Design of Outdoor Spaces Just as Important as Inside

Master gardener Maureen Gilmer gives tips on designing a great outdoor space.
SH06H291YARDSMART Aug. 28, 2006 _ Simple wrought iron furniture blends well with naturally weathered woods, terra cotta and brick. (SHNS photo courtesy Maureen Gilmer)

SHNS_YardSmart08_28a

Simple wrought-iron furniture blends well with naturally weathered woods, terra cotta and brick. (All photos courtesy of Maureen Gilmer)

Simple wrought-iron furniture blends well with naturally weathered woods, terra cotta and brick. (All photos courtesy of Maureen Gilmer)
By: Maureen Gilmer

In garden design, the hard palette refers to constructed elements. The soft palette is strictly plants. Separating these two palettes makes designing your yard a lot easier. Put them together properly and you have a near perfect garden.

When interior decorators tackle a house or room they create little boards upon which fabrics, paint chips, finishes and carpeting samples are all arranged together. This is their chosen palette for the room's decor. Think of your yard that way, too.

SH06H289YARDSMART Aug. 28, 2006 _ A well composed palette of brick, exposed aggregate and wrought iron creates a visually integrated garden. (SHNS photo courtesy Maureen Gilmer)

SHNS_YardSmart08_28b

A well-composed palette of brick, exposed aggregate and wrought iron creates a visually integrated garden.

A well-composed palette of brick, exposed aggregate and wrought iron creates a visually integrated garden.

Your palette will be composed of many of the same conceptual materials because you live in a garden much the same way you live in a room. You want everything in the garden to support everything else so it presents a well-planned, integrated scheme. Creating a similar collection like the decorator's board is a big help in knowing if your theoretical backyard-design decisions will work in the real world.

Whereas a decorator features hard flooring and carpet, you will choose similar materials for outdoors. This hard palette could include brick paving, concrete, stone or wood decking. The price of each will vary considerably.

Not all paving areas in the yard receive the same attention. Those high use spaces outside living or family room doors will be seen all year around from indoors and out. This is where you put your high-end primary paving to enhance the overall visual quality. Redwood deck, stone or tile are typical choices here.

You can use a secondary paving for more functional areas. This would include connector walkways, driveways, kids' play areas and more functional surfaces. The cost per square foot may be half that of your primary paving.

The key to a successful palette is making choices to ensure that both primary and secondary paving work well together. For example, you might choose a higher-priced flagstone for a primary area and augment that with poured concrete for secondary paving. It should be tinted to provide a more analogous look. Be sure it will enhance the beauty of the stone, not fight it. Seeing a concrete admixture color sample next to the stone sample takes the guesswork out of this decision. And it's essential you study them outside in the sunshine for a true assessment of how they'll look in the yard.

These are the kinds of decisions that are rarely considered in the yard because many landscapers just don't apply the same attention to details as decorators do. But when you study really fabulous outdoor living spaces you find that all share a strongly integrated palette.

SH06H290YARDSMART Aug. 28, 2006 _ This hard palette of cool gray hues makes greens and flower colors pop. (SHNS photo courtesy Maureen Gilmer)

SHNS_YardSmart08_28c

This hard palette of cool gray hues makes greens and flower colors pop.

This hard palette of cool gray hues makes greens and flower colors pop.

The hard palette includes other components of equal value. Building walls and fences as enclosures carry the same importance as interior wall-coverings, stair banisters and room dividers. When present together, each of these must be well matched in both color and style. Those decisions will also be made in conjunction with your paving choices, just as wall paint would be made against carpet and flooring. In short, everything must relate in one way or another.

The same applies to your garden furnishings. Whether you choose aluminum or wood outdoors, how it fits in will be dictated by your hard palette. The color of these is important because they will be sitting amidst your paving choices. Therefore these, too, should be closely compared with real samples in direct sunlight.

While all of this comparison seems burdensome and time consuming, consider it a blessing. Without comparisons you have no basis for making a choice. But when your samples help you rule out 28 of 30 possible outdoor dining sets at the home-improvement store, an overwhelming task becomes very simple.

Before you start building or buying or planting, create your sample palette. Make your decisions well in advance. When the time comes to hire contractors and spend the money, you'll sleep well at night knowing you've already got it exactly right.

(Maureen Gilmer is a horticulturist and host of Weekend Gardening on DIY-Do It Yourself Network. For more information, visit www.moplants.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)

Next Up

Here's How Pros Design the Fabulous Spaces From 'And Just Like That'

We went behind the scenes with AJLT's designers to learn how they created those fantastic homes. Watch our interview and shop to bring their savvy design sense into your own space.

Decks for Every Location

Learn about the best options for deck locations

Decks: Raised vs. Grade-Level

Keep these structure options in mind when deciding on a deck design.

The 5 Elements of Feng Shui

Learn how a balance of wood, fire, earth, metal and water can bring balance to your space and your life.

The Best Flush-Mount Light Fixtures for Every Style in 2023

Bring high style to your low ceilings. Shop these top-rated flush-mount light fixtures for every room in your house.

Floating Decks

Find out all you need to know about floating decks and get great inspiration for your deck project.

What Is an English Garden?

Learn the elements of enchanting English gardens, and discover ways to translate that style to your yard.

Top 6 Kitchen Layouts

Learn about different layouts, like L-shaped, one-wall and galley kitchens, and download templates for your renovation.

13 Top Kitchen Design Styles

From contemporary to cottage, today's most popular looks inspire beautiful kitchen designs.

Go Shopping

Get product recommendations from HGTV editors, plus can’t-miss sales and deals.

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.