Alexandra Wiens, Prince Edward County
I live in a “barefoot home”. That is, a space where the inside and the outside of the house run together. When I was designing this house I gave a lot of thought to the uses of the interior rooms and that of the adjacent exterior spaces; I wanted to create a harmonious living space.
Designing a garden follows some of the same principles employed in interior design. The exterior environment should reflect good design guidelines; just we create interior rooms that have functionality, beauty and practicality.
Form follows function:
In any interior space the design of a room follows its use. In the garden, the same rule should hold true. It is important to site things according to how you use the space. A lovely kitchen garden filled with vegetables should be as close as possible to the kitchen. Chances are, if it is too far to be convenient, you will never remember to pick your lettuce before it bolts. Try to site it somewhere where you pass on a daily basis, if only to see what is ready to use. Herbs are far better in containers next to the barbecue, or in a kitchen window box, than if they are tucked away at the bottom of the garden.
Consider the viewpoint:
What can you see from the interior of the house? If you have spent a lot of money on the foundation planting but nothing elsewhere, chances are the view from inside is a bit barren. I have seen many gardens with a lovely Japanese maple or purple ninebark planted in a location where they can only be enjoyed when outside. Considering that these plants show their best color in the fall when we are moving back indoors might convince the gardener to put them somewhere where they can been seen from a window. How about planting a copse of birches where you can hang a birdfeeder in the winter. Sighting it at a distance from a living room window in the winter will reward you with a lovely flash of red cardinal on a white bough in the dullest part of the year.
The rule of three:
In interior design we use the rule of three to guide us when deciding the proportions of things. Cutting a wall exactly in half when installing bead board molding does not make for a pleasing look; rules of proportion call for a 2/3 to 1/3 ratio. In choosing plants the same rule holds true. Mixing heights proportionally makes for a more interesting composition. Avoid bisecting walls and fences exactly in half when choosing plants for height. Symmetrical composition (one shrub on each side of the entrance) is never as interesting as asymmetry: two shrubs of varying sizes on one side, one of another size on the other. Decide to plant perennials in groups of three or five for the best visual effect. When introducing annuals, avoid planting straight lines of salvia or geraniums, for example, that look is better left to public parks, it tends to look unnatural in the home garden.
Embrace the curved line:
It has been often said “there are no straight lines in nature”. This is quite true, even the trunks of trees develop interesting small twists as they grow towards the light. In the garden, the most pleasing line is a curve. Try to create paths that wind naturally from place to place. If it is necessary to have a ramrod straight path to the house, soften the effect with some low growing ground covers that may lap naturally over the edges of the sidewalk. Sometimes the straight line is unavoidable, say in a kitchen or cutting garden when neat rows make the plants easy to tend, but try to limit its use through most of the garden space. Just as we soften the edges of our windows with window treatments we should soften the edges of our garden beds. The most pleasing line is the curved line, which leads our eye naturally from place to place.
Place accents with care:
In the interior we play up our rooms with carefully chosen accent pieces to add interest; these can be seasonal and changed frequently or permanently sited. In the garden the same holds true. Pots changed with the three seasons can be moved from deck to patio and provide an easy burst of color. Seasonal color can also be added in a shady spot by introducing pots of shade annuals. Put garden furniture in areas where some pleasant blooms can be observed during that particular month. Try a garden bench in an area that presents an interesting viewpoint. Planting minor bulbs at the entrance to the house will give you a lift as you go in and out during those wet spring days. Think about minimizing the less attractive (service) areas of the garden with fences or green screens that hide the compost bin or blue box area. Try not to overdo the garden accents. An entire side table of glassware or china pieces ends up looking cluttered. The same holds true in the garden, one piece of statuary well sited in an attractive border is as effective as a whole group of garden gnomes.
Finally, put your own stamp on it. This garden is yours and should reflect your personality, just as your home reflects your lifestyle.