Q: How do I come up with a good design?
A: Go on garden tours and study the gardens you gravitate toward, whether formal or more relaxed. In general, I think a garden with wide, curving borders works best. Just don't try to cram too much drama into a 2-foot-wide strip. Get bold and make borders or beds 6, 8, or 10 feet deep.
If you're torn between wanting order and not having time to stay on top of every garden chore, I suggest framing beds with tidy features and then letting the rest of the garden be more freewheeling. Surrounding each part of the garden with a low hedge makes a neat frame. For my own house, which is rather formal, I wanted a garden with structure. So l use narrow strips of lawn and brick columns to frame perennial beds that are pure chaos. I also laid out the garden so that people would turn corners and be surprised; I didn't want them to see it all at one time. But everybody's style of house and garden is different.
Shown: A tidy circle of bricks filled with stones and containers creates a focal point in a section of lawn near the house. The small pots are planted with hens-and-chicks; the large container overflows with a riot of flowers and foliage plants.