Garden Design Elements: Well-Plotted

A good mystery book, really any good book, takes you slowly through the plot, leaving clues throughout on how the book will end. At times you think you’ve got it all figured out and feel certain you know whodunit or how the story will end and then the author adds a little twist that you didn’t expect.

When you reach the end of the book, you are sorry to read those last words because it was a “good read”. You want to go back through it a second time because now you know how all the pieces, those clues and plot twists, relate. You want to figure out how the author managed to keep you engaged throughout the whole book, eagerly turning page after page to see what came next.

That’s how I want my garden to be… a bit of a mystery as you walk through it, with various twists and turns and surprises, but when you’ve seen it all, you are ready to see it again, with a new insight into how it all related.

I call this garden design element: Well Plotted

As people wander the paths of my garden, going from place to place, I want the garden to slowly reveal itself, to have a good overall plot with smooth transitions from place to place, bed to bed, garden to garden. I want people to think they know what’s just around the next curve, but when they get there, it isn’t what they expected. I want to have some surprises in the garden, but not in a jarring “jack in the box” kind of way so that they are startled and afraid to go on. The surprises should be more of "I didn't expect that, but I like it".

I want people to be pleasantly delighted to see what’s hiding around on the other side of the flower bed, hidden perhaps by some other plants that drew their attention first.

I don't want my garden to be the size of a big thick book like Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, so big that people wonder if they could ever see it all. I hope my garden is more like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, a multi-layered story, with interesting characters (plants), a sense of its own placeness and well-plotted.

Well-plotted, like a good story, that’s what I want my garden to be. It needs a good beginning to draw you in, with intrigue, mystery and good characters (plants) to keep you interested throughout. And then it should finish with a good ending so that when you leave the garden you leave with a sense that it was a good read, a good garden, one you'd like to visit again.

That’s what the garden element of Well-Plotted means to me.


  1. A well-designed garden is like a well-written book: not surprising that the founder of the Garden Bloggers' Book Club would come up with that analogy!

  2. Being led on by curiousity, the need to see what's around the corner, and then being pleasantly surprised is a great goal for your garden. (For any garden.) This is something I'm still trying to incorporate into my garden, but it's hard to wait for the shrubs & climbers to mature. I'll be interested to see what your designer suggests.

  3. I love the analogy to "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society," a book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. I'd like my garden to be like that, too, with various parts of the yard "corresponding" with each other. You've given me something to think about here...

  4. Because my garden is small, I try to achieve this with small paths and other non-plant elements, like a bird bath. I love your garden gate!

  5. Wow, a powerful post! The creation of the garden draws us in more than any single plant.

  6. I suppose the size of my garden is like a Cliffs Notes version of a book. Pretty short and to the point. I do try to use design elements to entice a visitor further in (is this entrapment?)to experience even more garden elements. It's good fun to think of ways to do this (I am "plotting" this summer's ideas as I write....)

    Christine in Alaska

  7. I've been sitting here trying to come up with a made-up noun that means "the state of being well-plotted". I'm drawing a blank, though. Looking forward to the fourth element.

  8. Hi,
    I came across you blog and I simply admire your thoughts. We just moved in and are planning of redoing the garden. Your thoughts directed me to where I should start. You definitely have your plan well mapped in your head especially your comparison of your garden to a good book. It simply wraps up everything. Indirectly as it may seem. thanks for the inspiration.

  9. Dear Carol, I am following what you say with great interest and feel that your concern to have a narrative through the garden is, for me, absolutely key. A beginning, middle and end with mysteries, rests, and surprises en route all make for a successful garden in my book.

    I should also place great emphasis on enclosure, created by a structure of walls,hedges, large shrubs, etc., so that only a small part of the garden is revealed at any one time.

    What is really good is that you are thinking very carefully about what you want. It is, after all, a big decision and mistakes can prove expensive.

  10. Nice blog. Like your garden design. It was nice going through your blog. Keep it up the good work.


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