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  • Writer's pictureJohn

The Beauty of Creating a Naturalistic Style Garden

What is a Naturalistic Garden?

There are many different styles of gardens, each with its own unique design elements, features, and plant palettes. Garden styles range from English cottage gardens to modern minimalist gardens to traditional formal gardens. A garden can be whatever you want it to be. The garden’s purpose, location, surrounding landscape and structures, historical references, and intended use are some factors to consider when choosing a garden style and developing a garden design and selecting appropriate plants.


A naturalistic garden is a type of garden design that seeks to imitate the look and feel of natural landscapes. The goal of a naturalistic garden is to create a space that appears as though it has evolved naturally over time, rather than being designed and constructed. The garden draws inspiration from the native flora and landscape. The garden feels like it belongs, arising naturally or spontaneously.


Naturalistic gardens often feature a variety of plant species that are arranged in loose, informal groupings, much like they would be in a natural landscape. The use of native plants is common in naturalistic gardens, as they are well adapted to the local climate and ecosystem. But a naturalistic style garden can include well-behaved non-native plants as well. Paths and other hardscape elements are often designed to blend seamlessly into the garden, rather than standing out as distinct features.


The design of a naturalistic garden is often inspired by the natural landscape of a specific region, such as a forest, meadow, or coastline. The design may also be influenced by the work of naturalists and landscape designers, such as Jens Jensen, Piet Oudolf, and the Midwest’s own Roy Diblik, who advocate for the creation of gardens that reflect the beauty and ecological principles of natural landscapes.


When contemplating which garden style to choose, we often encourage our clients to consider a contemporary naturalistic style, or at minimum, incorporate some of the best attributes from this garden style into whatever garden is created. Elements of informal naturalistic gardens can be integrated with more formal or traditional style of gardens.


Naturalistic gardens can provide a range of benefits, including:


  • Biodiversity: By featuring a variety of plant species and supporting a diverse range of wildlife, naturalistic gardens can contribute to the preservation of biodiversity. Herbaceous perennials, grasses, sedges, shrubs, bulbs, and other plants can be included in the design palette, both native and non-native plants. Naturalistic gardens are havens for butterflies, birds, bees, and all sorts of creatures, adding a layer of interest to the garden overall.

  • Sustainability: Naturalistic gardens often feature low-maintenance, drought-tolerant plants that require less water and other resources, making them more sustainable and environmentally friendly. Usually, fertilizers and pesticide are unnecessary, and when the right mix of plants are used, garden maintenance is minimal.

  • Aesthetic appeal: Naturalistic gardens are often praised for their beauty and the sense of tranquility and calm that they provide. Many of the plants make for excellent cut flowers to bring the garden inside. Good examples of naturalistic gardens can be viewed at nearby public gardens including Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Madison, WI, and Chicago Botanic Garden, Glencoe, IL. Folly Afield’s own display and trial gardens also offer good examples of naturalistic style plantings and examples of native plants too. You can visit by appointment.

  • Education: Naturalistic gardens can also serve as educational spaces, allowing visitors to learn about the plants and wildlife that are native to a specific region. Visitors can also get ideas on how to combine and mix plants for best effect.

Overall, naturalistic gardens offer a unique and engaging garden experience that reflects the beauty and diversity of natural landscapes. By imitating the look and feel of these landscapes, naturalistic gardens can provide a space for people to connect with nature and enjoy the benefits of a well-designed and sustainable garden.


Whether you are looking for a naturalistic or formal garden, or something in-between, Folly Afield can help you create the garden of your dreams.


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