As the spring turns to summer, we’re all hoping to spend a little more time outside. If you’re lucky enough to have your own outdoor space, you may be considering ways to freshen it up for a new season. We’ve rounded up advice from five landscape designers from around the United States to help you greet the open air in style—whether it’s a lakeside porch or a desert patio, a lush backyard or a city balcony.
Below, see what these experts have to say about designing in their local climate, and be sure to check out some of the latest outdoor furniture and accessories as well.
Raymond Jungles in Miami, Florida, on Subtropical Gardens
In our region, we have a pronounced dry season, as long as six months, and then we get precipitation when there’s a clash of systems. It can be as much as 60 inches per year—a lot of it from hurricanes and tropical storms. Plants have to be able to make it through both.
I look primarily to native species and then incorporate complementary plants from other subtropical climates. I believe in botanical interest and also creating a habitat with birds, butterflies, squirrels, and foxes, where humans can live more closely with nature. That’s what gives me joy. For butterflies, you need flowers. For birds, you need insects, seeds, and fruit.
After that, my main goal is to create comfortable spaces for humans. That means bringing in trees and shade, beautiful textures and fragrances. I’m trying to build a grocery store for local flora and fauna that then will give me pleasure.
You need plants that were made for the environment. You don’t want a garden that looks like hell, where everything’s struggling. I do a lot of beach properties, and beach plants have been developed by nature to live in sand, to be able to take airborne salt. That’s a whole particular palette. You’ll start to see a lot of sea oats, bay cedar, thatch palms. Beach gardens should look natural and strong, haphazard and preexistent. They need to be tough.
I don’t do things purely for the aesthetics. When you make a habitat, there is less maintenance. It’s more laissez-faire. I don’t understand topiary or highly manicured gardens. If you’re always striving for perfection, you won’t generate the beauty that comes from imperfection.
Sheri Sanzone of Bluegreen in Aspen, Colorado, on Mountain Gardens
In the Rocky Mountains, we have this beautiful blue sky that is very clear at this altitude, but the greens are really toned down. They’re more of a blackish green. So when everything starts to leaf out and things are really hopping, that contrast makes the colors of anything in bloom really striking. The UV light here intensifies the effect even more. How natural processes and the light at our elevation affect the natural colors in the landscape is amazing.
With that in mind, I’ve been really interested in native plants that bloom twice during the year—like the lupine or the Rocky Mountain penstemon. They will bloom in the spring and then you’ll see them again in the fall. I like being able to use those to deliver a planting design with a long season of color. Similarly, we take advantage of microclimates a lot, and especially microclimates created by the architecture. A certain type of plant may be one month or two months ahead in the growth cycle on the south-facing side of the house compared to the north side, and I enjoy designing for those variations.
Obviously we have periods of the year when there’s snow and periods when we might get torrential rain. I think it’s about 270 days of the year that we experience freezing and thawing. That can take a tremendous toll on pavers, walls, and other hardscape materials, as well as on some species of trees, so we steer clients toward climate-appropriate materials and of course native plantings adapted to the weather.
Maura Rockcastle and Ross Altheimer of Ten x Ten Studio in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Lakeside Gardens
Lakes are magnets to Minnesotans. They fuel our identity and our fitness. They’re our playground, our respite, and our calendar. Changing waterfowl marks migration, the extent of ice determines the depths of winter (for now), and in summer sunlight hangs longer over this kind of horizon than any other. As designers, we’re inspired by how a lake can intensify the changing seasons.
Across our projects, we spend time getting to know our clients, the site, and the larger regional context. We do a lot of listening, photographing, and inventorying in order to understand what makes the site on a lake or in another critical watershed unique. We want any proposed project to build stronger relationships between people and their land.
Rather than look to specific landscape strategies right away, we discuss practices for stormwater management, climate, and ecology. Lake and riverside projects contend with the dynamic challenges of flooding, erosion, and frequently changing water levels. Designers and owners need to consider approaches that do not see a line between wet and dry, but rather a liminal wetness that needs to be able to flex and adapt over time.
The way people experience these sites is very personal. We always ask: How can we frame daily rituals that build reciprocal relationships between humans and the natural resources that surround their homes?
Charlie Ray of The Green Room in Scottsdale, Arizona, on Desert Gardens
In the Sonoran desert, we have to create shade, so the first thing we usually do is bring in mature plantings—like old-stump ironwoods or a big saguaro—to make an instant canopy. It creates a whole different habitat for the plantings underneath. Getting those trees and other big materials in sets the whole design intent. We like to place them close to a house to bring the scale of the architecture down to a human level.
We also use a lot of large stones. We look at them like artwork. One beautiful stone with just the right look to it, just the right character, and just the right placement can set the tone for a space. So can water. We try to incorporate the movement, the sound, or the feel of water on most projects, whether it’s a feature in the entryway or in another outdoor space. We’re not talking gushing European fountains. It’s about using small amounts in a big way.
We think about how the landscape will be experienced from the inside as well. How will it extend into a room or make vignettes through the windows? How will it create a narrative? But one benefit of our environment is that we can be outside year-round. And with just small changes—whether it’s a shade structure or a fire pit or a water feature—we can be outside for more of each day, too.
Ultimately, we want to create excitement and surprises in the landscape. For example, there is quite a bit of plant material that just peeks up after a little monsoon rain—that’s a moment we can design for, so that we can capture that energy of beauty and change.
Brook Klausing of Brook Landscape in New York, New York, on Urban Gardens
We’re always thinking about longevity and an element of timelessness in our designs. In urban areas, people purchase real estate like clothing. It gets bought, torn down, destroyed, and then bought again. If you have a really classic design template and a base of plantings that maintains over the decades, it’s touched less with every transition. Leaving flexibility for different people to utilize things in different ways is important.
In terms of plantings, we always try to provide a base layer of 60 percent solid, easy-to-maintain plants that creates the environment and sets the tone. That way, if the clients want to play with their own ideas, they can take a risk with some temperamental plantings.
You’re coming up with something that’s easy to maintain and that looks great even if some of it gets a little wild or disappears. So we might have large boxes that accommodate big roots for trees and shrubs, but then we’ll leave space for some perennials or even something edible like strawberries to grow in there.
I love heirloom tomatoes—they’re like candy. But asparagus and dill look absolutely gorgeous when they grow. Onions look beautiful as well. I used to have a raspberry bush at my old apartment, and it was just great to go up to the roof and pick raspberries.
Fifty percent of our work is probably rooftops, and the hardscaping is very important. With some that are in full sun all day, we’ll do a shade structure. When they have a view, we pull out fewer tricks and just incorporate fireplaces and other things that make parts of the space feel more intimate. But whether you’re on a roof or in a courtyard, it goes back to making sure you have a really nice template at the beginning.
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