30+ Types of Specialty Gardens

I love gardening! Or, rather, I love the idea of gardening, as the heavily wooded plot on which I live is rather too rich in shade, deer and rodents to allow for much actual planting. However, this doesn't prevent me from daydreaming about the types of gardens I'd plant if I had unlimited time, unlimited space, unlimited $$, unlimited sun, and perhaps a few acres of greenhouses. Some of these specialty gardens listed below are fairly well-known; others, however, I've "collected" from my life and travels. If you end up being inspired by this list to plant any of these, send me a photo!

  1. Booze Garden (aka Cocktail Garden).  Having just recently read The Drunken Botanist, I'm now all aflame to create a garden full of plants involved in the production of alcohol so that I can distill my own! All kinds of garden appropriate plants can be converted into booze, especially fruits.  It's also easy to grow many of the herbs used to create simple syrups; for example, mint, lemongrass, geranium, and lavender. (Source: The Drunken Botanist, Amy Stewart)
  2. Chinese Garden. I read somewhere that Chinese gardens evolved from so-called "scholar's gardens," intended to facilitate the academic contemplation of Chinese scholars and beaurocrats. Typically incorporating a combination of plantings, water, rock (the rocks were supposed to remind the scholars of cool mountains), paths, and structural elements, these elements are then artfully arranged into mini-landscapes. In my dreams my own Chinese Garden incorporates weeping willow, ginkgo, flowering cherry trees, chrysanthemums, and a moon gate.
  3. Christmas Garden.  Almost every year at Christmas my family travels to a nearby botanic garden specifically to ogle their greenhouses and indoor structures stuffed to the brim with holiday plants - poinsettias, peace lilies, hollies, ivy, mistletoe, and conifers/boxwoods of every description. What I wouldn't give to be able to create a Christmas garden of my own!
  4. Color Garden.  I love the idea of creating single-color gardens in which flowers of a single color are grouped.  Within such a garden one would be able to move past color and truly appreciate the nuances and variations of nature - shade, shape, texture.
  5. Cottage Garden. It's hard not to be dazzled by scripted chaos of a cottage garden, an over-the-top cacophony of the snapdragons, irises, lilies, peonies, columbine, geraniums, foxglove, cornflowers, phlox, allum, and - of course! - roses ... either consuming the whole yard or confined behind white picket fencing or cockleshells all in a row.
  6. Curiosities Garden. A garden entirely composed of weird-looking (and acting) plants? What could be cooler? I imagine this as a sort of outdoor "cabinet of curiosities," combining nature's oddest fauna - monkey puzzle trees, dragon's blood trees, exotic fungi, carnivorous plants - gathered from the four corners of the earth.  
  7. Dinosaur Garden (aka prehistoric garden). A garden comprised solely of species and varieties that existed on earth during the time of the dinosaurs. Think exotic conifers, redwoods, cycads, ginkgos, sphenopsids (like horsetails) and ferns. 
  8. Dry Garden.  Dry gardens are just what they sound like - gatherings of drought-resistant plants (ex: succulents) artfully embedded in dryscaping. I've seen this done in some of the wealthier neighborhoods in San Diego and Arizona; the result is something between landscaping and artwork. So many gorgeously exotic succulents - so many patterns and effects you can create with stone!
  9. Formal Garden. Every great house in Europe seems to have least one formal garden, featuring boxwood-lined, geometrically-arranged paths, often surrounding elaborate topiary sculptures or a fountain. However, formal gardens aren't reserved for great houses - many middle-class homes in Colonial Williamsburg feature formal gardens too, some of which do double-duty as herb gardens. Though I do love a nice topiary elephant, I think the latter sort may be more within my scope.
  10. Fruit Garden (aka orangerie). This garden would undoubtedly require greenhouses, but what could be better than fruit picked fresh off the vine or tree?  I might even throw in a grape arbor or two, since I live in an area where wineries are becoming ubiquitous.
  11. Grasses Garden.  I'm such a sucker for ornamental grasses! I love their height, their lightness, and their infinite variety - some sporting stalks topped with oats, others cattails, still others gaudy flowers.  What a pretty garden one could make of just ornamental grasses.
  12. Hanging Garden. Have you ever passed through a trellis "tunnel" overgrown by wisteria? Then you know the sort of garden I'm imagining, composed entirely of arching trellises overgrown with floral vines (wisteria, bougainvillea - whatever I can get to grow in my zone), their blooms dangling through gaps in the boards.  I'd line the trellises with white fairy lights and place wrought iron tables underneath the blooms to create a magical place for evening parties.
  13. Herb Garden. An oldie-but-goodie ... a garden dedicated to growing kitchen herbs and spices. True, some herbs/spices aren't terrifically photogenic - they look more like grasses or weeds - but the scent of an herb garden in full flower is more than adequate compensation!
  14. Japanese Garden. Though not my first choice (I tend to prefer letting nature be natural), one has to appreciate the aesthetic charms of Japanese gardens, with their delicate bonsai trees, sculpted paths, and delicate bridges.
  15. Medicinal Garden. A garden comprised entirely of plants with identified medicinal properties, because how cool would it be to run out into the garden to pick from fresh aloe vera whenever you need it? Other medicinal plants worth the space it takes to plant them include chamomile, echinacea, ginseng, gentian, lemon balm, comfrey, feverfew, and yew.
  16. Native Garden. I'm borrowing this idea from the Smithsonian Museum of Native Americans, which has planted the grounds surrounding the museum with vegetables and fruits native to North America. Depending on climate, such a garden could include varieties of beans, corn, sunflower, tomato, chili peppers, squash, pumpkins, beechnuts, concord grapes, black cherries, strawberries, blueberries, cranberries and key limes.
  17. Night-blooming Garden. Also known as Moon Gardens, these landscapes feature plants that bloom only at night. The white flowers of most moon garden plants look luminous by moonlight. As a bonus, night blooming flowers attract pollinating insects through fragrance, rather than color, perfuming the air with rich scent. Some good night blooming flowers for a moon garden include Moonflower (Ipomea alba), Four o'clocks (Mirabilis jalapa), Nicotiana (Nicotiana alata), Yucca (Yucca filamentosa), Dusty Miller (Senecio cineraria),and Artemesia. (Source: http://www.gardenguides.com/84223-novelty-garden-ideas.html)
  18. Poisoners garden. Several botanic gardens around the world have begun featuring poisoner's gardens - gardens devoted to plants that produce deadly toxins: belladonna/nightshade, hemlock, monkshood/aconite, jessamine, angle trumpet vine, etc.  (Liability? To hell with liability!)  My own poisoner's garden would include plaques for each plant listing the infamous poisoning trails in which it had been implicated!
  19. Pollinator's garden (aka  butterfly garden). A garden full of temptingly delicious pollen ... if you're a pollinator, that is! Not only would the butterfly and hummingbird sightings be lovely, but I'd be giving overworked bees a break by providing easily accessible sources of pollen; we all know bees need all the help they can get. Plants that attract pollinators vary by growing zone, but I've heard butterfly bush, butterfly week, bee balm, phlox, and milkweed (for monarchs) are reliable staples. 
  20. Rain garden.  As a scientist I'm sensitive to the need for more rain gardens - gardens built in shallow depressions whose purpose is to gather and filter rainwater before it enters the water table. The trick is to choose plant species that can tolerate wet soil and high levels of phosphates and nitrogen from fertilizer runoff.  
  21. Rock garden. Not only are rock gardens cool (I am a geologist), but they're multi-functional: you can install them on slopes that are too steep to mow; they add texture/altitude to otherwise flat, boring lawns, they're the perfect landscaping for arid areas, they combine well with water features, and they're great for setting off small-plants in a way that ensures they'll be seen.  Mine, of course, will include geologic specimens - banded iron stones, agates, etc. 
  22. Scent garden. If you enjoy aromatherapy, consider planting a scent garden, full of fragrant herbs and flowers. Choose plants that scent the air, such as roses, as well as plants that release perfume when brushed or crushed, such as scented geranium or thyme. Look for varieties grown for their scent; some modern hybrids of plants such as roses have very little scent at all. Some plants to try in a scent garden include butterfly bush ( Buddleia davidi), nasturtium (Tropaeloum majus),  sweet alyssum (Alyssum marit/mum), creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum) and  lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). (Source: http://www.gardenguides.com/84223-novelty-garden-ideas.html)
  23. Shade garden.  Shade gardens have their own special type of magic: they're perpetually cool and damp and they smell wonderfully earthy. My own shade garden will incorporate particularly spectacular varieties of hosta and fern, set against a backdrop of rhododendron and azalea.
  24. Shakespearean Garden. Stole this idea from the Folger Shakespeare Theater in Washington D.C., where they've planted a garden with all the plants mentioned in Shakespeare's plays - at least all the ones they can identify (and that grow in their zone). Naturally, the garden will be arrayed around a bust of the bard on a aged and venerable column.
  25. Single-species garden. There's something scientifically intriguing about gathering together all (or many) of the varieties of a single species in one place. In the case of flowers, the satisfaction is visual as well. Many species of flowers are available in spectacular variations - some naturally occurring, others bred by gardeners - to include rose, tulip, orchid, fuschia, peony, iris, and clematis
  26. Tea Garden. What's better than brewing a fragrant cup of tea? Enjoying a cup of fragrant tea that you grew yourself!  Many herbs are suitable for growing in the garden, including Tea Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa), Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), Lemon Verbena (Aloysia citriodora), Jasmine (Jasminum sambac), Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) and mint. Grow tea roses for both their beauty and fragrance, and for their rose hips, which make a citrus-y tea full of Vitamin C. (Source: http://www.gardenguides.com/84223-novelty-garden-ideas.html)
  27. Tropical Garden. Though it would require a greenhouse for me to pull this one off, I love the idea of being able to escape our harsh local winters by retreating into my own tropical paradise featuring palms, hibiscus, banana trees, elephant ears, orchids, ferns, and birds of paradise.
  28. Victorian garden.  What I picture in my imagination is a garden filled with all those dainty flowers one associates with the Victorian era: roses, lilies, baby's breath, forget-me-not, bachelor button, carnation, lavender, etc.  What fun it would be to create posies and bouquets with secret meanings for all my friends!
  29. Victory garden. Your standard local vegetable/herb/fruit garden, but with a cool patriotic name, harking back to the days of WW1 and WW2 when Americans were encouraged to plant their victory gardens so as to free up more food for "our boys overseas." Just big enough to supply our family's needs plus some left over for canning.
  30. Water garden. I picture wide, shallow pools filled with blossoming lilipads and water-tolerant plants and populated with ornamental fish. Also lots of frogs to control the inevitable mosquito population.  
  31. Wildflower garden. All the beauty of a local meadow without the thistles. And snakes. An added benefit is that native wildflowers tend to attract native bugs, including swirling swarms of lightening bugs in summer. Magical!

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