Colorful Personal Sustainable Garden Design

The landscape surrounding your home is more than window dressing for the passer-by.  It is a place for you to relax in and to enjoy looking at.  For many of us the majority of our time looking at the garden is through the windows of our house or through the windshield of our car as we drive in the driveway.  Unfortunate as that may sound it actually provides for significant focus in designing your garden because it places limits on the areas that are important.

Consider which windows you look out most often and pick the one that needs a better view.  Keep that window in mind as you read and sketch out ideas as you go.  When designing a view for yourself you are really designing an element of the garden that can be repeated throughout the landscape and create a cohesive whole.

Integrate the Inside and the Outside

Think of your window as a picture frame surrounding a changing painting – nature and its seasons.  Now consider what you are looking for when you gaze out that window: peace, escape, beauty, entertainment, quietness, companionship.  Think about what elements within your house evoke that feeling and think about how you can recreate or extend that feeling outside. Perhaps the shape of a green bowl evokes peaceful feelings. Why not plant a similarly shaped shrub in your view. Perhaps a Calder mobile brings joy. Why not install a colorful moving sculpture in your view.

Color in the garden can also flit in and out. Butterflies seem like pop-up art in the garden flitting from flower to flower. This particular garden contains common milkweed – a key food source for monarch larvae so it is a food source for adult and infant butterflies. Photo by Miller Cornelius

 Think about the room you are in and how it relates to outside.  Ask yourself these questions:

–          Does the room need more light?  Design your view away from the window and add plants that reflect light or even add mirrors and crystals to the trees and shrubs to reflect light into the room.

–          Does the room feel cramped? Add something to your view that draws your eye out.  You could place plants farther away from the house or add a brightly colored sculpture, mural or bird house far out in the garden.  Another way to create depth inside is by placing a constrained space outside the window that you look through.  A porch roof placed outside of a window further frames the view.

–          When do you look at the view? Night time viewing may call for the addition of solar powered landscape accent lighting, the addition of plants with highly reflective leaves and seeding in night flowering plants.

–          Seasonal changes also make an impact on your view.  Are you most often inside during the winter or all year? The winter view is especially important because it is very stable and the light is stark; plant something that looks alive and friendly all year.  Perhaps a dwarf pine with tiny crystals on its branches would liven up your winter view.

–          Which direction do you face when looking out your window? A north view can be dark, shadowy and cold in winter (even in summer sometimes).  Winterberry Holly is a bright, colorful winter charmer.  A southerly view can be hot, harsh and glarey in the summer.  Planting a small tree such as Shadblow might work to offset the heat but still allow light into the room.

–          Do you have trouble regulating the temperature of the room? The direction your window faces has a direct impact on the room’s environment. When designing your view to the south think about blocking summer sunlight to offset cooling costs by using a deciduous plant so that winter sunlight is available for passive heating. When designing your view to the south think about maximizing sunlight all year.

Adding a deciduous tree, like a crabapple, outside of your window provides many things: summer shade, winter sun, red color through most of the winter and a food source for overwintering and migratory birds. This Robin adds a bit of color too!

–          Do you keep your window open or closed?  If you keep it open, think about adding sound to your view.  Even a small wind chime or fountain can enliven your experience.  Also, think about adding a bird bath and/or feeder to add sound and movement to your view.  If your goal was to create companionship what better way than to invite birds into your view.

–          Are you near or far sighted?  Make sure you can see your view.

Who should do all this work?

Now that you have thought about what you are looking for, sit in front of your window with a box of crayons and sketch out a view for yourself.  Have you brought the outside in and the inside out?  Once your sketch feels right, take it with you to the nursery.  Do not be shy.  Feel empowered to move the plants around and arrange them till you have a match to your sketch.  Whether you plant or have the nursery do it for you, stick to your guns about the type of view you are creating.  Go inside your house and look out once in awhile during the planting process and evaluate your progress.  The final design may vary from your sketch but that is okay.

Integrating your View With the Landscape

The vignette you have created can become a model for the rest of your landscape.  The colors, shapes and arrangement of materials can be repeated throughout the landscape to make it an integrated whole.  Some folk do this all at once but I feel that your landscape is an ever evolving entity.  Live with your view for a few seasons and see what elements of it bring you the best feeling.

Also known as Bee Balm, Monarda look like little fireworks in the garden.  Photo by Miller Cornelius.

Perhaps you have red curtains surrounding your window you might plant a bed of Monarda in your view as an accent piece; you could complement its red coloring with a grove of Winterberry Holly on the other side of the garden.  Perhaps you have a green and yellow vase on a shelf near your window. You could place a bright yellow bird house in your view; or a mass of daisies with yellow twig dogwood at the edge of your view for summer and winter yellows.

This is gardening at a very personal level but it is also gardening that is beautiful.  It will look like a pretty garden display to the passer-by but it will be a fulfilling part of your life throughout the seasons.