Harmonize Your Home and Garden

Every part of the garden should function on both an aesthetic and practical level. See how mixing materials can add interest to your garden

Credit: Jackie Connelly

When the pool in this outdoor scene is still, the sky is bought to earth

Mix form, texture and colour to create a garden that promotes relaxation and comfort

We all want to find some peace at the end of a busy day, and many of us are using our own gardens to help us do so. But just what is it that will transform an ordinary city lot into a place of refuge?

A well-designed garden must maximize the capabilities of its site while reflecting the style of both the home and its owners. The result is a cohesive picture of house and garden, and an extension of our own esthetic and lifestyle. This is the place where we belong.

Simple Design is Often Best in the Garden

No matter the chosen style, it is important to keep the overall design simple while creating interesting details within the larger theme of the garden. The garden shown here is modern in style with clean, straight lines and a simple planting palette, but is warmed up with flowing grasses, the scent of lavender, and a window cut out of an otherwise solid concrete wall – allowing a child’s-eye view to the prospect below.

Brimming with shade plants – from fothergillas to azaleas to rhododendrons to heucheras and moss – this garden reflects an earthy, woodland style. The subdued colour palette adds to the calm and restorative atmosphere.

The upward slope of the setting facilitated a sunken bluestone patio surrounded by low retaining walls. Mounded beds were fashioned with the excavated soil, further enhancing the change in grade and adding intimacy to the patio area. Shore pine (Pinus contorta), Japanese snowbell (Styrax japonicus) and columnar sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Slender Silhouette’) were planted around this tranquil gathering place, providing shade for an otherwise sun-baked site, and creating a ceiling of foliage that gives the garden a human scale – further adding to the level of comfort in the space.

Relaxing Features

In another corner of the garden, a simple arbour was built, and from it hangs a solitary hammock swing – an invitation to float above the ferns, hostas and many other soft and varied greens of this little woodland heaven.

All about food, passion and exuberance, this outdoor retreat was designed for a couple who wanted a place to entertain friends and serve up gourmet pizzas baked in a wood-fired oven. What we created has the feel of a luxurious outdoor dining area.

The dramatic slope of the small space was turned to advantage to create an upper entry that leads the visitor down and then across stepping stones set in a shallow pond, before arriving at the heart of the garden. Alongside the steps are an upper and lower pool, with water flowing from one level down to the next and giving the patio the feel of an exotic floating island.

Adding to the drama of this garden scene are the rich and warm colours of the retaining walls and pizza oven. These same surfaces left unpainted would have lent a much cooler quality to the design, proving that sometimes – in fact, often – it pays to be bold.

Focal points work both to underscore a garden’s chosen style and draw the eye in a particular direction, but they must be carefully placed. Add too many and instead of adding emphasis they will simply drown one another out and lose all meaning.

The pond and Asian sculpture in this small urban garden work to accentuate the Zen quality of the space and direct the eye inward, rather than over the fence to the neighbouring houses.

Details such a hardscaping material and furniture will also emphasize particular styles. Cut stone is formal and classic, while random flagstone is much more casual. A picnic table suggests informal family dining, while upholstered furniture sets the tone for a more luxurious atmosphere.

But no matter what focal points are chosen or material used, our place of peace must mirror our own taste and lifestyle, just as it must reflect and enhance our house and property. From there, the details will follow as we create our own personal refuge – an outdoor home.

(Images: Jackie Connelly)

Erin Renwick is a landscape designer living in Victoria.