garden structure

Tips for Adding Structure to Your Garden

The difference between mere vegetation and a space called a garden is structure …

If you’ve spent extensive hours working in your yard, achieved some success in specific seasons but miss the consistent visual impact your garden could have all year long, you may lack garden structure.

What is garden structure?

The structure of a garden is how different components in it relate to each other or are linked together to form a complete picture – not unlike the interior décor of a pretty room inside the house. These ‘components’ can be planting designs teamed up with hard materials to create mini gardens within a garden.

Here are 9 ideas to add structure

Divide your garden into rooms

  • Add comfortable pathways to lead to different sections of your garden. Remember that a pathway should never lead nowhere.
  • A pretty garden arch covered with a climbing plant is another element to entice the onlooker and lure them further into your garden.

Use trees

  • Planting a beautiful specimen tree in a prominent spot is the first step to giving your garden backbone.
  • Planting small trees in groups to form a corpse is another way to create a strong element.
  • Identifying an existing tree in your garden and creating a planting design around its base will focus attention.
  • You can use the strong structure of a tree to house interesting elements like bird feeders, kokedamas, hanging baskets and dramatic epiphytes like staghorn ferns.

Use large shrubs

  • Evergreen shrubs can create boundary hedges as well as screens to hide utilities.
  • Large flowering shrubs may have a specific blooming season, but if you prune them well to form a neat crown and to display their interesting branches, you can get more value from them
Don’t be afraid of using large sculptural plants like aloes, agaves or cycads to create focal areas.

Add garden art

  • Classical urns filled with spilling plants can look great along garden steps or in mixed beds if raised on plinths above ground level.
  • A sundial or birdbath as a centrepiece in a circular bed is always a winner.
  • Statues hiding amongst lush foliage are another option if not overdone.
  • Don’t overlook the art of topiary – pruning plants into formal shapes is a wonderful hobby, and if done well they will add strong structure even if the garden is mostly informal.
  • Garden walls can be less overbearing if you start fixing interesting elements to them. Create your own personal art gallery in your garden!

Use an old landscaping trick

  • When walking through your garden to see where you can add more structure, check out the following: Is there a good backdrop beyond your border that you can use? This is usually a neighbouring tree or perhaps a boundary wall that can be a canvas for you to create something interesting within your confines.

Create interest with soil levels

  • Wooden decks can be used to mask uneven soil levels and make areas more comfortable for folks to use. The area surrounding a swimming pool is a good example.
  • Steep banks can be changed into terraces with gabion walls, dry walls or retaining blocks filled with groundcovers. This adds value to any property on a slope.
Raised beds built with bricks or wooden poles can make gardens more interesting.

A water feature is a must

  • A water feature can be as simple as a bowl housing a single water lily on the patio, or a hole in the ground lined with a pond liner and filled with papyrus. It can also be a custom-built water element with pumps and fountains best done by an expert. A swimming pool, especially a modern eco pool where the water is filtered by plants, is a water element adding structure and interest to a garden too.

Well-planned borders

  • Creating a small monotone mini-garden within your garden by, for example, planting only white-flowering plants in combination with grey foliage is a strong design option.
  • Forming garden beds with interesting lines, and edging them with good border plants like evergreen ornamental grasses, low hedging or brick edges is high on the structural pop charts.
  • Repetition of small shrubs and filling in around them with numbers of pretty perennials in complementary colours is calming and effective.
  • Finding plants that supply year-long interest can be a challenge but is not impossible – in this case, opt for foliage plants.
  • Mass planting in great swathes of dependable evergreen plants is very ‘in’ and very effective.
The Gardener