|Stone bird bath surrounded by geraniums and roses|
Designing step by step means you can get stuck in to your garden straight away, without waiting to work out what the entire plot will look like when you're finished. This helps if you are impatient, or if it's the perfect time of year to start planting but you don't yet have an overall plan.
What is a set piece? It is a single garden feature which looks great in itself. It can be as simple as a statue framed against planting behind it, or as complex and grandiose as the water gardens of renaissance Italy. It can be a few pots on the patio, or a section of planting in a border. What makes it a good set piece is being great to look at, in proportion, with co-ordinated colours and textures, so that you look at it and think "I like that!" Here are some examples:
My stone bird bath (above) is hugged by pink geraniums for most of the summer, with a tall white shrub rose behind. This planting forms a triangular shape which is pleasing to the eye and adds a vertical dimension. There is a contrast of colour and texture between the planting and the stone. This is effectively a standalone feature surrounded by lawn and path. It works well in itself.
|The Roman Garden at Compton Acres|
|Water feature at Compton Acres|
It doesn't have to be formal though. Compton Acres also features this stream, cascading between naturalistic planting on either side. Either of these ideas can be made as large or as small as you need for your own garden, and both look good in their own right.
Create similar features one by one and you will have a fine collection of set pieces. There is a danger using this approach of course, that they will be disjointed and unco-ordinated. You need to have set pieces of a similar style if you want to fit them into a coherent whole garden later. You should find a way of connecting them to each other, either physically, or thematically. This is where a full garden design process is worthwhile, to ensure you don't fall into the trap of having lots of set pieces that don't really belong together in the same garden. But there's no reason why you cant use this technique to get started, or even to add something extra to the garden you already have.