a New Englander’s Duty!
~ By Tess Jenkins, Ruby Shoes Redesign Interiors
While summer is the ultimate time to enjoy your outdoor living spaces, planning these spaces is something that can be done in most any season. With autumn in full swing, this is actually a great time to accomplish many of your projects especially plantings. You deserve to create a relaxing haven while you still can. While the sun is shining and we have the opportunity to be outdoors, it is our duty as New Englanders to milk it for all it’s worth. Whether you have a spacious back yard or a small back patio deck, creating a beautiful space is just a few easy steps away.
The first step to creating your outdoor respite is to decide what you’ll be using your space for and create a focal point around that area. Every well designed space, whether outdoors or in, should have a visual comfort zone and a resting spot for your eye. Do you plan to read and relax? Entertain and dine? Need a play area for the kids? There are several ways to divvy up your space and create flow within your design. Deciding the main objective for your outdoor space (a fire pit for entertaining, an herb garden, a sand box for the kids, or all three) will determine both your budget and your starting point.
Mike Meallo from Meallo Landscapes describes the ideal scenario. “The layout of your landscape should simulate a journey, where a destination is inspired by the placement of plants in such a way as you are led in a direction. Placing ground cover or stones or a fence arbor to direct movement can form a path.” Mike and his team often use a screening plant material like Arborvitae, an evergreen plant often found in heights of 6 feet or more or ornamental grasses to separate the landscape into rooms.
Depending on your backyard priority, your rooms and your focal point may differ. Mike Meallo cautions, “Individual life styles should always be considered. Are there young children whose activities should remain in sight or pets that must be contained or busy professionals with no time for maintenance?”
Define your backyard purpose and then focus on one of these eye-catching ways to create the “look at me first” effect.
Your Priority: Show off your new herb garden / create privacy that also serves as a back drop for patio dining table.
Hang wooden carved or decorative metals screens (prettier than lattice panels) on a back wall or high fence. A series of three (at least 5-6 feet high) will create a headboard feel. Allow plants to climb them as the season passes. Painting these screens a festive color (poppy red?) will ensure your garden will have some pizzazz even when you’re in- between blooming cycles. Screens are an excellent way to divide a shared patio space or create privacy from a busy street.
Your priority: Show off your floral garden/disguise a brick wall/garage side
Attach multiple hanging planters to a brick wall/side of garage to create a wall of floating plants; this will serve as lots of greenery without damaging your brick surface with pesky vines. This is another opportunity to play with color. Choose muted earthy tones for a sophisticated palette or all brighter shades (think fuchsia, papaya, and lime) to create a more whimsical feel. However, if you’re at all like me and forget to water your plants regularly, you may want a plan with easier maintenance. A wall of dead and dying plants is not the desired look we’re going for, not to mention it’s bad Feng Shui. Lesson? Know your gardening limits.
Your priority: Designate a dining and lounge area/define a children’s play area
Group Tall (at least 4-5 feet in height), medium and small ceramic pots in similar colors/styles in four corners to designate your lounge area or use tall planters of similar height to create a visual fence where there was none.
Chris Kennedy, MCH, Landscape Designer and Owner of Kennedy’s Country Gardens in Scituate and President of the Massachusetts Nursery and Landscape Association, offers excellent advice. He says, “Keep in mind, all plants in containers need to be watered and fertilized more frequently than plants in the ground. If you are planting in pots, remember the bigger the pot, the more soil and the longer it takes for the plants to dry out. In other words, they are much more forgiving. Also Cordylines, Sedums and other succulents survive longer without water.”
“Your eyes go to lighter colors so make sure you put your lighter colors in areas where you want your guest’s eyes to go. Either hide the eye sores in your yard with plant material or use darker colors in those areas,” Kennedy explains.
Another easy way to make a division of space is by a change in material. Easily create zones by installing gravel or a mulch area below or building a pergola above. If you’d like a more permanent solution, consider adding in a beautiful hardscape patio or pathway. Bluestone has a unique color contrast and can be made to look more formal depending on its geometric and linear pattern. Natural fieldstone is an informal choice; its rougher texture and irregular shape also add to its unpredictable natural feel.
To create a more intricate design that will become a feature of the garden, not just a utilitarian surface, mix different types of stone. Planting tiny ground covers between your stones (Creeping Thyme is a great suggestion) will offer a romantic feel and is a wonderful alternative to weeds creeping in.
Chris Kennedy also suggests being very careful choosing plant material saying, “It is important to consider the conditions before you choose the plants. They are an investment that you want to last for years to come. Know how many hours of direct sun you have. Also get advice from a plant expert such as a Massachusetts Certified Horticulturist for advice on how much each plant will grow during the time you plan on living in the house. The slower growing the plant, the longer you will have it without having to re-do the project. Making a plan on paper is the way to go. You can get this by hiring a designer or going to a reputable garden center with photographs and measurements.”
After you’ve defined and highlighted your backyard purpose, adding lighting to your garden design is like putting on a piece of jewelry after you’ve dressed – it’s not a must have– but it is gorgeous. Lighting not only adds another layer of sophistication to your space, it serves as a safety precaution as well. Installing an outdoor friendly fixture directly over your dining area is a first choice. But if an electrical outlet is not an option, light the path to your destination by pushing shepherd hooks into your soil and attaching lanterns.
If you’d rather plug in your lighting, opt for stringing paper lanterns. Nowhere to hang them? Fill several ceramic planters with annuals or sand and hang a string of lights off bamboo dowels or hooks placed into their center creating a room of light. Shrubs or sculptures should be up-lit to highlight their branches, as well.
Lastly, when you’re creating your fresh air haven remember that the same rules apply to out-of-doors as in your living room. Your furniture layout should entice conversation (most often a U shape is best) and/or invite a solo reader with a place to set down a drink. I always suggest that my clients invest in a good indoor/outdoor rug (I prefer ones that can be easily hosed down). These rugs come in a variety of colors, tying together your seating area and your ambiance statement (yes, you should have one!). Remember, a well-designed and organized space will create balance, harmony and beauty every time.
So, like I said, the sun is shining. I hope you are reading this outdoors in your backyard haven. If you’re not, you know what it’s your duty to do…