Home & Garden

Garden architects say seating, dining, cooking areas should meld gracefully

In a well-designed garden, you can feel the music.

“It’s like a waltz,” says Ted Cleary, a landscape architect in Charlotte who has been designing gardens for almost 20 years.

Gardens, like music, are about movement and rest, he says. You should glide through a good garden as gracefully as a couple moves across a dance floor.

This outdoor dance fits into a pattern, according to a new survey from the American Society of Landscape Architects. Homeowners want pretty gardens with places to entertain, grill, and relax. They’re interested in sensitive garden lighting and comfortable places to sit. They want “livable, open spaces that are both stylish and earth-friendly,” says Nancy Somerville, a representative of the society.

The society’s 2014 trend survey reflects the observations of residential landscape architects across the country. Landscape architects are trained to see the big picture, Cleary says, but the survey shows that garden designs are made up of separate parts, from the front walk to the back patio. In a successful garden plan, courtyards, flower gardens, pools, seating areas, grilling spots and storage buildings all fit neatly together.

“Your house is just a microcosm of a small town square, and our job is to figure out how it all relates,” Cleary says. Garden design projects also help you develop your aesthetic sense and reveal the potential of your property, says Mary Palmer Dargan, a landscape architect who lives and works in Atlanta and in Cashiers.

The magic of lighting

One of the biggest trends this year is demand for first-rate outdoor lighting: Ninety-eight percent of landscape architects surveyed said lighting is a high priority among their clients. Good lighting makes any garden more attractive, Cleary says. “You would be amazed at how it will transform your landscape.”

Outdoor lighting should highlight important features and direct you and your guests through the evening landscape safely, but it should also be subdued and a little mysterious. A runway of fixtures set too close together spoils the mood. Smaller pools of light that slightly overlap are visually graceful and still make a garden easy to navigate, Cleary says. “You should very seldom see the source, but you should see the effect,” he says.

Inviting places to sit

The survey of trends also found that outdoor dining areas are high on the list of priorities for homeowners, with fire pits, fireplaces, grills and built-in seating close behind. In fact, they all go together, Cleary says.

A garden with great places to sit looks inviting even if you don’t always have time to linger, Cleary says. He prefers gardens with several seating areas – perhaps a few chairs just outside the back door, for example, and a bench deeper in the garden. Lightweight furniture that can be moved around easily lets you experiment with different views and perspectives.

Built-in seating serves other purposes, and it has become justly popular, Cleary says. Seating walls help define the spaces in a garden, reduce clutter and introduce strong horizontal lines in a design. The built-in bench in a stone wall designed by landscape architect Meg Turner for clients in Richmond, Va., follows a graceful curve in a corner, and the view from there seems to embrace the garden. The bench faces back across to the house, which is made of the same handsome stone. In another garden, Turner designed a seating wall that frames an outdoor fireplace. On cool evenings, the wall accommodates a cozy crowd.

“It’s almost a missed opportunity if you have a terrace with a wall and don’t have built-in seating,” Cleary says. People naturally gravitate to these spaces, he says, because they “want to be a part of things, to see what’s going on, but you want to feel protected.” Seating built against a wall fills that need.