For several hundred years English landscape designers have advocated that gardeners should plan their spaces and utilize boundaries to create ‘garden rooms,’ which create senses of discovery and delight. The problem with directly translating their ideas to American landscaping is that we usually don’t have acreage with which to play with, or budgets that allow us to hire someone to prune all those hedges and boxwood menageries. But the idea of utility—think kids playing out in the yard—can also lead to good design ideas, and even a bit of playfulness in the design.
An arched entry begins the architectural aspect of this design, and immediately conveys that your design is both personal and functional. If you have a garden gate already, all you have to do is find the right plant material that will grow over the entrance and become a green archway. We used a variety of clematis here because it has a great bloom, but even better, wonderful overlapping foliage. It provides both definition of the space and serendipity because, while we trained it to arch, we let it be itself, vigorous and asymmetrical.
Here’s where the ‘room’ idea really comes into play. You have young children who need a play space. Why not use the backyard, but make it really functional? No sense in trying to nurture sod; it’ll be trampled to dust. So use pea gravel instead. Weathered, rounded gravel is much easier on children’s knees. We planted boxwood hedges for partial ‘walls’ because they’re easy to maintain and prune. The beds behind aren’t fussy and planted, even. Just the occasional perennial or shot of color and potted evergreens. Remember, your kids will be their energetic selves here, and lots of objects may end up tossed over these (short) hedges. Make it easy on yourself to retrieve them. The area at the back is sharply defined, and we chose these hornbeam trees for a bit of vertical thrill. The space is welcoming to children, well thought out, and is an example of the old adage, form follows function. The backyard is small, but we used every inch of it as a space for growing children and plantings.
Scale is critical to success of any design. We kept the front bed simple with hostas and a Japanese maple that, even at maturity, will fit the space nicely. A crape myrtle stands sentry behind and, while tall and commanding, doesn’t interfere with anything below. And, yes, you can have grass here because the play space is out back. We used every inch of space, yet it doesn’t feel cluttered or out of sync. Narrow spaces can also be welcoming places. And perhaps there’s even room for the adults to toss a Frisbee, or play a bit of touch football here. It’s called using what you have. Just a little planning and planting material that lends itself to your design, and doesn’t overpower it. It really can be easy to extend your living spaces to the outdoors, and have fun at the same time.
Live Life to the Fullest,
Chris H. Olsen