Theme gardens present experienced gardeners with design challenges. They’re a lot of fun to plan, but it’s discipline that makes them work. A butterfly garden is one example of a theme garden. To be included, each shrub or flower must appeal to butterflies or their larvae.
Theme gardens are narrowly focused. Therein lies both the challenge and the pleasure. The plant palette is restricted to specimens that reflect the garden’s purpose. Enjoyment comes with watching the design “work”: butterflies dancing over nectar flowers; a moonlight garden “glowing” after dusk. A small section of yard or an isolated corner usually provides adequate space to build a theme garden.
Boundaries help contain or enclose the theme garden; it’s always easier to work within established limits. It’s also fun to include a focal point, an accent piece that emphasizes the specialty garden’s theme.
Butterfly theme garden
Butterfly plants are loose and open. The look says “country.” Mown grass paths and wooden fences make appropriate boundaries for the butterfly garden’s informal style. Situate a butterfly theme garden in full sun. Include basking rocks where the insects can absorb the sun’s early morning warmth and dry dew-dampened wings. Provide water for them to drink. Butterflies will congregate around a gently burbling fountain or on the wide rim of a birdbath set low to the ground.
There are two types of butterfly foods. As adults, butterflies feed on nectar. Their larvae, called caterpillars, eat leaves. Choose mostly nectar plants for the garden. Butterfly bush (Buddleia) is a favorite. When a shrub is in full bloom at summer’s end, butterflies will hover, waiting a turn to light.
Phlox, yarrow, butterfly weed, daisy, purple coneflower, bee balm, black-eyed susan, sedum, and goldenrod are among the butterfly’s favored perennials. Lantana, cosmos, petunia, marigold, and zinnia are annual flowers that provide the nectar they crave. Don’t worry about the butterflies finding your small patch. Just build it, and they will come.
Dwarf evergreen theme garden
Foliage provides rich texture and year-round interest in the evergreen theme garden. Bright red holly berries and variegated leaves add splashes of color. Winter is this garden’s most beautiful season. Display dwarf evergreens by planting on a slope or by constructing a low mound. The edges of the mound or slope can serve as the garden’s boundaries. Develop the collection around a few choice specimens. A weeping hemlock, Japanese table pine, or golden false cypress can double as the garden’s focal point. Weave specimens together with low ground-covering junipers.
Dwarf evergreens are expensive, but the theme garden need not be large. Once established, dwarf evergreens require very little care.
Fragrance theme garden
If carefully planned, a scented theme garden can offer three seasons of deliciously fragrant blossoms. The sequence begins in February with perfumed witch hazels and concludes in late October with the lemon-musk of Franklinia. In winter, evergreen cedars emit a pungent aroma when rubbed or cut.
For spring fragrance, include lilac, Korean spice viburnum, daphne and Carolina allspice. Lavender, roses, sweet alyssum, sweet pepperbush and Hosta plantaginea perfume the summer and fall garden.
Fragrant plants must be accessible. Build the garden close to a patio or windows that open. To intensify the scents, surround the garden with a hedge. Decorate it with an ornamental bench.
Evening theme garden
To enjoy a garden by moonlight, plant white and pastel flowers. They’re luminous; dark colors disappear. Large white blooms of moonflower vine open at dusk, followed by those of evening primrose and night-blooming waterlily. The tiny white blossoms of baby’s breath and Crambe cordifolia appear to float above invisible foliage. White flowering tobacco, unscented by day, adds fragrance to its evening repertoire. As a focal point, a sliver gazing globe shines in the moonlight.
Single-color theme garden
Through a monochromatic scheme, a gardener explores the infinite shades of a single color. White gardens are popular; blue are most challenging. To draw attention to the garden’s dominant hue, accent sparingly with a complimentary color. Among blue flowers, plant a pale yellow. A touch of deep magenta or purple makes white flowers whiter. Walls, fences, and evergreen hedges make appropriate backdrops for single color theme gardens. Here also is an opportunity to display a special sculpture.