If you are anything like me, travel and home compete as priorities in your life. I love to travel, see new places, and experience new things. I also love to nest and make a beautiful home. Fortunately, I’ve found a way to do both through travel-themed gardens.
Photographs and souvenirs are great ways to remember a trip, but bringing foreign styles into the home and garden greatly enhances your travel memories. When you relax in a hammock next to cacti and succulents, you can reminisce about that trip to Mexico. Being surrounded by plants and design elements from your favorite place can instantly transport you back there.
There are so many ways to bring travel-themed gardens into your home.
The first step is to consider what location you want to emulate in the garden. Maybe you were inspired by the elements of a Japanese garden or wowed by the colorful flower boxes in Austria and Germany. It could be that your inspiration comes from a botanical garden near home.
Second, decide whether you want your entire garden to have one theme, like an English garden or Mexican garden, or whether you’d like to have different parts of the garden represent different places you’ve traveled.
Third, look through photos from your trip or visit a botanical garden to see plants and garden designs from around the world. Pinterest is a great resource for garden ideas. What elements fit the size of your space, the climate at your home, and your budget?
Then, get started landscaping! YouTube has tons of tutorials to help you plan garden spaces, walkways, and other yard elements.
The possibilities are endless for a travel-themed garden, but here are a few ideas to get you started.
If you are looking for a contemplative, simple look, a Japanese garden might fit the bill. Japanese-inspired gardens can lend themselves to small yards or patios. There are several elements common to Japanese gardens: water, stones, lanterns, bridges, and plants. You may not be able to fit all of them in your garden but strive for as many as possible.
A water feature can be anything from a pond stocked with koi fish to a small fountain. Cascading water, from a pond to a creek, for instance, helps keep the air fresh. Moving water can be an important part of a Japanese garden. If water just won’t work for your space, consider representing water with gravel or sand raked into wave-like patterns or a dry waterfall (karetaki).
Stones are a symbol of duration and can anchor a garden. Large stones can represent hills or mountains, smaller rocks can line pools or streams – or take their place. Many Japanese gardens have neatly raked gravel as a design element.
Stone lanterns are often found in Japanese gardens and provide both an aesthetic element and a practical one – light.
Bridges connect islands (another common element) and can range from a flat stone across a stream to a large wooden bridge crossing a lake. If you don’t have room for an island or garden, consider a small model of a bridge.
Of course, plants and an important element of any garden. In a Japanese garden, they are usually well-manicured and serve a metaphorical purpose. If you can fit a cherry tree in your yard, you will be delighted with the pink and white blooms come spring.
On a recent trip to Mexico, I was thrilled by the color and contrast of Mexican gardens. From the vibrant flowers to the colorful pottery, Mexican gardens scream “life.” It isn’t easy mimicking a Mexican garden somewhere like Montana, but certain elements can bring south of the border feel.
Traditional Mexican houses sometimes surround an inner courtyard paved with terra cotta or warm-colored tiles. Even if you don’t have your courtyard, you can create a patio with the same look.
An outdoor chimenea or fireplace warms visitors during cool months and provides a Mexican design element. Hammocks or patio furniture with brightly colored pillows encourage you or your guests to linger and enjoy.
Use colorful pots for cacti, succulents, bromeliads, or small fruit trees, and train bougainvillea to climb walls or trellises. Paint an outdoor wall a bright color – turquoise, canary, or hot pink – to add a serious pop of color.
Related read: How to start a vegetable garden
English gardens have always been some of my favorites. Tall foxglove and moss-covered rocks welcome quiet strolls and reading in the garden. One of my favorite aspects of being in the U.K. in spring was the vast abundance of bulbs – hyacinths, tulips, and daffodils.
Fill a wheelbarrow with potting soil and bulbs in the fall for a riotous bloom come spring. Wheelbarrows make fun containers and they can be rolled out of the way in the winter when the flowers are not in bloom.
Plant roses everywhere. English gardens are filled with sweetly scented roses. There are so many varieties of roses that you can probably find several that grow well in your climate; ask at your local garden store for the best varieties.
Short hedges outlining rose beds and lush cottage gardens, present a very English look. The clean hedge lines contrast with a somewhat chaotic look of delphiniums, foxgloves, daisies, and poppies that are so popular in English cottage gardens.
Make sure to place a bench where you can sit and enjoy your garden.
Austrian Window Boxes
One of the things I loved most about being in Austria (and other parts of Europe) in the summer was the abundance of window boxes or flower boxes. It seems that every window, balcony, and bridge holds a box of flowers.
By far, the most popular flower in these flower boxes is alpine geranium. This is not the same as the geraniums often seen in the United States. They cascade down over the edge of the box, rather than growing upright.
Petunias, ivy, daisies, and greenery add contrast and background to the geraniums. Red, white, and purple are a popular combination, but any combination of draping and upright plants will do the job. Plant everything close together for an overflowing look.
Even if you can’t hang a window box from a balcony, you can fill a rectangular box with bright flowers and place it on the ground or hang it from a fence.
Love your beach vacation and wish it didn’t have to end? You can keep that feeling alive with a beach-themed garden. Beaches around the planet are going to have different vegetation, sand colors, and backdrops, so choose the one that speaks to you (and your growing season).
Choose a color palette for your garden and garden furniture. Blues, greens, and whites remind me of ocean and sand, but bright colors might bring up the tropics for you.
Tall, wispy grasses and colorful ground cover will instantly transport you to the coast. Add sand and a rope fence for extra authenticity. If black sand beaches instantly relax you, find a small area to fill with black sand and lava rocks. Add a bright container garden to the spot.
Use seashells and driftwood to line garden beds and a few glass ball fishing floats as focal elements.
For paths or patio areas, weathered wooden walkways and decks are reminiscent of piers and docks. Plant succulents and pink and purple flowers in blue or tan pots.
Bust out a bright umbrella and comfortable lounge chairs, sit back, and turn your music to “ocean waves.”
Southern United States Garden
If you don’t call the United States home, as I do, an American garden might be something you want to remember. The southern United States is balmy and humid. Think fragrant flowers and waterfalls.
A waterfall built of fieldstone can be the focal point of a southern garden. It grabs the senses visually, aurally, and even tactually.
Brick paths or borders, arbors, and garden gates are elements of a southern garden. Often wisteria, lilacs, or other vines drape walls and arbors.
If you have space, add trees. Trees can be used as walls or focal points. In autumn, their orange, gold, and red leaves usher in the season. In spring, bright flowers can welcome the return of the growing season and longer days.
As for flowers, roses, and hydrangeas are the epitome of southern gardens (and English gardens, for that matter). Plant roses where you will be sure to smell them while you are sitting or gardening.
I am not a fan of grass lawns, but they can be a component of a sprawling southern garden. Choose a variety that needs little water and hire a professional arborist to make your life easier.
Remember, you probably can’t bring plants or seeds home from another country, but you can bring small statues, vases, and other souvenirs to dress up your travel-themed gardens. Enjoy!