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July 2013

30 Jul Garden Designers Roundtable: Patios, more than just a flat space…

Close your eyes and think on the word patio for a minute. What image comes to mind? Maybe, you see those rectangular concrete slabs that were so popular in the 1970’s. Perhaps your mind took you to a recently attended flower or home show, with elaborate displays of pavers and wall systems. A few of you might have included some plants, or most likely a large expanse of lawn. Easy to conjure up these images, and think we now have the essence of a patio. But, what really makes a patio a patio? If we are to take lesson from these examples, then a patio is very simply is a flat paved surface in the back yard where you gather with friends around your outdoor dinette. Sounds ok, right? Sure, why not, it’s functional, social, and convenient. To me though, there is so much more this outdoor space. In fact, to me the word patio should never stand alone; it should always be combined with the word garden. Close your eyes again, but this time, visualize the words patio garden. Does that bring about a different image? Let’s take a look at a few essential elements of a patio garden, and then let’s see if that image might change.

Geometry

The architecture of your building should provide more than enough right angles and straight lines for your entire landscape, so let go of the rigid geometry and open your mind to soft elegant curves. Or better yet the communal shape of a circle. If the shape must be must be angular, then try and offset the shapes to provide space for plants to soften the edges.

The circular shape centers on the firepit. The curved edges lead also the eyes into the house entrance

The circular shape centers on the firepit. The curved edges lead also the eyes into the house entrance

Two equally sized but offset squares create pockets for the plants

Two equally sized but offset squares create pockets for the plants

Fire

Fire pits are very popular now, and for good reason. Sitting around a fire calls back to our ancient past, and stirs something deep inside each of us. Perhaps it’s the sense of safety, perhaps the calming sound of the crackling fire, or maybe it’s just a focal point for our attention as we discuss the events of the day. In any case, there’s bound to be s ‘mores, so best to include a fire pit. Design has set its sights on the plain ole fie pit, and there are options for every taste; from stone, to iron, portable and permanent, there are new choices each year, so make a statement with yours.

A beautiful modern take on the fire pit from Ore, Inc.

A beautiful modern take on the fire pit from Ore, Inc.

Traditional look with natural stone

Traditional look with natural stone

Sculptural and a modern take on a chimnea from Modfire

Sculptural and a modern take on a chimnea from Modfire

Old world charm, and one of my favorites. Sugar Kettle from Cypremort

Old world charm, and one of my favorites. Sugar Kettle from Cypremort

Water

Like fire, water is very good at setting a mood. Water features have a head start on fire pits though, having been a popular part of the modern landscape for quite a while, so the options are many; from wall mounted, to sculptural, to pond less waterfalls, each brings its own feel to the garden. And, opposite its combustible counterpart, will draw in wildlife. What fauna and how big are entirely up to you!

A pondless waterfall from Aquascapes, Inc. offer sound and movement, without the maintenance of a pond.

A pondless waterfall from Aquascape, Inc. offer sound and movement, without the maintenance of a pond

For those that want fish, a pond is in order

For those that want fish, a pond is in order

Light

An oft overlooked element in patio garden design is outdoor lighting. Sometimes simply an oversight, but most often the reasons for not including landscape lighting are cost and bugs. I cannot stress enough the ambiance created with a well designed landscape lighting system. A soft glow washing the patio surface, illuminated stonework, and up lit plant specimens, provide drama, romance, and depth to the garden. Today’s LED systems tackle the cost and pest problems also. Although a bit pricier in the install cost, they are efficient to run, and the spectrum of  light output does not attract the insects of the night.

A wonderful ambiance is created with landscape lighting from Unique Lighting Sytems

A wonderful ambiance is created with landscape lighting from Unique Lighting Sytems

Plant

Last, but certainly not least for our discussion, are the plantings. Plants are the softening ingredient in the landscape. A well designed planting plan defines space within the patio garden, provides intimacy, and softens the harsh edges of the hardscape and architecture. Balance within the space is achieved through the careful use of the texture, color, and form, of each plant. Like water, plants also provide movement in the garden; wind causes branches and stems to sway and pollinators buzz about as they busy themselves from blossom to blossom. Following another current trend, growing food is another great way to expand the feel and use of your patio garden. Grapes on treillage, tomatoes in pots, and greens and herbs in containers, add a tasteful element.

'Little Lime' Hydrangea defines the space by  creating a hedge and offering privacy from the street below

‘Little Lime’ Hydrangea defines the space by creating a hedge and offering privacy from the street below

Heuchera 'Caramel' and 'Summer Wine' Ninebark add color and soften the edges of this bluestone patio

Heuchera ‘Caramel’ and ‘Summer Wine’ Ninebark add color and soften the edges of this bluestone patio

So there are a few of the elements we consider before designing a patio garden. Have they changed the image in your mind? Have you used any of these elements in your outdoor rooms, in your patio garden? Please share your successes and ideas below with a comment; I’d love to hear from you!

Remember to also follow the links to see what the other members of the Roundtable think about “Patios”!

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

David Cristiani : The Desert Edge : Albuquerque, NM

Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN

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04 Jul An Independence Day Celebration… Garden Style!

Happy Independence Day Everyone!

Ever notice how so many flowers and foliage resemble a fireworks display? Here’s a little slideshow with some examples to prove my  point. Some patterns are easy to spot, and some not so much. Let me know what you think…

I’ve even included some patriotic music for you to enjoy the show. You’ll have to start the music yourself though, so pick a favorite and press play (or listen to both, there are plenty of photos), pull up a lawn chair, grab a cold one and and enjoy the fireworks!

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