You know we love before and after posts, where you see something with possibility come to life with careful planning and creativity. Ben Page, principal of Page|Duke Landscape Architects in Nashville, has spent a lifetime perfecting this idea. His thoughtful designs not only bring new, green life to garden spaces in the very literal sense, but they restore a sense of peace and tranquility in the midst of busy lives, too. In the May issue of flower magazine, Ben said something that has been echoing in my head about the importance of spending time in the garden, and it’s making me rethink the empty pots on my back patio:

Ben Page Quote

After a challenging winter, a little dirt under my nails and something green at my back door might be a good antidote for this new season. Using a couple of Ben’s big signature projects, as well lots of smaller ones to demonstrate, here are some key elements Ben says everyone — from the pro to the gardening-challenged — should keep in mind when starting any spring landscape spruce up.

Note: All photos today were taken by John Chaisson and are courtesy of Page|Duke Landscape Design.

Focal Point

These first four photos show what a complete landscape redesign can do for the exterior of a home. Wow, right? But aside from the enviable end result, what I want you to notice is that the focal point in Ben’s plan makes it easy for your eye to have a place to rest. Establishing a focal point is key to making the garden landscape feel complete and harmonious.

Page Duke: Before the landscape design

This lovely Tudor-style home has great bones. See what happens when the entry becomes the focus of the design in the next photo …

Page Duke: A Strong Landscape Focal Point

Now you really see the entrance — the open terrace with a balanced layout and landscaping leads your eye straight to it.

Page Duke: Before the new staircase

Here’s another great house. See what a new garden staircase, properly proportioned, does to make this exterior pop.

A dramatic change with new stairs and a new design.

The terraced garden and symmetrical plantings frame the staircase, which draws your eye to the window of the home.

Those are big projects, to be sure. But what about smaller-scale improvements? Here are things he suggests:

Garden Paths

This evergreen tree is the anchor here.

Isn’t this glorious? Here, the evergreen tree is the anchor to which seasonal, native plantings play a supporting role. Notice the defined path.

Page Duke: Garden Paths

Garden paths are an easy way to establish a focal point — they lead somewhere. Ben says paths should pull you toward something and avoid being the proverbial road to nowhere. He also encourages gardeners to change up pathways, or make new ones. (You don’t have to be a professional to install one either. We’ll have some DIY tips at the end of the post.)

Page Duke: Garden Paths

This modern path draws the eye forward and invites the onlooker to turn left or right. Aren’t you curious to see where this path leads?

Page Duke: Garden Paths

Another fine example of a pathway leading towards something interesting.

Page Duke: Garden Paths

This garden path gently curves toward the gate in the background and shows one of the key elements in Ben’s landscape designs: using native plants, and not too many. Ben says it’s not necessary to include one of every plant in the nursery. Using just a few, repeating them, and not being afraid to let the plants touch one another are keys to a lush design like this one.

Container Gardens

Container gardens really are an easy way to add interest, color and texture to your landscape design, not to mention they are DIY-friendly projects that don’t require a professional. Ben recommends clustering pots together, as shown in this photo below. He also recommends using large pots (the one in the center of the photo is 30 inches tall) so that you don’t have to water everyday.

Page Duke: Container Gardens

Pro tip: Fill the bottom of the container with packing pellets, then soil. After planting, mulch the top of the pot with quartz rocks or something similar. Ben also says don’t be afraid to plant trees in large pots — they add height and texture and work well.

page duke large pots 2

These large pots not only make a strong visual statement, they show a simple way to grow herbs for the kitchen. Notice again: the containers are large and each is home to a single type of plant. This is Ben’s strategy to create calm and allow the eye to rest.

Other elements to consider:

page duke hydrangeas

Annabelle hydrangeas. Is there any other plant that makes you think of summer in the South more than these? This photo is noteworthy as an example of repeating the same element for dramatic effect, as shown here in this raised bed.

Page Duke: Repeating variations of the same colors

This lush garden shows one more element key to good landscape design, according to Ben: using variations of the same color to achieve depth. Whether it’s the containers on the patio, or the beds along the lawn, using different shades of the same color keeps a design from being distracting. Notice the deep, evergreen contrasted against the bright chartreuse; berry reds and burgundies — all working in concert.

Bottom line, regardless of the gardener’s level of expertise, Ben says, “you must get your hands dirty,” and accept failure as part of the process if you want to achieve satisfying results.

Those who know me, know that I’m gardening-challenged and plagued with black thumbs, but I’m ready to have a go at life in the slow, garden lane and see what I can grow. Thank you, Ben, for these inspired ideas!