Is this cowslip (Primula veris) a design element? Probably not, but I get great satisfaction out of its vigor and successful colonization of my rockery. It is beautiful.
I read a blog (Garden Rant) today that asked the question, are ornamental gardens really about beauty? They said that if beauty were the primary ambition there would be careful restraint unlike the exuberant excess of most keen gardener's gardens. She said, "My feeling is that beauty is a side product of gardening, but not the ultimate goal, which is vigorous exercise and pagan nature worship." I agree with the idea that beauty is a side product of gardening, but the rest of that sentence is a bit airy for me. Instead of vigorous exercise (occasionally) and pagan nature worship it is more about a sense of achieving understanding of natural systems through model making. I think we all love to build things and what better challenge is there than to build something out of living, growing, plants. It is a life-long pursuit of mine to learn about plants and their associated life forms. My favorite vehicle for learning is gardening. The garden also offers living space (comfort, as sense of place), and yes it offers beauty. Gardeners find their beauty in more than the quick scan of a carefully groomed minimalist landscape. There is also beauty in a tiny nook, an individual plant, a sense of enclosure, or any of a multiplicity of levels of scale. That's why we like the weird jack-in-the-pulpit or the fine details of the rock garden or the great sweep of a meadow-like planting. They are beautiful in their way and they are fascinating as well for anyone who wants to look beyond the superficial.