One of the hardest design situations the home gardener can face is starting with a large empty space. A big empty garden space can be very intimidating, and you may ask yourself over and over again, “Where do I start?”
Staring at the empty space doesn’t seem to help, nor does walking around it over and over again. A big space needs big solutions.
Plan on paper
I like to start by taking a few pictures of the area from all sorts of angles. You can draw on them, write ideas on them, and even cut them up into manageable pieces if it helps. Then, I make a simple layout of the space on paper—nothing fancy. I make several copies of the layout so that I can draw all over them and always have a blank copy ready when a new idea comes along.
Starting the design process for a large space takes time. You will do a much better job if you don’t allow yourself to feel rushed. Remember, the garden isn’t going anywhere and the best gardens are developed over time, not overnight.
Don’t feel like you have to fill every nook and cranny of your large garden space immediately or at all. Open space in the garden can also be beneficial to calm down a busy or irregular planting, maintain the feeling of openness, or ease the transition from one style of space to another.
A large space takes a little different approach when it comes to selecting the plants. One small plant, no matter how much you love it, will get lost in a big space. Save plantings of single plants until you have the main structure of your garden in place.
Before I studied horticulture and design, I used to think that if you planted something, it had to be better than planting nothing. I learned I was wrong. You need lots of thought, detailed goals, and a budget. Planting without these elements in place is like throwing good hard-earned money away.
Repetition is extremely important in any landscape, but even more so in a large one. Repeating elements, such as the plants, structures, containers, or materials such as wood or stone, can really make a large space seem more comfortable.
Repeating important elements in the garden can make large spaces feel smaller and more inviting. Repeating elements in a small garden has a similar effect, but the space feels larger than it is. The most important detail is making sure the repeated elements are in scale to the space in which you are working. Adapting this philosophy to our own space is what makes it work.
The process of putting the pieces of your garden together will be a lot less overwhelming if you start small and work your way up to perfect. Start with what you know, and do that first.
When you see a garden space you love, figure out why and then incorporate that into your home garden. Don’t try to copy another garden. Bring in your flair for design and love of plants. Make it your own and that’s when it becomes a garden.
Perennials that look great when planted in large groups or in large spaces:
Allium christophii—‘Star of Persia’
Perennials that look great when planted in smaller groups and repeated throughout the garden:
Salvia—‘May Night,’ ‘Blue Hill,’ ‘East Friesland’
Giant Allium—Giant onion