Since the dawn of civilization, humans have created open spaces within their active areas of livelihood, places to gather or linger, areas devoted to expression. These sometimes-unexpected meetings of hardscape and plantings can also serve as markers of entrance or exit or as punctuation for the grid of streets surrounding them. By creating and opening up such areas, we provide a certain respite from urban chaos and make an area, although carefully planned and executed, that is serene and almost pastoral. The design elements for these plantings are really quite simple, and you can follow them to either establish a design for your neighborhood or create such a space for yourself.
What you need is an area that is somewhat level and always accessible. If you’re designing something for your neighborhood, think about the entrance or even an available empty lot. (Yes, seek permission first.) You want a place that can be seen.
Craft your bed for planting, remembering one fact: Nothing square is found in nature. Use a pattern that is circular, somewhat so, or even will have a bit of a curve to it. Always raise your bed. It will make your planting more important. Now play up texture, by using something like the stones used here. Since raised beds mean your plants will be closer to eye level, be mindful of heartiness and color.
Work your way into your space, by first using lower plants. Then, add a secondary element. This can be taller plantings, bloomers, or greenery. You want a bit of contrast. And you’ll also want to find plants that are easy to maintain and hardy in most weather.
Then add the focal point, like a bit of sculpture shown here—although your piece of interest doesn’t have to be metal; you could just as easily select an urn placed on a pedestal, or even a tall plant or tree, blooming or not. The idea is for you to select whatever pleases you and will provide year-round interest, for the focus of your design.
Your design for a public place can also be full of rangy color, like this bed full of rudbeckia, begonia and gomphrena. If you want something that is seasonally vibrant, here’s the one for you. Emphasis is placed not on art, but on color.
Good design needn’t be complicated or require lots of sourcing of materials. Find an area for your design, then fill it with what you love, what speaks to you. You can take the principle of ‘public place’ and make it your own ‘private space.’ Just remember scale and good siting for your design. Assemble and sit back and admire. Or forget it until the next time you walk out your door or round the corner. It really is that easy.
Chris Olsen is a nationally known home and garden guru, designer, author, TV personality and public speaker. In his book, Chris shares his landscape and gardening knowledge along with his unique flair for home decor and design.He is also a member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers. Learn more about Chris and all of his work at chrisholsen.com.