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Funchal Botanical Garden photo by Hedwig Storch from Widimedia

Since man first started growing plants he has organized them. Gardeners have designed gardens by utility for centuries. We define our gardens by their use: vegetable, herb, perennial border or cutting garden, ornamental, or water gardens. We grow plants selected for one specific idea together. That’s the whole idea behind a theme garden, but today’s gardeners have taken the idea to heart and have resulted in extremes where garden plans center on ideas and topics of personal interest.

Historical use gardens are always popular. They display how the landscape around a historical home or building might have looked. Knot and parterre garden patterns, while lovely at ground level, were designed for viewing from a balcony or window. These plans developed from the way monks in medieval monastery gardens laid out their gardens, which led to topiary gardens with their heavily pruned shapes and leafy animals designed for surprise and entertainment.

Photo of Hever Castle Rose Garden.

Hever Castle Rose Garden photo by Graham Beuld from Wikimedia

Herb gardens are often subdivided by use into culinary herb, scented herb, medicinal herb, and dye herb gardens. Theme vegetable gardens can be salsa gardens, salad gardens, square foot gardens, or vertical gardens. A newer trend is the decorative vegetable garden, or vegetables grown in a ‘designed’ garden manner rather than rows.

Bee and butterfly gardens are designed to attract those insects. In bird gardens you will find plants birds use for food, habitat or nesting. In this section of Michigan, many gardens develop into deer gardens, even if the gardener didn’t quite have that purpose in mind.

Literature and art are other sources for theme gardens. In a Shakespearean garden, only plants mentioned in that author’s writings are grown. Biblical gardens contain plants referred to in that great book. I expect somewhere there is a Peter Rabbit garden and a Secret Garden based on the plants found in those stories. What a great way to introduce children to both gardening and reading! Gardens need not be limited to the literary works, gardens based on painters like Monet are popular.

Color based gardens are the most popular theme for flower gardens. Some mix all colors together in a flamboyant, breath-taking display. Then there are gardens devoted to all the flowers of one hue. Blue gardens with plants having foliage or flowers in that color are very popular, as are white gardens, which some call moon gardens if they have night-blooming flowers. Other types of theme gardens are devoted to a particular family of plants, such as a rose or daisy garden, but shrub, succulent, and bulb gardens are popular, too. Holland, Michigan, has a citywide theme garden based on tulips. There are shade gardens, woodland gardens, sun gardens, scent gardens and native plant gardens.

The wonderful thing about a theme garden is they personalize a garden and ideas for themes are limited only by imagination. If you decide to plan your own very special theme garden, here are a few helpful hints. Don’t be afraid to add a few elements like sculptures, or other objects, but the key word is ‘few,’ too many objects and you can lose the garden. A single color garden has predominately flowers of that color, but often a few plants of one or two other colors enhance the predominant color. Flowers or leaves repeating the same shape can be monotonous, so select different type of leaves when you choose plants. If you want a daisy garden, introduce some additional flowers with shapes that are not round.

Even in a theme garden the important thing to remember is to select plants capable of growing in your soil and climate. If you want an Orangerie like Louis XIV, and you live in a zone colder than Florida, you’ll have to grow your orange trees in tubs and put them in a greenhouse during the winter, like he did.

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