The landscape designer shares practical ways to make outdoor spaces gorgeous
Landscape designer Margie Grace is the founder and lead designer of the Santa Barbara landscaping firm Grace Design Associates. As you will see from the first design tip she offers—Begin With Mood—her initial approach is to consider how a client or family want to live in and experience their outdoor space. The resulting design, not surprisingly, tends to be unique and personal.
In 2009 Margie Grace was named the International Landscape Designer of the Year. Enjoy her smart and practical tips for planning the design of your outdoor spaces.
Begin with Mood
Begin with a feeling: How do you want to feel when you are in the space? Then flesh out the feeling: What do you hear, smell, see? Is it warm, cool, sheltered? Keep going, telling the story of how you want the space to be used: What do you want to do in the space? Who’s there with you? Do you read, hang out with friends, throw the ball for the dog, share a meal, cook, hang the laundry out to dry, grow veggies, play with the kids? As the story emerges, the design emerges.
Decide What Elements You Need
Determine the garden elements and functions you want or need. Then design a room around those elements and you will create a functional, beautiful space.
Keep it Simple
Keep it simple; there’s beauty, honesty, and poetry in simplicity.
Look to the Future
Select plants with their mature size in mind and plant them giving each plant enough space to gather nutrients and flourish. Patience is vital in garden design. Be sure to allow for the fourth dimension in play: time.
Think About Landscaping
The surrounding landscape around your property serves as a visual backdrop to your garden that you can choose to include or exclude depending on your personal preference.
Relate Your Garden to Your House
The house is the foundation of your landscape and should be included in the composition. Your garden should ground the structure and enhance its architectural features.
Create Indoor-Outdoor Flow
Blur the inside-outside line by repeating or echoing design elements on both sides of the line:
• Use the same/similar materials, such as flooring, furnishings, plaster, metal, and wood in adjacent outdoor and indoor rooms.
• Let the color palette flow from outside to in and vice versa.
• Repeat or echo textures, shapes, and elements inside and out.
• Add doors that disappear into the wall or stack back on themselves. Open the doors and voilà! the barrier between the outside and the inside is gone!
• Create vignettes outside of each room that “read” as art when viewed from inside through the frame of the window or door.
Let Your Travels Inspire You
Different regions feature different resources and sensibilities. Scout for opportunities everywhere you travel and use travel to find inspiration and resources.
Make Small Spaces Multitask
For small spaces the key is to create a flexible floor plan. Use multi-purpose pieces that are easily reconfigured—and remember that less can definitely be more.
Plant Like a Composer
When planting a pot, remember these three plant functions: Thriller, spiller, and filler. The thriller is the focal point, the spiller grounds the plantings in the pot, and the filler allows your eye to rest in between points of interest. Consider the qualities that each component brings as you’re formulating your composition—beyond color, plants can bring textural interest as well as contrast in form and movement.
Pay Attention to Accessories
Accessories may be the icing on the cake, but they can make the difference between a comfortable garden and an uninviting one. The right scale and type of furniture, the placement of lighting and pots, and the arrangement of accessories brings the space down to human scale.
Good Lighting Takes Planning
When you think landscape lighting, think of the three S's: safety, security, and sexiness. Safety lighting makes the space usable, security prevents theft, and dark corners and sexiness bring the mood and ambience.