A room with a view

A room with a view – Brief Article

How to organize your garden’s layout

Garden designers intimidate me. All their talk of “scale,” “contrast,” “texture,” and “balance” is a foreign language, as far as I’m concerned, utterly incomprehensible and intended sometimes, I suspect, not to inspire but to quell.

exterior decorating

Fortunately, I’ve found a simpler, more accessible approach to organizing a garden. I try to visualize it as a room, or a suite of rooms, and treat it accordingly.

After all, a garden has a floor (the soil surface), walls (formed by shrubs, or perhaps a hedge, fence, or trellis), and a ceiling (furnished by the tree canopy or sky). There’s an entrance and an exit (which may be the same), and there are furnishings: plantings, surely, and perhaps stonework, a bench, dining table, or even a pink plastic flamingo. We all know how to arrange these elements in a fashion that suits us indoors. I just transfer that experience outdoors.

Think of ground covers as the carpet; are its colors and textures compatible with those of the other furnishings? Like the chairs, sofa, and coffee table in your living room, you want your garden furnishings to relate to each other so that they work as a unit. And do you want an intimate room, modest in size, or a grand space with a lofty ceiling and broad expanse of floor?

In a house you devote different rooms to different activities (you wouldn’t combine bathing with food preparation), and you should organize your garden into distinct areas, too: vegetable patch, sitting area, play space for the children, etc. Consider the access from one room to another. Is it convenient? And do the rooms come in a sensible sequence? You wouldn’t set the laundry room between the dining and living rooms or design a home so the garage is in the middle; similarly, you’ll want to keep the service area of your garden–the compost bin and tool shed–in an easily accessible spot but out of the main route of traffic.

working the view

A room without windows is a cell, not a place in which you’d want to spend time. That’s why when designing (or redesigning) your garden, you should spend some time noting where the best views are, so that you can arrange your outdoor rooms to look out on them. Then use the views wisely–don’t squander them by allowing the visitor a 3600 panoramic sweep.

Instead, frame the views (see below), to control access to them. By making visitors wait and by controlling what they see, you create suspense and also determine the garden’s mood. A vista of peaceful pastures and woods, for example, helps to establish a restful space, while a view of the nuclear power plant (and that is the principal view from one of the most famous English landscapes of this generation, Derek Jarman’s cottage in Dungeness) produces an atmosphere of menace.

As much as possible, structure your garden rooms so that the windows of each look out on the appropriate vista. Ideally, you want the breakfast nook in your house to face eastward so that it enjoys the morning sun. A similar logic should rule in the garden. That terrace where you savor your evening glass of wine (or cup of herb tea) should definitely face the sunset.

frames for your views

Conifers: A pair of conical evergreens emphasizes a view like no other frame–standing like sentries, the conifers demand that you inspect the vista they flank.

Deciduous trees: These provide a stately but informal frame often you can create the gap you want with a pruning saw. Note This frame may require too much space for a small garden.

Gap in a hedge: A window cut into a hedge is like a porthole in the hull of a ship, a delightful surprise that relieves the cabin’s potential for claustrophobia.

Trellis or arbor: Wreathed in vines and flowers, these are the prettiest of frames, always flattering to the view. Set in the middle of the garden, an arbor or wall of trellis creates interior views. Arching over the front gate, they frame the view both in and out.

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