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Best Garden Designs Are Offshoots of Home Architecture

Expert Tells How to Make Landscaping Match Perfectly With Your House

February 24, 2001|MARK CHALON SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Page Dickey didn't start out as the gardener whom other gardeners turn to for advice.

She made mistakes early on, usually from poor planning that failed to consider the style of her house, both inside and out, and how it would match the greenery.

"My decisions weren't always as graceful as they could be, weren't as sympathetic as I'd have liked," Dickey said in a phone interview from her home in New York. "I've learned some things along the way."

Now she lectures regularly and writes books on garden design. Her latest is "Inside Out: Relating Garden to House" ($35, Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2000), which shows through examples how to make the most of the environment by ensuring the home and garden get along famously.

The problem for most people, and for Dickey when she started out, stems from neglecting your house's architecture, sight lines from key spots inside such as the living room, interior elements that can be repeated outside and indigenous plants, among other elements.

"Think about scale first, like how big is your house and will the trees, plants and garden enclosures be in line with that scale," Dickey said. "If your architecture is traditional and symmetrical, you might want to have symmetrical garden areas.

"But if your home is more modern, wouldn't it be smart to have a free-form design in the garden?"

Her home, a 19th century farmhouse, is a good example of what to do with a more traditional layout. Dickey said she used hedges to define the space and give it a "geometrical patterning."

Crab apple trees are welcome accents in her environment, but palm trees or cypresses could work nicely in Southern California to create "a formal structure," she said.

Whether conservative or more playful, the garden should be divided into areas with paths, fences, walls and hedges. This will make a small backyard look bigger and intrigue the eye.

"The most boring garden is one that you can see with one look," Dickey said. "Dividing a garden creates a sense of mystery."

You can get an idea of how these areas will appear, she added, by laying them out first with bamboo or wood sticks tied with clothesline or rope to suggest the elements.

Start from the living room couch or kitchen table. Gaze through your main windows--whichever ones open onto the garden--and think about what you'll be seeing every day from that spot.

"One thing's for sure, you want to see something wonderful out those windows," Dickey said.

Make Your Outdoors an Extension of Indoors

To get the sense that it leads from in to out, you may want to take material such as indoor tiling, masonry or wood and extend them to the path, terrace or courtyard. And consider color. Dickey pointed to one of the gardens in her book.

Jennifer Myers of Austin, Texas, filled her home with Mexican folk art, all painted in brilliant hues with earthy overtones. To continue the theme, she planted bold flowers like ranunculus, anemones, roses and nasturtiums.

"By having her garden rich [with] exuberance and liveliness and color, [she] reflects her home in an ideal way," Dickey said.

Myers also built a small dog cemetery in a corner of the garden, with several votive candles and brightly painted Madonna sculptures standing nearby. Striking blue rocking chairs mark the entrance to the limestone path that cuts through the lushness.

"Furniture can be good too" as connecting points, Dickey said. "You could even put an [old] sofa out there if it had waterproof cushions. That would really make sense [in Southern California] because the weather welcomes you to come outside."

Dickey also brushed off the suggestion that gardens like these are only for the wealthy who have plenty of space. Her ideas, she said, can work for suburbanites with modest yards.

She brought up Larry Wisch, who lives in a small San Francisco house that was transformed when he built a terraced garden rising up behind his kitchen.

Wisch's garden, also in the book, can be seen from the kitchen, which is notable for its large windows that include part of the roof.

The author agrees that a tiered garden isn't for everyone, but the notion is to take what you have and go imaginatively from there.

"Realize that making that garden doesn't have to be expensive at all," she said. "Just do what you love when making it."

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