We New Englanders love being outside (with exceptions of course). We do love our gardens and pack a lot into a short growing season, so get inspired! You can make the most of your home with an outdoor space as beautiful and welcoming as your house’s interior. Landscape architecture takes your creativity for space planning outdoors.
Designing for the great outdoors, in your own backyard, can be even more challenging than doing an interior room because over the span of several months, the “living” landscape of plants and shrubs changes dramatically. If you decide that part of the landscaping didn’t “work” for whatever reason, you can make a fresh start with something different next season. It can actually be exciting to anticipate how a new garden-landscape plan will take root.
When is the best time to plant a tree?
According to the Chinese proverb the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second-best time is today. So work with professionals to design your outdoor living space for the long-term. For example, give your plan several years to allow plantings to mature.
Anyone can head to their favorite nursery and pick up a bunch of flats of annuals and a few hearty shrubs, but you really need to know your horticulture for good results. For an outdoor oasis that endures, you need to plan strategically with an experienced designer or landscape architect.
The first step is determining how you’ll use your outdoor space:
- Do you do a lot of entertaining?
- Are there children who need a play space?
- Do you want a cutting garden, or a “kitchen” (herb) garden?
- Maybe you’d like a soothing sanctuary with sculpture, or a water feature.
- Will you encourage birds and wildlife, or do you prefer they keep their distance?
- Will you do the gardening, or hire landscapers?
- Do you want a low- or high-maintenance garden?
- What is the soil like, and what type of garden is it suited for?
- Do you want a flat lawn for croquet, or a landscape of foliage shrubs and rocks?
- Will you need irrigation?
Kick your imagination into gear!
As with any room, you’ll have walls: the side of the house, fences, woods and other property boundaries. You also have floors (a wooden or composite deck, a tile, concrete or stone patio) and furnishings (seating and dining areas). Architectural features you may want to consider for interest and function include a pergola for shade, a gazebo for covered seating, a trellis or arbor for vining plants or to mark the entrance to a garden or wooded path.
You’ll want other design features that lead your eye around at different levels—or that draw you toward a unique land feature or sunset view, for example. Hanging plants or vines that climb a column supporting a roof overhang with a ceiling fan or porch swing, whimsical topiary or statuary, even bird feeders are ways to draw your eyes upward.
Always keep your eyes on ambiance. For evening entertaining or relaxation, make sure to include accent lighting. How about strategically placed “up” lighting at the base of a 100-year-old oak or majestic white pine? Line a stone walkway with solar-powered ground fixtures for safe steps and a lovely glow. Or plan a stone wall to have inset lights. Pipe music outside with protected, hidden speakers.
A warming fire pit extends the outdoor entertaining season. Or, if summer means that you grill more often than not, go all out with an outdoor kitchen featuring a versatile grill, a fridge and/or beer cooler. Cap the project with your own smoker for “to-die-for” barbeque feasts.
What kind of seating will you have? Benches built into the hardscaping, or patio furniture? Why not both? You’ll still have a place to relax on those occasional warmer days when the outdoor furniture is stored away. Is the seating area covered? Will you need a place to store patio furniture cushions away from rain?
Down the garden path…
If your backyard rambles, or leads to a pond, lake or spectacular vista, you have more choices to make to direct your steps away from the house. Paths can be made of brick or stone pavers, pea gravel or crushed stone, or slate stepping stones.
Woodchips may be more appropriate for very rustic settings, such as a mountain getaway or cabin by a lake.
If you enjoy gardening, do you like a traditional English cottage garden, or will you grow vegetables? Raised flower beds save your back, and with a wide ledge, can double as seating surrounding a patio.
Garden planning includes thinking of colors, textures, heights, even fragrance of plants. What kind of care do plants need, how much work do you want to do? There are so many options and color possibilities. How about a “moonlight” garden by the patio, with all white flowers that appear to glow by night?
Xeriscaping uses plants that don’t require a lot of water for drought-prone areas. An old-fashioned rain barrel adds charm to a less formal garden, and provides for watering. (Make sure it’s not a breeding ground for mosquitos.)
Don’t bulldoze that glacial boulder—work around it with wildflowers or make it the focal point of a rock garden. Build a wooden bench around that chestnut tree.
For the birds and the bees…
You’ve seen the headlines about the disappearing bees due to loss of or toxic habitat. Why not create your own oasis for bees, birds—including hummingbirds—and butterflies?
Birds, bees and butterflies add motion, sound and visual interest to any outdoor setting. A bubbling fountain or flowing waterfall provides refreshment for wildlife as well as soothing sounds. An ornamental birdbath can do the same on a smaller scale.
3W Design can help you create a vision for your personal great outdoors. Just look outside and imagine… Then plan on spending more quality time in your own backyard. “Go outside and play” is something you’ll be telling yourself instead of remembering the phrase from childhood.