Get the Look: New England Garden Style


Lauren Dunec Hoang

With white picket fences, lush green foliage and banks of flowering shrubs, traditional New England gardens have a classic, timeless style. These gardens of the Northeast look for ways to celebrate seasonal change — beds of bulbs in spring, exuberant summer perennial borders, and shrubs and trees for vivid fall foliage. If you live in New England or just love the region’s traditional garden style, here are a few ideas that will help you get the look in your own yard.





New England gardens with limited color palettes have a stately, sophisticated feel. To get the look, maintain shrubs as neatly clipped spheres and hedges, and keep colors limited primarily to crisp white and green. For flowering shrubs and perennials, choose plants with fresh white blooms, such as ‘Iceberg’ roses (Rosa ‘Iceberg’, USDA zones 5 to 9; find your zone) and ‘Annabelle’ wild hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’, zones 4 to 9).





For a traditional New England look, turn to the classic building materials of the Northeast, including local stone, brick and gravel, and paint wooden fences, gates and outbuildings with crisp white paint. For walkways, use warm brick, crunchy pea gravel and flagstone of the region. Look for cool-toned stones, such as Connecticut bluestone pavers for patios, and granite for wall rock.




Garden Elements

White picket fences. As classically American as apple pie, white picket fences look right at home with traditional homes and New England gardens. Set the fence back a few feet from the curb to make room for planting beds of cheery daisies or neat and tidy shrubs.



This rose garden outside Winnetka, Illinois, was designed in traditional English style with a New England garden theme. 

Rose gardens, knot gardens and parterres. New England gardens frequently borrow design techniques from classic European and British gardens. For a formal look, lay out beds symmetrically along a center axis with a circular center bed. Edge with clipped hedges, such as boxwood (Buxus spp.), and fill beds with fragrant blooms, culinary herbsand other clipped shrubs with various foliage colors.



Covered garden gates. Garden gates with arbors, often draped with rambling vines, are another classic New England detail. Consider adding a covered garden gate to your front walkway or to connect two garden rooms. Plant wisteria, clematis or fragrant climbing roses for charm.


Driveways. Gravel and crushed shell are natural choices for Northeastern driveways because the permeable surfaces absorb rainwater and don’t risk cracking in extreme winters. For gravel, look for locking gravels and those with stone pieces larger than about one-fifth inch (5 millimeters) to reduce tracking the gravel to garden walkways and into the home. In regions that receive heavy snow and require frequent plowing, avoid gravel and crushed shell since snowplows can cause gouges in driveways made of permeable materials. Instead, opt for asphalt or cut stone.

Border driveways with evergreen conifers and cold-hardy shrubs for year-round interest. Plant billowing perennials like catmint (Nepeta spp.), evening primrose (Oenothera spp.) and lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina, zones 4 to 10) to soften the border between drive and garden bed.


Plant Types

Swaths of blooms. Towering deciduous trees, hydrangeas billowing over stone walls, and expanses of lush lawn are about as New England garden as it gets. This example on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, features a lush hedge of blooming hydrangeas. To adopt the look, plant banks of flowering shrubs like astilbe, hydrangea or lilac behind a wooden fence or stone wall.



Planted side yards. Wrap your lawn around from the front garden to the backyard, leaving wide borders with plenty of room to plant shrubs and perennials. In this garden on Nantucket, Massachusetts, the designer planted abundant hydrangeas and other flowering shrubs.


Spring gardens. After a long, cold winter, New England gardens burst into life. Celebrate the season with beds packed to the brim with flowering bulbs and soft spring perennials. For the most interest, mix a variety of bloom types, such as the tall spikes of common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea, zones 4 to 10), shown here; the lacy umbels of white lace flower (Orlaya grandiflora, zones 4 to 11); and the delicate tubular blooms of nemesia (Nemesia caerulea, zones 9 to 10).


Exuberant summer borders. New England perennial beds really take off during the warm days of summer. Get the look with a colorful mix of sunflowers, dinner-plate dahlias, marigolds and cosmos.


Fall foliage. New England gardens, and the surrounding hills and valleys, put on a fiery autumn show. Choose trees with brilliant fall color, such as sugar maple (Acer saccharum, zones 3 to 8), or shrubs that turn from green to bronze, like oakleaf hydrangea(Hydrangea quercifolia, zones 5 to 9).

Window boxes. Get bonus points for curb appeal by coordinating your planting beds with seasonal window boxes for picture-perfect New England charm. Painting the window boxes in a contrasting color to the house — such as a crisp white against blue siding — makes them stand out more as a design feature.

Great Garden Combos- Roses + Clematis for Small Space Gardens


I love lush, abundant gardens, but in small spaces they can be difficult to achieve, due to narrow borders that don’t allow for multiple layers of trees and shrubs. The answer when you can’t go out is to go up, using one climbing plant to support another; the classic example of this is the pairing of a rose and a clematis. 

I usually allow a newly planted climbing rose two full growing seasons to become established and gain some height before adding a clematis, although it is possible to plant both at the same time. The rose will need to be tied onto its support, but the clematis has a natural twining habit and will attach itself to the rose stems and leaves by means of its tendrils.

How to select your plants. The first consideration is whether you want the rose and the clematis to bloom together or sequentially. Are you looking to extend the flowering season, or are you looking for a major blast of color in a particular month?

Then think about color. If the two plants will bloom at the same time, you can select flowers that contrast or harmonize to suit the color scheme of your garden, your home and your personal taste. I highly recommend the book The Rose and the Clematis, by John Howells, to explore combinations, suggestions for specific cultivars and design ideas.


How to Use the Combination

1. To soften a home’s facade. Many homes feature a prominent two- or three-car garage that can be visually overwhelming. Sometimes a pocket of soil will be left at the base of each supporting column, which at first glance has little potential. Yet this is the perfect size to plant both a rose and a clematis to add color and drama to the facade. 

Here the intensely fragrant Westerland rose perfumes the air and acts as a support for the purple clematis (Clematis jackmanii ‘Superba’). These two are planted on either side of a wide garage, scrambling up a discreet trellis until they reach a decorative pergola that spans the top. Three years after their planting, both roses and clematises are mingling in a glorious colorful profusion, draping the pergola in midsummer — a truly unforgettable sight.

For seasonal screening. This designer has taken the concept one step further by combining two clematises and a tall rose on a decorative trellis. The increased density of foliage and flowers helps with privacy screening during the summer.

Planting tips. Both plants thrive in rich, moisture-retentive but well-drained soil in full sun. Clematis prefers shade at its roots, which can be provided by a ground cover.

Dig a planting hole to a depth of 2 feet and work in some compost. The hole should be wide enough to accommodate the roots easily. 

Plant the rose no deeper than it was in the container. There are conflicting reports as to the benefit of planting a clematis deeper than it was in the pot; some suggest that planting deeper reduces the chance of fungal disease (wilt), while others refute that. Personally I do plant it 2 to 4 inches deeper and seem to get stronger growth as a result.

Fertilizer. Both roses and clematises benefit from a handful of bonemeal being added to the hole at planting time to promote strong root development. A 2- to 3-inch layer of compost over the root zone in winter is also beneficial, but keep this away from the clematis stems.

Alfalfa promotes the growth of new canes and stems from the base of both the rose and the clematis. Gently work a cupful into the soil surface in spring and again after the plants flower. Alternatively, use an organic rose fertilizer as directed; this will be suitable for both plants.

Houzz Pastel Plantings

Pastel colors can enhance outdoor spaces and add a sense of tranquility and lightness, even in starker contemporary gardens. Used in informal plantings, pastel tones such as pink, lilac, lavender, cream and peach create soft and subtle effects. Though they work well on their own, pastels also combine well with gray and silver foliage as well as bolder colors, creating lively contemporary gardens with ties to cottage gardens of the past.


Plant in a matrix. Matrix planting is a technique that replicates nature in the way that plants grow together and intermingle, usually with a dominant species punctuating the scheme. Pastel-colored flowers blend well in this style of planting, and stronger-colored flowers can be used to add bursts of interest. 

We saw this style of planting softening contemporary show gardens this year at theRHS Chelsea Flower Show, in May, and with The Wellbeing of Women garden at this year’s RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, as seen here.

Pastel colors can enhance outdoor spaces and add a sense of tranquility and lightness, even in starker contemporary gardens. Used in informal plantings, pastel tones such as pink, lilac, lavender, cream and peach create soft and subtle effects. Though they work well on their own, pastels also combine well with gray and silver foliage as well as bolder colors, creating lively contemporary gardens with ties to cottage gardens of the past.

 Frame pastels with evergreens. Evergreen foliage is a fitting backdrop to a pastel planting palette. Here, the dusty blue of catmint (Nepeta x faassenii) and soft pink of hardy geranium stand against the dark green of boxwood (Buxus sp.), while the creamy flowers of Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) blend in and complete the scheme.

Add silver and gray as foils. Silver foliage combines splendidly with pastels, especially blues, pinks and purples. The French lavender (Lavandula stoechas) and lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina) lining this path complement each other across the walkway. 

Discover more plants with blue and gray foliage

Mix bolder colors to add depth. This planting could have been a little too flat had it only consisted of a pastel palette of blue and white agapanthus and purple tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis), but the burst of bright red Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ adds contrast to the whole scene. The strong red also helps the quieter pastel colors recede, giving the planting more depth.

This contemporary design, though more formal than the other examples, incorporates touches of pastel. The pink, lilac and purple outdoor pillows tie in with the pastel colors in the plantings.