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Winter is the perfect time to critically evaluate our gardens. With many of the plants in dormancy, the strength of our gardens’ bones is revealed. Take a winter walk through your property to determine whether it might benefit from the incorporation of the following structural elements:


Whether lining a driveway with cobbles or defining the separation of the lawn and planting beds with brick, an edge makes a garden’s design stand out.

Brick defines this garden in Charleston. At Mount Sharon (a Charles Stick garden), bluestone frames the lawn and draws the eye to the gazebo in the distance.

Cobbles separate the brick drive and lawn. A brick mowing edge (a rowlock flush with the lawn and perpendicular to a standing sailor) separates the lawn from the planting bed.

Groundcover is an excellent edger, if maintained properly. In this New Orleans garden, groundcover is planted in a robust swath, and provides a lovely natural frame to the (out of bloom) Agapanthus.

Cobblestone is an excellent edge for lawns. It holds up well to lawn mowers and string trimmers. Just be sure to take drainage into consideration when installing the cobbles.


A water feature can be a subtle addition to the garden, tucked into a corner, or a central feature. Be sure to add a spout or other means of water flow to prevent mosquitos and to add the alluring sound of moving water. When designing a water feature, I always make sure to soften and frame it with plants, to avoid a harsh assault of pavement.

This charming stone pool at The Priory in Wareham, England is tucked into a small garden, and contains plenty of pockets for perennials.

I separated this small pool from the stone walkway with a one foot wide bed of small periwinkle (Vinca minor).

This bog garden is also part of the Priory’s property.

An old brick wall is put to good use at Zero George in Charleston, where water spills into an Aubergine oil jar next to the hotel’s terrace.

At Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyards, outside Charlottesville, the capture of rainwater is transformed into a lovely water feature. The water is directed from the roof into this cistern, then channeled through a rill.

A stepping stone “bridge” is built over a small stream at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, bringing the visitor closer to the wetland plants.


Transitions are critical in a garden. Incorporate a gate, arbor or other feature that beckons to highlight the movement from one garden space to another.

This lattice fence separates two gardens in Princeton, New Jersey.

This wide lattice at Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown (designed by Beatrix Farrand) separates two garden rooms, but also frames the view into that room.

Neighbors share this side entry from front to back gardens, with a tall picket fence and a rose covered arbor.

Charleston utilizes their minimal space between houses better than any city I’ve seen. Here, brick columns and a wrought iron gate provide the transition.

Climbing hydrangea clings to and spills over a lattice fence in Maine.

The opening in the old stone walls elevates what would otherwise be an insignificant path.


Even the slightest change in grade in a garden is an opportunity to introduce a beautiful wall. Plants are always enhanced when enveloped by a wall made of natural materials.

This stone wall in Atlanta is softened by evergreens, including espaliered ligustrum.

This stone retaining wall in Kansas City levels a lawn that sloped to the curb.

We killed two birds with one stone (OK, many stones) in this garden when we built this seat wall opposite the entrance to a charming stone cottage.

A slight rise in the grade of this yard allowed us to introduce a drylaid stone wall to add interest to this Richmond garden. A Princeton garden took advantage of the same opportunity, below.


Circulation is the thread that holds a garden together. A garden should lead us from one space to another, sometimes subtly, other times audaciously. There is a hierarchy in landscape walkways. Broad paths, usually mortared, signal direction to a main entrance. Stepping stones set in the turf or garden bed lure the garden lover or the curious to, quite literally, get off the beaten path and explore.

This bold brick walkway plays off the curved bedlines, and takes a languorous route to the house.

Rectilinear stepping stones set firmly in the turf with a good stonedust base provide an excellent secondary garden path.

This secondary garden path, leading from the main terrace to a side terrace, is also effective. It is tumbled bluestone with sand joints.

Fieldstone bisects this perennial border.

Bluestone winds its way through a woodland garden. Anytime you have a bed deeper than 6 to 8 feet, you have the opportunity to run a stepping stone path through it. This helps with maintenance and allows the gardener to create a secret garden within the garden.

Grass is a fabulous path, and works well in country gardens.


A well-designed landscape uses focal points to enhance the garden’s structure. A focal point can be a seat, an urn or some other garden ornament. It can be on an obvious axial point, or more subtly tucked into a corner of the garden.

This stone seat is along a woodland garden path at the Maine Botanical Garden.

This staddle stone, set in a lawn path at the Priory in Wareham, England, is beautifully framed by the Ware River and the natural stream-edge plantings.

These urns and pedestals in New Orleans echo the rectilinear garden design and flank the primary walkway.

This tuteur sits at the center of two intersecting paths, and so is seen from four viewpoints in the garden. A matching tuteur sits on axis from this one across the garden by the pool.

This iron bench and table sit on axis with the garden entrance.

A defunct tiered iron fountain was transformed into a lovely planter in this Richmond garden.

On a recent visit to London, I was captivated by the container plantings. This planting — espaliered magnolia underplanted with cyclamen in a converted galvanized tub — is repeated along this series of town houses. Related Posts
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