Despite its impressive sounding name, making a botanical garden in your own backyard is easy. You can start small and grow your garden as you add various plant species. Or, if you're more ambitious, start with a master plan and build the garden of your dreams. Either way, with patience, planning, and perseverance, you'll be on your way to your very own botanical garden in no time.
Identify Your Plants
What will set your botanical garden apart from your neighbor's standard garden is your attention to detail. Like the botanical gardens you see at universities and in some cities, the important thing to remember is that each one of your plants needs to be identified. You'll want to use both the standard and Latin names. For example, traditional Blood Irises would be referred to as "Blood Irises" and "Iris Sanguinea." Botanical gardens are meant as educational gardens. Backyard gardens are meant for entertainment and enjoyment. When you combine the two, you’ll have plenty of conversation pieces for guests as they tour your garden.
As with any garden, your botanical garden needs to have a focal point. This can be the corner of the garden, the entry to your garden, a fountain or an ornamental flowering tree in the center, or anything else you decide. The focal point of your garden should be complemented with a variety of smaller, interesting areas. For example, you could add small hills or perhaps some rock decorations, each following tried-and-true landscaping rules. A botanical garden's main point of difference with a traditional garden is that it invites the viewer to understand the plants, not just view them. Providing a focal point and smaller areas for people to become engaged with will help you achieve this goal. Of course, a botanical garden needs to be visually interesting as well. Since you're creating something that will set you apart as an expert in plant biology, you need to keep a firm eye on garden design to establish and maintain your credibility.
In addition to a focal point, your botanical garden should have a coherent theme. You might want to pick an era in gardening history and recreate it in your botanical garden. Or you may want to recreate a French or English garden, or a famous botanical garden you've visited in the past. You can build a theme around types of gardens: rock, shade, shrubbery, fruits and vegetables, orchids, desert plants, perennials. You can even give your garden a coherent theme simply by following good garden design principles. Make sure your plantings are arranged so they're easily viewable, and keep a color palette in mind to avoid clashing or creating jarring color combinations. This can be done with any size garden. In fact, don't be concerned if you have small yard or plot to start with.
Whether it’s large or small, keep your botanical garden manageable by being selective about the plants you include. Begin with a handful of species. Get to know their backgrounds -- where they originated, how they've been cultivated over the years, etc. You can even include some of the history and more interesting points on the placard that will go with every variety. You'll want to take on the role of the botanist of your own garden. Think about how a small botanical garden will grow into a large one over the years. Consider how paths will be laid out, where you'll want to put benches for sitting and relaxing, where you'll want to place fountains, birdbaths, bird feeders and other ornamentation. Adding delightful touches such as sundials, gnomes and other ornamentation can add to the cozy feel. And if you live in an apartment, you can even have a container botanical garden on your balcony.
Whether you start off large or small, consider adding a greenhouse to your garden at some point. Greenhouses don't have to be large buildings -- they can be the size of simple sheds and still help you keep your garden revitalized with new plantings in the years ahead. You certainly can build a larger greenhouse if you have the room and inclination. If you do decided to build big, you should have a plan as to how the greenhouse will fit into your botanical garden plans. It should be a part of the garden experience. Guests will love walking through your greenhouse to see even more of your beautiful species.
The first step is to get started on your botanical garden. Don’t be intimidated by the name or reputation of some of the more famous gardens. You too can have a full-fledged botanical garden in your very own backyard.