As the temperature creeped up over recent weeks here in the Northeast part of the United States, we thought we were free and clear of winter. It was an early spring, and I rejoiced, especially considering how much snow we had at this time last year. But Mother Nature decided to surprise us with a Nor'easter at the start of the week, dropping about six inches of snow, delaying school openings and reminding us that we're not out of the woods yet.
Nevertheless, with daffodils abloom, my thoughts turn to the garden. I don't have much of a green thumb. I know that garden design is a lot like interior design -- using plantings to add color, form, texture, focus, and rhythm. I've gotten as far as planting some low shrubs to fill in some spots between high shrubs in front of my house and added a few rose bushes and a lilac to the side for color and scent. Inasmuch as I would like to design outdoor spaces as well as indoor, I'm afraid I lack the talent and experience. But I was able to hear from someone who does.
Last year, Bunny Williams, one of America's top interior designers, released the second edition of her book, On Garden Style. I had the privelege of hearing Bunny talk about her approach to garden design last year at the Boston Design Center. It was my third time hearing Bunny talk, which is indeed a privilege. Her approach to gardening, like her approach to interior design, can be distilled to what I like to call "Bunnyisms" -- pithy snippets of design wisdom delivered in her inimitable style. She says it all better than I do, so below are Bunnyisms on garden design. I hope they'll inspire those of you who, like me, lack green thumbs.
Elements of a Good Garden:
Observe your garden as you would if it were a picture. Windows and doors act to frame your view. Inanimate objects create focus. Here, Bunny illustrates how an urn is used to accentuate a doorway and beckon the viewer into the garden.
Garden of Jacques Wirtz, photo by Alexandre Bailhache
In what parts of the garden would you want to sit and contemplate? Put seating there. Here, simple Adirondack chairs are placed on a hill under a grove of shade trees overlooking the main house.
Garden of, and photo by Gil Schafer
In the photo above, a canal is bordered by box hedges.
Photo by Richard Felber
Begin with strong massive anchors. Add plants of different scale, choosing plants for color and texture. Use massing, matched to the scale of the architecture and garden, to create statements. Unify the garden with color and repetition.
Photo by Tim Street-Porter
In the photo above, a tree arbor anchors massing with carlesi and vibernums.
Adding Furniture and Accessories to the Garden:
Ornamental elements should work with the style and scale of the house. In a small garden, accent with only one object.
Containers create architecture and give interest to a space. A row of pots adds structure and symmetry and creates a nice view from inside. Use pots that are all the same color and in proportion to the plantings. Make sure the material of the pots can withstand the elements.
Meyer lemon trees in terracotta pots match the rhythm of the arcade and columns of this home in Charleston, South Carolina.
photo by Christopher Baker
Outdoor furniture is not for decoration. It should never upstage nature. It should always be similar in color and in contrast with the interior. Use white outdoor furniture in shady areas. Weathered teak harmonizes with stone, mortar and weathered cedar shingles. Use aluminum and teak by the ocean because they stand up to salt. Position furniture to face the outdoors.
Use mirrors on a covered porch or loggia to reflect the outdoors and augment natural light for the adjacent interiors.
White lacquer outdoor furniture on the terrace of Oscar de la Renta's Connecticut home.
Photo by Richard Felber