Furnishing the Sunken Garden

Willoughby0003Yesterday’s essay spoke to the issue of creating privacy in small urban gardens.  An addition to this existing home had all but eliminated good access to the rear yard.   I took my clients by surprise-suggesting that French doors into the garden from the rear wall of the garage would readily solve that problem.  So solve the problem we did. 

Willoughby0018The last issue regarding views was specific to the addition.  A master bedroom suite had been built over the garage-complete with views from three windows to neighboring yards.  As is would be some time before the perimeter plantings would screen second story windows, a pergola outside the new doors from the garage seemed like a good idea; the roof of the pergola, and its wisteria, would provide the room upstairs with a view.

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As my client is an architect with great skill and even better taste, all I needed to do was make the suggestion.  He provided the design.  This outdoor space with a roof overhead would become the dominant feature of the landscape. He had no problem understanding that even small spaces need a big ideas.  A large dominant element in a small space does not necessarily overwhelm the space.  It can in fact have the opposite effect. Small elements can easily read visually as disconnected elements.  It is simply easier to relate small gestures to a big gesture.  All the smaller elements will have this big relationship in common.willoughbyBased on a grid, the pillars and roof of the pergola have great visual appeal. A decomposed granite terrace provided a hard surface that would work for a soaking tub, a table and chairs for dining or reading.  They would decide how to furnish the space, once it was finished.   

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We were able to continue with the installation of the plants out of the range of the pergola construction.  As my clients favor informal plantings, I selected plants with an eye to informal habit, and contrasting textures.  Some evergreen elements would help the appearance of the garden in the winter.  The waterfall and weeping hemlock would be front and center to the view from the inside out.

July14 107The garden has grown considerably in the past eight years.  A wisteria now covers the roof of the pergola; at some point, a good pruning will be in order.  Maintaining a dappled shade under its roof makes this spot a fine place to be on a hot sunny summer day. All the plants, from a great specimen of Magnolia “Elizabeth”, to a collection of hostas, are thriving.

July14 102The lindens have grown considerably, and provide a great deal of privacy to the garden. Pots of annuals and furniture warm up and greatly personalize the space.  As a guest at a birthday party here this past June, I was so pleased that the landscape provided space for people to sit, talk, and interact. Over fifty people moved from inside to outdoors and back with ease.  No one’s eye was directed to or interested in what was next door.  Having dinner at this very table, I felt this very small space worked, and worked in a lively way.

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The cars that are usually parked in the garage spent the evening on the street; imagine taking your guests through your garage to a party!  I can report that it not only worked, but guests seemed to find it great fun.  I did not realize how these unexpected doors would create a happy mood before anyone set foot in the garden.  My job has rewards; I was there, and I saw this happen.

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