WASHINGTON - Good landscape design ideas can be subtle, bold or abstract. A professional designer can offer suggestions, but only homeowners know what will be interesting and comfortable for them.
You may need to see examples of landscaped spaces to get ideas. Taking walks through public and private botanical gardens and arboretums in all seasons can spark your imagination, helping you create your own special garden.
If you cant quite figure out whats missing from your landscape design, here are four elements to consider:
- Water features are among the most popular gardening touches. Given the choice, people always seem to prefer a garden space with some type of water, whether its an ocean view or a simple recirculating fountain. Most garden centers, including those at home-improvement superstores, offer a selection of materials for building and stocking ponds. You can have a concrete, fiberglass or rubber-lined lily or fish pond with waterfalls, cascades, self-contained fountains or a simple water sculpture.
Place water features where you will have the greatest opportunity to enjoy them - in the back yard, either as part of a patio or in a separate garden space. The sound of falling water is soothing. Place a fountain in a slightly hidden area, at the end of a meandering path or in a small meditation garden, adding the delight of surprise.
- Indoor-outdoor transitions need to be smooth, but this important element is often overlooked.
The garden and house should blend into each other. A significant part of your garden design should be the enticement of getting out the door and into the garden. This is important wherever the house and landscape intersect, whether using the front door or heading out the back. It is always most comfortable having a deck, patio or stoop to move onto before proceeding farther into the garden.
Create a wide and inviting entry stoop and plantings. Design steps to be at least 42 inches wide, with risers (step height) no higher than 6 inches and treads (step depth) at least 14 inches. Place planted containers on steps. Use plantings along steps, porches, patios and decks to soften the structural parts of the landscape.
Hang baskets on porches to create flowering arrangements on all levels. There is a wide variety of posts, poles and wire brackets for hanging plants. A pair of iron shepherds crooks holding colorful baskets and tucked into shrubbery or at an entry gate provides a welcoming touch.
Movement through the yard and garden should be easy and enjoyable. Install a curved walk that will make you feel like meandering. Fit the curve into the terrain so that it looks like it belongs there by sweeping it around a tree, a high shrub or a statue. Use plantings at curves to keep people on the walk and out of your plants.
Continue the indoor-outdoor relationship by making the house an integral part of the garden. Allow the house to serve as the background for a sculpture or relief. Hang ornamental trellises, planters or window boxes on the outside walls.
- Views and vistas are often overlooked, even though they should be an obvious part of your garden design. Landscape designers sometimes call it prospect: the ability to see landscape into the distance. Some of us are lucky enough to be surrounded by mountains, water, woods or other desirable features, but views do not have to extend over a great distance. Inspect your property from all angles, and create pleasant vistas that are discovered as you move through the landscape.
With careful planning, you can create a view in a tiny urban back yard. For instance, place a small fountain or a piece of sculpture on a garden wall and surround it with small trees or shrubs. Placing a painting, mirrors, faux window frames, tilework, iron or found art on a back wall, visible from your deck or patio, can change the environment. The view may be only 30 feet to the wall, but it can change the character of the garden entirely.
Another important aspect of the vista concept is screening. You can block out less-than-pleasing views with trees, shrubs or a lattice covered with vines and create pleasant views within your own boundaries by establishing a small sitting area enclosed with shrubs, flowers and a sculpture. Arrange it out of view, apart from the patio or deck and behind several taller shrubs, so that its discovered as you walk there. You can also install a lush, colorful, fully enclosed garden near the house to reduce the importance of unpleasant views in the distance.
- Progressive realization can best be described as adding mystery to the garden. Its the opposite of prospect, and it means partially hiding a focal point so that it reveals itself gradually as you move toward it.
Landscape architects and designers during the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries created winding approaches to manor houses using the landscape, meandering through woodland, with hints of water, meadows and groves of trees, the house becoming more visible along the way.
Used mostly for the rear section of a landscape, this technique is effective not just in large areas. It can also make small spaces feel larger yet still intimate, reinforcing a common landscape design theory:
Joel Lerner is author of "Anyone Can Landscape" (Ball 2001). Contact him through his Web site, www.gardenlerner.com.
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