Inspirational gardens can do more than just inspire, if you know what to look for they can show you how to make your own garden sensational.

I’m currently on a jolly around Spain and Portugal. I mean, I’m working very hard on your behalf, to find exceptional gardens that will inspire and help you improve your own garden.

What Makes Stunning Landscaping?

Mostly it’s shape. The shapes you create within the garden are the most important, not the actual shape of the garden. After that it comes down to subtle factors. Today, we’ll take a look at those more subtle elements that make the difference between OK and great gardens.

The above picture is of Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, a garden I discovered quite by accident whilst wandering around the beautiful city of Cordoba, Spain. I’m not usually drawn to formal garden styles but this one really did it for me. It took my breath away. There aren’t many gardens that I say that about, being a fussy designer.

What Makes This Garden So Hot (apart from the climate)?

What impressed me so much about this garden, wasn’t the obvious grandeur, the exuberant water features or the stunning setting. It was the use of sightlines and focal points. Everywhere you looked there was a stunning view. Every conceivable viewpoint had been thought about. I’ve never been in a garden before where every time I turned round there was something more amazing to look at with every view.

The design of this garden had been thought about, really thought about. This garden didn’t just happen, it was planned. Every time you reached the end of the path and looked to your left or right, there was another path with a view enticing you to go further into the garden. Turning around to view behind you was even more spectacular than walking down it in the first place.


So How Was This Achieved?

With very controlled sightlines. Every view was carefully orchestrated. The designer had complete control over what you saw and what you didn’t. It was impossible to see the entire garden in one go with the use of taller planting and hedges steering your view. This very clever organisation of space, with strategically placed features and focal points, made for a truly wondrous garden.

How Can You Transform Your Garden?

Think about how your garden is viewed from different locations. Which view do you see the most? Is it the view from your kitchen window perhaps? If so, what is it that you’re looking out to? Can you improve the view by the placement of a bench or statue? Then, when you get to that point in the garden, what is the view that you are looking back to?

Really think about how the garden is viewed from different locations. Then look at how you can improve each view by shaping it and placing a focal point to capture and hold attention. It doesn’t have to be a stature, a specimen plant like the one in the picture below can often do the trick.

Experience It Yourself!

Annoyingly I haven’t been able to do this garden anywhere near justice with my photography skills. It is spectacular in a way that will make your heart miss a beat, so I urge you to go and see it for yourself and experience the mastery of an exceptionally well planned garden.

Next Week It’s Plant Time

In the next blog post we will take a detailed look at what made the planting so effective in this garden. We’ll also discuss how you can create great planting schemes in your garden.

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Rachel Mathews
Rachel Mathews

Professional international garden designer for over 30 years. My mission is to de-mystify garden design and make it easy for people to successfully design their own garden - without needing to spend a fortune!

    8 replies to "How to Make a Garden Great"

    • […] a great planting scheme, we’re going to dissect what made the planting scheme so good at the inspirational garden of Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos in Cordoba, […]

    • Anne Wareham

      Great piece and – I think – great garden. But you are, of course, quite right: we’d have to visit it to really see it.

      Even the best photograph is nothing like being in a garden and so fails to communicate what that’s like.

      • Rachel Mathews

        Thanks Anne. It’s definitely a garden I think you’d approve of! Córdoba is well worth seeing as it’s a beautiful city, so it certainly wouldn’t be a wasted visit.

        You are totally right about photos never really capturing a garden, but it was frustrating not to have got some better images.

    • Benjamin Whitacre

      Wonderful post and garden, the sort I’ve only seen in films. Any idea what the dark crimson roses growing so well around the statue are? Maybe Chianti, Souvenir du Docteur Jamain, The Prince, Munstead Wood, or Ebb Tide?

      • Rachel Mathews

        Thanks Benjamin – funnily enough they are not roses – I thought there were to begin with too, but when I got up closer they were Celosia cristata. A very clever choice as it’s a lot less maintenance than roses in such a hot country, yet it gives the same amount of impact.

        • Benjamin Whitacre

          That’s quite a surprise! They really have the effect of roses from that distance. I’ve seen some variety of cockscombs that really looked like bright red rooster combs over here in the US at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, planted as rather wild looking single specimins in a loose border, but it never occurred to me to use them in a bed like this. I’ll have to try it. Thanks.

          • Rachel Mathews

            It is isn’t it! Clever idea, definitely one worth trying! I wrote a little bit more about them in the follow up article on the garden, if you’re interested:

            • Benjamin Whitacre

              Great information. I’ll have to recommend this style of planting with cockscombs. It would be a wise choice for municipal plantings where roses are out of favor because of deer and diseases.

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