements of rocks, waterfalls and other natural elements. Even cottage gardens have a balanced composition of crowded jumbles of plants that seem to always be in bloom through the season.
Balance of size and shape is evident in the symmetry of formal gardens. Informal or special gardens depend on arrangement of groups of plants, woody plants and man-made features to draw the viewer through the garden.
Successful gardens draw the viewer's eye to a point. Very large gardens may have several sections, each with its own focal point. The cottage garden focuses on the door into the house. The formal garden may have a central bed with a fountain or series of statues. Informal borders and flower gardens have focal points, too--plants may lead to a group of tall hollyhocks against a fence, a rose bush or an old flowering plum. Focal objects help define overall themes like nostalgia, prosperity or contemplation.
Specialty gardens use particular formulas. Xeriscapes are designed to use only the resources present in the garden. Rain gardens occupy depressions and retain rain water. Moon gardens contain white and light-colored nocturnal bloomers for nighttime strollers. Certain native varieties characterize butterfly and bird gardens.