Every summer, as my landscape clients and readers return from their holidays, I receive phone calls and e-mails to discuss how to re-create something they saw while traveling. Some document their inspiration in writing, while others sketch, take photographs or shoot videos of gardens or design elements that excited them.
Most inquiries so far this summer are about English, Japanese and southwestern landscape design styles. In the mid-Atlantic states, we are most fortunate because just about any style garden has a good chance to succeed.
* English gardens. Tourism must be booming in Britain this summer because topping the list are English-style gardens, by which most people mean country-style gardens with lush foliage and flowers.
Cottage gardens, a more accurate way to refer to these plantings, began in the 1600s when commoners moved to villages with less land and still wanted their yards to be filled with flowers.
Another style of English garden frequently requested are garden rooms, which are planted areas linked to one another by paths that wind through the landscape. The walkways are often edged with beds of mixed flowering trees, shrubs and perennials. This meandering style was probably derived from an Asian influence that was beginning to be brought to Europe in the 18th century.
The key to these gardens is to combine English style with greenery that likes our climate. That will require substitutions for some of the typically English plant material. Escalonia, for example, is a wonderful flowering broadleaf evergreen shrub in England. But it doesn't survive Washington winters. Try an evergreen that will, such as cherry-laurel or holly.
Other wonderful English border plants you might need substitutes for are delphiniums and lupines. Try foxgloves, hollyhocks and liatris. They, among others, like our weather better. Ask at your local garden center for some English flower-garden plants.
* Japanese gardens. Japanese garden design always has been a popular request. Some of those installed in the United States are almost as tranquil and natural, yet groomed and tidy in form, as those found in Japan. But most in this country are a departure from authentic Japanese gardens.
A case in point is the Hillwood Japanese Garden installed for estate owner Marjorie Merriweather Post in the 1950s. Post commissioned a Japanese designer, Shogo Myaida, to plan the garden on the grounds of her Washington home. He was pleased to do so, but had no intention of doing a design that would be an entirely genuine Japanese garden.
Lantern, Buddha and pagoda structures were used, as well as dwarf conifers and other specimen plants such as Japanese maples, cryptomerias, Japanese spruces, azaleas, pieris, sarcococca and others. Many plants and structures are the same as those found in Japan, but not necessarily bearing their same arrangement or symbolic meanings.
Her designer understood that it had to be done Japanese-style, but with plants hardy to this region and a theme that garners American appreciation. This garden, which is constructed on a hillside, has huge rock structures and a pedestrian circulation pattern that you would be more likely to find in a Chinese or alpine rock garden.
* Southwestern gardens. For those of you who went to New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment, or Arizona and fell in love with that terrain, a southwestern landscape is as challenging to create in this area as any other you might want to import.
But, I've seen a number of successful local southwestern gardens. I have myself installed some over the years, with tanyosho pines, yuccas, armerias, artemesias, santolinas, lavenders, sedums and cacti planted with large flat "mesa-looking" rocks and stone mulches. A bonus of the Southwestern look is that you'll have a drought-resistant planting.
Now, before you do anything to dramatically modify your current landscape or garden, spend time in your outdoor area at all times of the day. Note how the sun travels over the area, casting shadows or creating hot spots.
Look to the horizon. Check the view from every possible angle. Often delightful views are lost when plantings are markedly changed.
Plants that prefer dry conditions can be used in this setting and planted in a stark, open configuration to resemble a random plant distribution normally found in the Southwest. Be sure to consult a garden center, however. Many plants that thrive in dry, windy conditions won't like the humidity in this area. The soil is another issue, but this we can control. What's often done here to make the ground more hospitable to plants that prefer a rocky medium as is found in the southwestern United States is to add very fine crushed gravel, called chicken grit, to the soil.
Other requests for exotic landscape design ideas this summer range from the re-creation of alpine meadows experienced in full bloom at Glacier National Park in Montana, to the fragrant pine forests of southern New Jersey's Pine Barrens.
Keep your eyes open when visiting the mountains, ocean, woods and cities, which are all loaded with green spaces and ideas for what makes you feel good in your garden. Decide which elements give you an especially good feeling, and keep gardening a pleasant experience.
Finally, don't rush into the redesign, your enthusiasm notwithstanding. Take your time. Study the impact of a new look. Do this before you cut one tree, turn a spade of soil or start buying plant materials.
Lerner is president of Environmental Design in Capitol View Park, Md. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org