To celebrate the anniversary of their marriage my neighbors created a white garden along the path to their house. They planted impatiens, roses, peonies, daisies, clematis, and phlox. Even though all the flowers were white, the different sizes of the plants, foliage, and times of bloom created interest and variety. In addition to reminding them of their wedding day, the white anniversary garden was a tribute to their long-standing commitment to live simply, because the white flowers lit up their path at night, saving them electricity for outdoor lighting.
My neighbors’ white garden was a theme garden. It used the subject of their marriage, with all its symbolism, as the basis for their garden. Whatever you want to celebrate or create, you can do it with a theme garden. A theme garden allows the gardener to use plants, landscape design, and elements of garden décor to focus on a particular topic. Theme gardens can be fanciful or practical. There’s no limit to the subjects you can explore; following are a few examples to get your creative juices going.
A xeriscape, or water-saving garden, uses plants that grow locally with just the water that falls naturally. That means you don’t need to water because the local plants (mostly natives) are already adapted to the environment. Xeriscapes save money on water, fertilizer, and pesticides because the plants thrive with just the resources they get naturally.
If you appreciate order and formality you may enjoy an Italian garden. Traditional Italian gardens were divided into sections for orchards, fountains, herb gardens, kitchen gardens, art and sculpture, etc. To give your garden an Italian theme you can create miniature sections or focus on a single garden feature like an ornate fountain.
For inspiration go to a museum or look through an art history book to find renderings of Italian gardens. While you may not be able to use all the same plants, you can probably find plants that give the same feel. For example, where an Italian garden may have a fig tree espaliered along a wall, you could espalier a pear tree if figs don’t grow in your location.
A pizza garden is a great idea for the gardener who loves to make pizza. Start out with a round garden plot, with a ground cover like thyme edging the perimeter to form the “crust.” Plant the tomatoes in the center of the circle because they are the tallest of the pizza plants.
Plum tomatoes are good for making sauce; beefsteak or other full-size tomatoes are good for toppings. Surround the tomatoes with sweet peppers in different colors. Then put in your favorite hot peppers. Plant onions, garlic, and herbs like marjoram, basil, and oregano toward the front. You’ll probably have to go to the store for the cheese and pepperoni!
Shakespeare gardens pay tribute to the great bard, for whom plants played a great symbolic and literary role. Think of Juliet’s famous line, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” or Ophelia’s talk of rosemary, pansies, columbines, rue, fennel, violets, and daisies in Hamlet.
Shakespeare also wrote of crab apple trees, daffodils, lilies, calendula, and woodbine. Parks and college campuses around the country pay homage to the playwright and poet with mulberry and sycamore trees, sculptural elements like fountains and sundials, and of course, the many plants that play roles in his works.
The home gardener can easily duplicate this tribute on a small scale because most of Shakespeare’s plants are still grown today.
A memorial garden is a fine way to honor the memory of a loved one, especially if he or she prized flowers or gardens. Plant the kinds of trees, shrubs, annuals, and perennials that the person liked. Add garden features such as bird feeders, birdbaths, sculptures—anything that brings the person to mind.
The Lincoln Memorial Garden, for example, honors Abraham Lincoln by collecting species native to the states in which he lived.
There is no right or wrong when it comes to theme gardens. Just decide on a theme, develop a plan, and choose the plants and decorative elements. Then plant your garden and take good care of it.
Want to learn more about theme gardens?
Tips on creating theme gardens.
Ideas for theme gardens from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.