Garden Design: 7 Ways to Inspire Emotion


When you want to get away from it all, you can crawl into this cave of greenery.

I blogged earlier this week about Julie Moir Messervy and her concept of the “big move” in garden design. During her talk at the Carver-Scott Master Gardeners’ Garden Fever Day, Messervy discussed another important concept in garden design — form. Certain structures — she calls them archetypes — are inherently comfortable and meaningful to humans. She explores this idea at length in her book, The Magic Land: Designing Your Own Enchanted Garden. Her ideas are similar to the design concepts of A Pattern Language, one of the classic books on city and home planning.

Here are the seven archetypes Messervy identifies and an example from the home or garden. She calls these “forms we all love.”

  1. Sea. A pond, a pool, any water feature.
  2. Cave. A front porch that looks out on the street.
  3. Harbor. A bench surrounded by plantings or a patio with half-high walls on three sides.
  4. Promontory. A second floor deck that looks out over your backyard.
  5. Island. Those kidney-shaped beds in a sea of turf grass or rocks set out in a Japanese gardens.
  6. Mountain. Any high space we can look up to in the garden, a tall tree, a hill filled with wild flowers.
  7. Sky. Something that brings the sky to the earth such as a reflecting pool.

For more on the meaning behind these ideas, check out this post from a blog called One Year of Healing and Writing.

The photos below illustrate some of the concepts. Which design elements speak to you most?


This gorgeous garden has a pond with island stepping stones.



The promontory-like view from this second-floor deck over looks a newly planted garden.



This rock garden inspires awe from below, just like a mountain.







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  1. […] build a raised bed, turn a favorite garden photo into a wood-block print, paint a terra cotta pot, design a new garden bed, or send in your soil for a soil test. How about making a mosaic to display in the […]

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