When Tracy and Vince bought their heritage home, they'd had grand plans of summer parties in their backyard. Ten years later, they had an eclectic, English-inspired garden that was little more than a make-work project: They never spent any leisure time there.
The main reason was the overall dysfunction of the space – it was long and narrow, with two disconnected areas: the west side of the yard, which housed a large iron pergola, was a tangle of grapevines surrounded by overgrown shrubs; the east side was a strip of lawn with a large trellis and a bed of wild flowers and decorative trees.
The yard was beautiful, but it had become a haphazard collection of Tracy and Vince's tastes that didn't address their needs. This often happens when your fancies get the better of you – you lose the space to entertain or rest.
What the couple needed was a strategy to connect the two spaces and recover an atmosphere of comfort and ease. The goal was to create a romantic and fanciful entertaining area so that Tracy and Vince could finally hold their parties. Here's what we did:
Connect areas smartly
Wise employment of ground cover is the best way to create flow in a backyard. By ground cover, we mean stone slabs, concrete pavers and even loose rock – materials used to create paths and patios. These elements connect one space to the next, guiding traffic flow.
Tracy and Vince's yard had a long concrete path that divided the east and west side of the yard – it looked rigid and stiff next to the flowing lines of everything else, but because the path connects the retaining walls and walkways to the front of the home, we couldn't remove it without great expense.
Fortunately, we could build upon the more attractive elements – such as the beautiful sandstone flag patio under the iron pergola. We extended this ground cover, stretching the path from the west of the yard to the east. There, we removed most of the grass and put in another patio under the trellis.
Flagstones don't work well in every yard – their irregular shape is best suited to whimsical layouts that have volume and curve. A rigid, square paver made from concrete or basalt is more appropriate to a linear, modern garden.
Saving a flop
Connecting two spaces was only half the battle. The next problem was transforming the trellis and pergola from glorified garden ornaments into useful pieces of architecture.
The trellis posed the biggest challenge. It took up a lot of real estate without doing much beyond supporting a wisteria, and the space beneath it felt void, even after Tracy and Vince had placed a teak garden bench there.
The space was like an awkward kitchen nook – the kind of jut in which a dining set never fits. You can resurrect such spaces only with custom furnishings. That's the approach that we took with the trellis. Using its sturdy wood frame as our skeleton, we fit the trellis with a custom seat. We designed it to have a deep seat, high back and open sides – a generous hangout once upholstered cushions were installed.
The iron pergola was the next fix. Its main problem was that the bramble of grapevines entangling its roof made it look top-heavy and uninviting. The bedraggled dining set it sheltered didn't add much appeal either.
Cutting back the vines would have compromised the health of the plant, so to lighten the appearance of the pergola, we decided to go the other way entirely – weigh down the sides with custom drapery and create an intimate space for dinner parties. Inside, we replaced the dining set with comfortable chairs, a new dining table and an antique chandelier for candlelit dinners.
Indulge in pattern and colour
Colour and pattern are two things that scare people because they're often poorly used. Executed well, though, these elements create a fantastic, lighthearted atmosphere. The key is to stick to a limited scheme inspired by the surrounding garden. For Tracy and Vince, we chose pale green, chocolate brown and ivory. These hues related to the green of the plants, the brown of the fence and the ivory of the trim of their home.
We then selected a variety of patterns in these colours. We were careful to vary the scale of our patterns from small to medium to large. This prevents one pattern from melting into the other and losing its visual impact.
For big pieces such as the drapes, we chose solid colours. Patterned drapery would have been so visually demanding that you would overlook the more subtle shapes and forms of the garden.
Within the tent we chose a green-and-ivory floral for chair slipcovers. Set against the solid pale green, the chairs provided a pop in the dining area. The same print was used as an accent on the banquette, while the upholstery was a combination of a bold pattern and a strong green and brown stripe. The linear quality of the stripe offers a contemporary flair.
Build the fountain, they will come
Water features are a classic focal point in the garden. These days the trend is toward shallow pools with bubbling boulders of concrete or granite. Such pieces are perfect for a West Coast yard and more modern schemes, too. But in Tracy and Vince's backyard, this style of fountain would look too rigid
and masculine. We needed something that enhanced
the romantic quality of the yard.
A traditional tiered fountain made from cast concrete was our choice. It was also more cost effective and easy to assemble. Like most pedestal fountains, it came in pieces and we purchased our pump separately at the landscape supplier. Once we'd put it together we simply plugged it in and filled the larger basin with water. Adjusted to the proper flow, the fountain provides an ambient gurgle.
There you have it: Keeping in mind a few simple ideas, you can ensure that your outdoor space remains a place of ease and repose, not a sink for your money and precious weekend time.
Kelly Deck can be seen on Take It Outside, airing Saturdays at 10:30 a.m. on HGTV. For more outdoor design tips visit www.hgtv.ca