Formal Gardens are an attempt to mimic the strong architectural lines of a building, Informal Garden Styles are an attempt to mimic nature.
There is an irregularity and softness in informal garden lines, even though these lines are man-made, they seem to be a little bit out-of-control. Informal Gardens success depends on strong design and the firm hand of the gardener to retain a degree of order among what might otherwise become chaos.
Informal Gardens offer a relaxed ambience that provides a temporary sanctuary from day-to-day stresses.
Instead of the hard-lined formal garden, the informal garden is structured with flowing lines and gentle contours. Hard surfaces are softened by plants spreading over the edges and plants intermingle in what appears to be a random order.
Within the informal garden style are variations that have evolved. Cottage gardens, woodland gardens, and meadow gardens are a few of these variations.
Cottage gardens are really working gardens that yield edible crops including fruits, vegetables, and herbs, as well as a host of flowers. Flowers were an essential part of any working garden as they attract bees and other insects to the vegetable garden to ensure good crop pollination. Cottage garden flowers also attract birds that help control harmful insect populations.
Cottage gardens traditionally have pathways weaving throughout the garden beds to facilitate tending and harvesting crops. Informal fencing and operational gates prevent animals, both domestic and wild, from traipsing through the gardens and destroying the family crops.
Wild and woodland gardens are not concerned about harvesting crops to supplement the family's diet. It is a naturalistic style designed to provide a beautiful and relaxing type of garden and, provide a habitat suitable not only for plants, but local animals.
Woodland gardens usually include a water source and safe shelter to attract a range of wildlife. Small trees and shrubs provide an abundance of nesting places for birds and hibernating insects. Suitable plants include those that retain their seeds through the winter as a food source for wildlife.
Wildflower gardening uses localized plants in a garden setting. These types of gardens are often the best way to plant an area that doesn't lend itself to more conventional cultivation. Wildflower gardening stems in part from a wish to conserve native species threatened by erosion of natural habitats.
Meadows and wildflower gardens are an attempt to push back the clock to a time when there wasn't a McDonalds on every corner and highways didn't exist.
It's not possible to re-create habitats exactly, but growing even small areas of wildflowers contributes to the conservation and attracts varieties of insects and other beneficial wildlife into the garden.
Creating a wildflower or meadow-like garden is more involved than just buying a packet of wildflower seeds and planting them. Some mail order catalogs would have you believe that's all there is to creating a wildflower garden. For those following that formula, the results are often disastrous.
Ideal meadow soils are usually low in fertility, without amendments. Amended soils encourage certain plants to outgrow and dominate other plants. It is vitally important not to cultivate the ground prior to planting. Thousands of weed seeds exist in almost any unprepared soil. As soon as that soil is cultivated (turned over), those seeds are brought to the surface and spring to life. These weeds are typically very aggressive weeds that quickly overtake any attempt to create a naturalized garden.
In areas where there is already something growing that doesn't fit with the new naturalized garden, those plants needs to be removed. There are several options to clear this vegetation. One is using a glyphosate (RoundUp) to kill of the vegetation. For those uncomfortable using a chemical to achieve the intended results, there is a more organic method that doesn't involve chemicals.
To prepare the ground for meadow plants, you can use the smother-method. It is simple and effective, particularly for small scale plantings. This method uses newspapers across the ground in the fall to smother everything that might come up. To prevent the newspapers from blowing away, cover it with a layer of organic material that will decompose over time (chopped leaves, grass clippings, etc.). Beginning in the fall, this method will take several months into the spring to complete, but by May, the ground should be ready for planting.
Another vegetation clearing method is called solarization. This involves spreading clear plastic sheeting over the area to be planted. The plastic traps the sun's heat which in turn raises the soil temperature to as much as 140 degrees near the surface and up to a 100 degrees a foot or more down. This method takes 3 — 6 weeks in sunny weather during the summer months. Plants and seeds under the plastic covering will be killed.
One final organic method is to just let the area grow. Keep an eye on the field, removed any unwanted plants, add additional varieties that may not be present in this specific area, but are native to the area. Ideal time for planting new seeds are either mid spring or early fall. To sow seeds, rake the top layer of soil and scatter the seeds. Cover the area with a fine layer of weed-free straw.
The important aspect in creating these types of gardens is to follow the no-cultivation rule.
Once the meadow garden has been completed, it will need to be mowed once or twice a year. Mowing some time between late fall and early spring while plants are still dormant cuts back the previous year's dead vegetation and helps prevent opportunistic woody plants from developing.