A comfortable temperature, clear skies and long hours of sunshine – nothing beats a day outdoors. When the elements of Mother Nature are so seamlessly aligned, we don’t waste time preparing our outdoor spaces. Well equipped garden furniture? Yes, please. An outdoor fireplace? Of course. An outdoor kitchen? If your footprint allows, definitely.
Getting those outdoor features in tip-top shape for the warmer weather is of course a key seasonal priority – and balancing it with gorgeous gardens and landscaping is, too. Finally, lush flowers and green shrubs, when paired with the right hardscaping, can transform a backyard into a personal oasis. And according to landscape architect Janice Parker, the extra effort you put into your garden really increases the bottom line. “If the landscape plan is designed with a clear intent, it can guide visitors through the property and transform the garden into additional ‘rooms’ that expand the home’s living space,” she explains.
But where to start? To help, three leading landscape architects have shared the best ways to find garden inspiration – as well as their tips everyone should follow when designing and realizing their outdoor spaces. That way, you’ll spend less time brainstorming and more time enjoying your beautiful garden.
Related: These beautiful landscaping ideas will enhance your backyard retreat
Create a blank canvas
When it comes to designing your outdoor space, your creativity can easily be clouded by elements you already have in place. But rather than refine yourself on that run-down dogwood or outdoor swing you don’t particularly love, Parker recommends starting from scratch. “Try to look [your] House and land in a fresh way – with ‘new glasses’ – before you start designing a garden or landscape,” she says. “In your mind, erase whatever is there. Imagine a theater – and your country is the stage. The house and outbuildings are props, the garden elements are backdrops. Start composing different arrangements. Think of how sets move and props come sideways, bottom-up and top-down.”
That said, just because you envision your yard as a blank canvas doesn’t mean you have free reign over your space. Just as with the interior design of your home, you will face some constraints – be they structural, financial or environmental. “Understand what is and isn’t possible on your land,” she adds. “Designing enduring landscapes is about creating beauty within the natural constraints of the site.” First, research and identify the lighting, shadowing, soil, and water conditions of your space. As Parker puts it, these key factors “provide a strong structure for planning.”
Browse your local environment
The good news is that inspiration is all around us – you just have to look carefully. “Local, natural settings help us give your home and garden a sense of space that’s appropriate for your area—and shows what plants grow best where you are,” says Amy Smith, director of landscape studios at Marmol Radziner. “Local public gardens can be a great and accessible way to learn about plants that grow natively or are well adapted to your climate, and how to arrange spaces and plantings in a way that is appropriate for home gardens.”
While public parks and your neighbors’ backyards are great places to find inspiration, Parker also recommends checking out nurseries and botanical gardens. Other option? Combine the business of design inspiration with the pleasure of making connections. “Join a local garden club: They often run tours of private landscapes, and many run day trips to local public botanical gardens,” she says. “Use the information on different websites – organizations like The Nature Conservancy and The Garden Conservancy are wonderful.”
But no matter how you seek inspiration, you should put your needs and those of your space above everything else. “It’s important to consider climate, water use, sun or shade exposure, and a maintenance level that works for your lifestyle,” says Smith. “The garden should focus on who is going to live [alongside] it and how it is used.”
Scroll on social media
Chances are you have a number of saved posts and pins for home decor inspiration and delicious recipes – so why not add landscapes to your growing list? “Pinterest and Instagram are by far the most important sources of design moments,” says Michael McGowan, landscape architect at KAA Design Group. The downside, McGowan points out, is that not everything you see on social media flows seamlessly into your green space, so it’s important to exercise patience.
“My suggestion is to keep a running file — digital, monologue, or both — about what you enjoy and what inspires you,” he says. “It can be pictures, sketches, found objects, writings, [and so on]. Over time, clear patterns will emerge in this accumulation. Copy the fused inspirations, then evolve them to fit your space.”
let yourself be inspired
Of course, your smartphone isn’t the only screen that can provide top-notch inspiration. As Parker points out, there are plenty of webisodes and television programs that you can enjoy from the comfort of your couch. Among their favorites world of gardenersanything endorsed by Monty Don and a series by The Cultural Landscape Foundation called What’s up at the weekend, she’s also partial to Martha Stewart’s sage gardening tips. (So don’t forget to check out our founder’s tips for flower bed formations, tools, and more.)