Common Garden Design Terms

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Common Garden Design Terms

Xeriscaping - Those of us who garden in areas with minimal rainfall are usually all too familiar with the term ‘xeriscaping’.

In a nutshell, this is defined as creating a garden that’s specifically designed to conserve water. Originating from the Greek word xeros (meaning ‘dry’), xeriscape can literally be translated as ‘dry landscape’.

There are many components to a xeriscape, ranging from tightly controlled irrigation systems (many with automatic weather sensors to determine when/how much to water a garden), to soil preparation and mulching to maximize water retention, to the selection of plants for the garden. An emphasis on native plants can be a wise choice as they’ve most likely adapted to a local climate’s environmental factors. A common misconception is that xeriscaping means a desert-garden. However, with a little research on an area’s native plants and the many drought-tolerant plants on the market today means you can create a garden that varies in both style and complexity while simultaneously conserving water.

Photo 2- 'Rogers Red' grape covering arbor

Arbor or Pergola - Many people interchangeably use the terms ‘arbor’ and ‘pergola’ when describing a shade-providing structure. While it’s true they both are used to provide shade and are beautiful when covered with vines, there are a few differences.Generally speaking, arbors are smaller and simpler freestanding structures, often arched at the top. Pergolas, on the other hand, are typically larger structures, with greater architectural treatment (columns, for example). Often wider than an arbor, pergolas are used as an outdoor seating area or as a long linear structure over a garden pathway.

Photo 3 - Fiskars Pruning Stik

Pergolas and arbors can be a stunning focal point of any garden, especially when covered with a gorgeous vine. Pruning that vine, however, is often difficult due to the height and shape of these structures. Thanks to Fiskars’ Pruning Stik this potential pruning nightmare is now more like a dream. One reason is the fact that this pruner is lightweight, weighing less than two pounds. This translates into being able to prune for longer periods of time without straining your muscles. Another reason I love this pruner so much is the rope that controls the opening and closing of the blade is enclosed within the pole itself, meaning I no longer have to battle the ‘rope stuck high in the branches’ syndrome! And finally, the adjustable head allows for easy maneuvering around the top of an arbor or pergola.Click here to see an excellent video demonstrating the Fiskars Pruning Stik in action:

Photo 4 - Espaliered apple trees

Espalier - Roughly translated, the French word espalier means “shoulder support”, and refers to the practice of training any plant with long and flexible branches to grow flat against a wall. This is done using a trellis or hooks and wires, and plants are usually (although not always) trained in a geometric pattern. Certain fruit trees, such as apples, cherries and pears actually produce more fruit when espaliered, as the horizontal growth spurs the plant to produce more buds than it normally would.
Plants that respond well to being trained as an espalier are an excellent choice for smaller garden beds and ultra-tight spaces. If you lack the time or patience to train a young plant, many garden centers carry popular shrubs, such as camellias or citrus already espaliered onto a trellis.

Photo 5 - Ornamental parterre

Parterre - Another French term, literally translated as ‘flowerbed’, but not just any flowerbed. A parterre is usually geometric in shape, bordered with low clipped hedges such as boxwood. These beds are repeated to form an intricate geometric pattern, and are often separated by a gravel path. Within each bed can be ornamental flowers or even edibles. To appreciate their intricate nature, parterres were originally intended to be viewed from higher up, such as from a terrace or the second floor of a home.

Photo 6 - Color repetition using plants and hardscaping

Echoes - Echoes are basically just that – repetition. When a garden has echoes woven throughout, harmony is created. On the flip side, if there were no echoes whatsoever, the garden might look a bit chaotic, with no rhyme or reason. Creating echoes (or repetition) in the garden can take many forms such as color, shape, foliage and texture. For gardeners just starting out, an easy way to create an echo is to repeat a specific plant throughout the garden. However, why not take your garden up a notch with not-so-obvious echoes? Consider repeating not only the plants, but different elements as well – such as hardscaping, artwork, containers and structures. When a garden has multiple layers of repeating elements, subtle yet powerful harmony is created.