“Landscaping” involves efforts to enhance an expanse of scenery that can be seen in a single view. For the gardener, this term might refer to the front or the back of the property. Developing and realizing a landscape design includes numerous steps and decisions, and a good deal of work, mostly because of the scale of the task. Landscaping the front yard, the backyard, or even a side yard could be a formidable challenge.
To make landscaping more manageable and enjoyable, consider garden vignettes. These are compact horticultural settings that could be regarded as small-scale landscapes.
The garden vignette concept conveys great versatility: it encompasses any of a wide range of areas, themes or design ideas. A vignette might occupy a quite small space, but we’re not dealing here with miniature landscapes, as for a model railroad garden.
Here’s a broad definition of a garden vignette: “a compact combination of living plants in containers or in the ground, perhaps with selected objects, that present a cohesive and attractive appearance.”
A garden vignette in one or several containers could test the gardener’s horticultural artistry. There are many possibilities, e.g., one plant or several in each container, complementary or contrasting combinations, usage of decorative stones or art objects, and the like. The appeal of containerized garden vignettes includes space needs so limited that they could fit on a balcony or a small patio, and time and cost demands so minimal that they could be developed fairly quickly, even by gardeners with very full schedules.
My current vignette project involves digging up three miniature roses into matching terra cotta pots and grouping them on a low wall, where they can be enjoyed better than is possible when planted in the ground. This is a simple design that requires keeping the roses fertilized and irrigated consistently.
A garden vignette in the ground could be quite small or fairly large in scale, depending on the space available and the desired effect. To begin developing such a vignette, identify the intended space and the preferred view of that space. If a desirable tree or shrub is in the space, design the vignette to use that plant as a feature or focal point, and select additional elements.
For a space that is without a desirable tree or shrub—or boulder, for that matter—you are dealing with a blank “canvas” and have the freedom and challenge to design your vignette from the ground up. One approach to this task is to visit your local garden center, find a few plants that you like and bring them together in their nursery pots to see how they look in combination. Most garden centers would support that process, especially when you either buy the plants or return them to their original locations.
This approach doesn’t work as well with mail-order catalogs.
Another approach is to adopt a combination that you see in another garden or in a garden book or magazine. We can all benefit from adopting successful ideas generated by other gardeners.
Because of the wide range of possible designs for a vignette, a useful next step to identify a theme or concept as a guide for selecting additional plants, natural objects or artworks to provide a pleasant setting. Consider, for example, complementary or contrasting forms or colors, or a characteristic that would be common to all the elements.
Developing one or several vignettes for your garden can be a satisfying creative exercise as you work at a limited scale that is both manageable and low in cost.