This garden design concept came from a friend of mine, Linda King. It is a method used to recreate a garden, setting, or memory using plants that look similar to, but perform better in your microclimate, than the originals. I call these copycat gardens.
Linda’s Scottish garden
Linda was telling me about her Scottish garden and I was intrigued, having never heard of that particular style. Right away, I wanted to urge against this idea, knowing that the mosses, lichens, and liverworts of Scotland would be scorched by our California summers and that our alkaline soil would be wrong for the heaths and myrtles. It ends up, I was wrong in assuming she meant to use the actual plants from Scotland.
Instead, she recreated the look and feel of the gardens she saw while traveling in Scotland by using plants better suited to her yard that look like the Scottish natives. Hence, copycat.
Before we explore copycat garden concept in more depth, let us differentiate between copycat gardens and garden reconstruction. Garden reconstruction refers to larger, more specific architectural and archeological repair and rebuilding of famous, historically significant gardens and landscapes, while maintaining and protecting any existing artifacts. These are restoration projects. Unless you have an archeological dig in your backyard, you will not be taking on a garden reconstruction.
What you can do is select a garden that you love, scale it down, and recreate it in your landscape, using plants better suited to your soil, sun exposure, and Hardiness Zone.
Which gardens can you copycat?
Honestly, any of them. You can recreate the appearance of any garden you’ve ever seen, any scenery you’ve ever enjoyed. The trick is in selecting plants that look enough like the originals to create the same overall appearance and feel. Let’s consider a few possibilities.
Keukenhof Gardens - The Netherlands
Also known as the Garden of Europe, the Keukenhof features millions of bulbs, especially tulips. Carnations, daffodils, hyacinth, iris, lilies, and roses are also present. This garden also features a castle, which might be difficult to add to your landscape. This garden also features winding paths graced with an occasional tree or shrub, with peek-a-boo views into other areas of the garden.
Clearly, you will not plant a million bulbs in your landscape or build a full-sized castle. But you can create a Keukenhof copycat garden by identifying and installing a large number of flowering bulbs that perform well in your area, adding some stepping stones that offer new views on your landscape, and maybe even a children’s playhouse shaped like a castle.
Did you know that the Keukenhof ensures longer bloom times by planting three bulbs at a time, one on top of the other? I didn’t either.
Gardens of Versailles - France
Built in the 1600s, the Gardens of Versailles cover nearly 2,000 acres. The scale of these gardens is overwhelming, filled with grottos, immense fountains, labyrinths, and promenades that are far beyond any home gardener’s budget or ability.
Butchart Gardens - Canada
Canada’s Butchart Gardens are a collection of gardens created by Robert Butchart and his wife. Built on the site of their exhausted limestone quarry, the Sunken Garden is overflowing with flowers, an Italian garden replaced their tennis courts, and a rose garden took over where their kitchen garden once stood.
Fifty-five acres of land, 900 plant species and 50 full-time gardeners is probably not in your budget. But, you can copy the look and feel of these gardens with mounds of flowering plants, a Japanese maple, or something similar, and a meandering path. Get the idea?
So, how does a gardener start a copycat garden?
Start with a plant list
Most historic gardens offer lists of plant species they use. Start with their list. Identify the growing requirements of those plants and see which ones will grow in your yard. Then, look for plants with shapes and colors similar to those unsuitable to your yard, for replacements. Finally, create a generalized layout that matches the original to one degree or another. The nice thing about designing your own garden is that it can look like anything you want it to. It doesn’t have to be exact, or even close. But there is an entirely different type of copycat garden.
Your own copycat garden
My friend Linda is working on something entirely different. Imagine, if you will, a tabletop aquarium. Colorful fish, bubbling water, and some plants floating around, anchored in a bed of stones. Linda is using that image to create a copycat garden of an aquarium scene. Colorful stone paths and mulch lay the foundation for larger stones, a small fountain, and plants that look similar to those that grow underwater. Who knows, there may be colorful flowers in there somewhere that look like a school of tropical fish! Perhaps a rattlesnake plant (Calathea), or a flying goldfish plant, tucked in among some millet or rhubarb might recreate the look and feel of an aquarium.
Other copycat ideas might include a table covered with sweets, a fairy wonderland, or a medieval cottage kitchen garden, complete with wattle and daub fencing. There really is no limit to what you can create in your landscape, with nothing more than imagination and honest effort. Just remember to select plants for your copycat garden that are suitable to your microclimate.
What sort of copycat garden are you considering? Let us know in the Comments!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!