The idea of a whimsical garden, one that’s completely capricious and borders on being slightly eccentric and eclectic, may not be everyone’s ‘cup of tea’. However, as garden types go, these relatively impulsive gardens are little known bastions of the horticultural gentry.

Before parterre, and the Baroque overtures, whimsical art and decor had adorned gardens for centuries. Yet it’s often a style that is more closely defined by “people who aren’t all there” – if you know what I mean! Real gardeners don’t do whimsy, apparently.

And while I’m no fan of garden gnomes nor cheap and tacky garden ornaments, I find that whimisical gardens offer something fresh and contemporary to our garden outdoors. They break the mould of what’s accepted, and certainly expected, within a garden and re-define the ways we use space.

A really good example of a whimsical garden is one that manages to marry both plants and whimsy together without either becoming overbearing. While it breathes spontaneity it doesn’t ooze eclecticism on a vast scale allowing visitors to engage with the garden without feeling nauseous.

And herein lies the art: gardeners hoping to transform their yard must adhere to a few simple rules if their garden is to remain with any semblance of order. The challenge is, of course, knowing when to stop for like a person getting their first tattoo is the desire to add just another one…or two…

Here are some ground-rules for doing it well;

  • Start with small items – unless you’re starting your garden from scratch and you have room to introduce larger pieces it’s much safer to begin with less noticeable items.
  • Always consider the overall vista. One piece of whimsy in isolation may look completely charming but when merged behind a backdrop of other intense colours may get lost or scream louder than a barefoot child on hot, beach sand. This is the key.
  • Consider the complete space: overhanging trees can harbour wind chimes while the sundial casts shadows over the pixies foraging in the undergrowth. Utilise elements of tall, short, wide and thin pieces that can obviously add multiple dimensions to your design.
  • If possible, try and stick to a theme. It may be a sea-side theme with boats, shells, rope and other coastal adornments or you may opt for an elemental theme combining the sun, wind, rain and even drought as an expression. Keeping the theme loose, yet dichotomously tight, will help retain some semblance of order in this otherwise mish-mash of ideas.
  • Experiment with different facets and mediums to express your theme. For example, if you were to create a coastal theme then articles from the beach are obvious whimsy but try exploring other ways to express the theme without just opting for the overt; a mural of the beach on a back wall, a garden light that’s shaped as a lighthouse, a ship’s bell instead of wind chimes will all complement the scene.
  • If you’re going to let others advise you or offer their feedback then make sure you select two differing personalities: one should be conservative while the other spontaneous. This should give you a balanced view to form your own opinion.

A whimsical garden shouldn’t be relegated to the hippies and odd-balls. It’s a style of garden that most of us can enjoy and it’s only limited by your imagination and the amount of room you have.