Garden Design Principles


I’m pondering where to place some gifted mums.
With some plants not responding, and some just despondent after being stressed by adjacent construction, I’d like to plan around the existing back garden in a small 10 feet area by 3. The good thing about the noise, I tried to tell myself following a honey tasting talk at TBG, was that vibration helps the plant somehow.
Seasonal blooming with roses starting in late spring are followed by peonies. Phlox flourished during the summer, with asters now beginning with the fall season as the phlox diminish.
I was going to snip away some cosmos creeping over from a fence, which I was told attract butterflies and finches, but was content to leave them for now.
Can you summarize general visual or placement design garden principles for the above space,so I can be let the ideas percolate during the winter, or sooner? I have full sun in at least 10×3 more feet to work with, and 10 X 3 feet which is partially shaded along the same area to a laneway by a garage.
It’s a wonderful view to cook to, and brush past to and from errands.
A hyperlink would be fine.


Your description of your garden is lovely, and you obviously enjoy it.   As Master Gardeners, we are not necessarily equipped to provide advice on garden design but rather, best practices in areas of horticulture, soil science, and pest control – i.e., more science-based topics.  However, the Toronto Master Gardeners Guides can give advice and provide ideas on perennials for shade and for sun.  Along the concept of  ‘right plant, right place’.  You can review these Guides on our website.

You have your seasonal blooming plants in place, so maybe you might like to consider plants for foliage, or perennial grasses (clumping rather than spreading), which add interest in all seasons, or perhaps some climbers on a trellis, or a tall, narrow evergreen for both height and winter interest.

It is possible your despondent plants could use some amendment to their soil in the form of compost or other organic material, particularly if you have not done this recently.   This article, from the Toronto Master Gardeners in partnership with the City of Toronto, is helpful here:

If your gifted mums are in pots, you could walk around your garden beds and place them where you think they would be most attractive – both from within the garden, and also when viewed from inside.

The traditional principles of garden design often rely on large spaces: in smaller spaces it is difficult to achieve the balance, flow, repetition, focal points, etc., that inform classic garden design.  It may make more sense for you to do a little searching online for examples of small narrow borders that appeal to you, and then try to reproduce the aspects of them that you like best.

Landscape Ontario has some garden designs online, as well as a comprehensive list of garden designers whose websites provide some inspiration:   There are popular blogs which can provide some insight into design principles, challenges, and benefits of the small garden, for example: and .  And there are some wonderful landscape designers whose websites are also inspirational.  Two of my favourites are Tony Spencer,  and Thomas Rainer, and

Finally, it is worth searching out a back issue of GardenMaking (sadly no longer published), # 28, which focuses on small garden design.  Here is the magazine’s very good website.  The magazine Garden Design also has great material on small gardens.

I hope this is not an overwhelming number of links, but a helpful start to your fall and winter daydreams.