When designing a garden, it is natural to focus on what you are planting. But flowers, trees and bushes are not everything that makes a visually appealing outdoor area.
Furniture, ornaments, statement pots, fire pits, play elements – they may not bloom like a favorite shrub, but they play an important role.
“These are the things that draw people to the landscape,” said Renée Byers, a landscape designer from Greenwich, Conn. “You have the option of turning a backyard into a garden without a quote.”
Landscape architects and designers shared some of their favorite ideas for using accessories to take advantage of a garden’s natural appeal.
Create places to rest
One of the easiest ways to add more time to admiring your work in the garden is to add some seating – not just in obvious places like a patio or around a pool, but out in the countryside. It could be a bench along a garden path or a couple of chairs under a shady tree.
Why? “It creates a goal” within the larger garden, Ms. Byers said.
In contrast to patio furniture, pieces of garden should not have upholstered cushions or need covers. They should be made of materials that can be left out all year round without disintegrating. For Ms. Byers, these are often natural stone or teak benches, she said, “or even some of the newer, contemporary-style Adirondack chairs that are made of a wood composite.” Lounge chairs from Loll Designs are a popular choice.
But not all garden furniture has to be heavy.
“One thing that people often skip, which I think is really necessary, is light patio furniture,” said Flora Grubb, the owner of Flora Grubb Gardens in San Francisco. “I love being able to move it to chase the shade or the sun, depending on the season.”
Small chairs made of powder-coated steel or aluminum, such as those manufactured by Fermob and Bend Goods, are ideal. Choose pieces in earth tones if you want them to blend in or bright colors if you want to make a statement.
“I really think about how the color reads from a distance,” said Ms. Grubb, because “most people spend as much time looking at their garden from their home” as they do from outside.
Add a sculptural note
Statues and other ornaments have been a feature of large gardens for centuries, but the idea of adding them to your garden may seem intimidating. It must not be.
Janice Parker, a landscape architect based in Greenwich, Connecticut, uses a range of statues and ornaments in her projects, from geometric objects to pieces depicting rabbits, chickens, and fish.
This not only creates an eye-catcher in the garden, but “also makes it a very loving room. People become more attached to nature in a loving way, instead of just saying, ‘Oh, that’s pretty.’ “
The statues don’t have to be an expensive antique or a piece by a well-known artist. “Not everyone is going to buy a Tony Cragg, a John Chamberlain, or a Henry Moore – they don’t build a sculpture park,” said Ms. Parker. “A lot of other things are very affordable and I think they’re great.”
Choices range from the ocean-inspired pieces of concrete sold in many garden centers to cast metal birds such as those made by Viridian Bay. “Cranes, sandpipers and peacocks have become very popular again,” says Cathy Nakamura, product seller at Viridian Bay. “And we have flamingos a few steps away from these iconic pink plastic flamingos.”
For a more minimalist look, Ms. Parker recommended fiberglass or concrete balls, arranged in rows for an architectural statement or scattered around the garden in a random arrangement. “Any kind of balls or balls in the garden are wonderful,” she said. “You bring a lighter element into the garden.”
Choose a statement planter
An alternative to statues is to place a planter with a distinctive shape or color in the garden, surrounded by vegetation planted directly into the ground. Ms. Grubb, for example, has combined ribbed terracotta, chartreuse-glazed, and gourd-shaped pots in her garden, including some that she left unplanted.
“When I leave the pots empty they are usually urn-shaped and tucked back in at the top,” she said for a more interesting shape. “Big pots let you move around the garden when things change – to anchor something at the end of a path, mark an area you care about, or cover up something you won’t see for a while want time while it grows in – is helpful. “
Ms. Grubb has also turned a single tall white pot into a simple water feature by adding a pump inside, along with a basin buried in the gravel underneath to catch and circulate overflowing water.
Light a fire
Fire pits do a few things very well: They can anchor a seating area in the garden as a destination away from the house, make cool evenings more cozy, and toast marshmallows for s’mores. So it’s no surprise they grew in popularity during the pandemic.
“We have seen a huge increase in outdoor fire pits,” said Allison Messner, managing director and founder of Yardzen, an online landscaping company. “Even when it was cold, people still wanted to be outside.”
Now that more people have embraced the outdoors, she expects the trend to continue even as indoor entertainment returns.
Some fire pits are built into the hardscaping of a yard and hooked up to underground gas pipes, but it doesn’t have to be that complicated to set up. You can build your own wood fire pit by digging a wide, shallow hole in the ground and lining it with stone. If you’d rather not dig a pit, pre-made steel, iron, and cement fire bowls are available from furniture stores including Design Within Reach and CB2; Brands like Breeo, Solo Stove, and Tiki make models that increase airflow and produce less smoke.
And if you don’t want to commit yourself to a full-size fire pit, Ms. Parker suggested a pole-mounted flashlight. In addition to traditional bamboo tiki torches, there are also artisanal models, such as the hand-blown glass torches on copper rods from Arch One Glass. “When you sit outside at night it’s just magical,” she said.
If you’re concerned about bringing open fires into the countryside, try candle lanterns with glass doors or LED-powered portable lanterns.
Install interactive elements
Accessories that move and change with the weather – or offer an opportunity to play – offer further reasons to go into the garden.
Rain gauges and catchers show the results of a night storm. On bright days, sun catchers and wind chimes and bells sing with the passing breeze.
Playful elements can appeal to children and adults. The attraction of a tree swing, for example, is almost universal. “I’ve rarely seen anyone who can withstand a swing,” said Ms. Parker, who has used her on a number of her projects.
Yardzen designers don’t see much demand for stand-alone swings and slides right now, Ms. Messner said. Instead, many parents are calling for built-in play elements – like custom-made tree houses that can perform various functions over time.
“It’s not just for toddlers or school-age children,” she said. As the children grow up, the adults “have a vision of how they will use it as an art studio”.
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