If you get the chance to tour a set of marvelous residential gardens created by landscape architects or garden designers in your city, would you do it? What should you look for? How could you translate what you see to your garden?
Go beyond how well the plants are growing or whether the gardens include unique specimens that usually thrive elsewhere. Here are five tips for using Elderyarding® principles to borrow from the best:
First, look at all the different kinds of textures in each garden. Start with the walking area under foot. I found pea gravel, decomposed granite, square concrete pavers, rough-shaped limestone pavers, pavers interspersed with low-growing native grass. Then look at the plants – from ground cover to overhead. In one garden, I saw clumps of tall bamboo with long narrow leaves set off by multiple hedges of boxwood with their round leaves. Even without floral color, the contrast would be visually interesting to watch often. Finally, study the garden furnishings – containers, seating, decks. Maybe the designer contrasted the smooth teak of a bench with the unkempt foliage of a dwarf olive tree. Would you use the same approach, setting the two side-by-side to touch each time you walk by?
2. Shapes and patterns
And considering another aspect of teak bench and olive trees, ask yourself about color can affect shape. Would the combination be great to look at if the bench is allowed to weather to a gray similar to the olive leaves, making a horizontal line with the bench’s seating boards that rises from the arm to become a vertical gray in the tree? Or you may prefer that the bench be oiled regularly to keep its golden hue and play with the shape differences from bench to tree. Look deeply at combinations of forms. A section of paving that reclaimed old stones used rectangular shapes to reflect the modern house, but the paving was angled, causing the viewer to notice the octagonal pool. Clumps of bamboo were set apart, causing a rhythmic pattern of light and shade when walking along the side of the house. What pleases your eye? What catches your attention and reminds you of pleasant past lives and experiences?
Water is a popular element in Texas and other climates where drought is a common visitor. In gardens I saw recently, one water element stood out. In one garden, the shady side of the house contained a rectangular “panel” of lawn and a huge tree, with a gravel walk along the edge. This cool calm spot was the planned view from the bedrooms, with masses of windows to this view. Tucked away in a corner was a rectangular limestone trough with a pipe above emptying a tiny stream of water into the basin. Very little water was needed, yet the distance to the basin created a constantly varying drizzle that added to the area’s sense of peace.
One key element of Elderyarding® is safety since 50% of falls among older adults happen outside. Notice what’s comfortable as you move around and what causes you to hesitate. Maybe those light and shadow stripes in the bamboo garden draw your eye as they match paver and gravel, then you become aware that the pavers are spaced just right so you don’t need to shuffle through small stones. Or maybe there’s a perfect concrete seat at the top of a hill where you can stop while friends hike up and down the steepness of the hillside’s path.
5. What not to do
While you are seeing everything, taking notes, or photos if permitted, also pay attention to design solutions to which you mentally say “No” immediately. Modern mid-century designs are often highly geometric, and landscape designers love steel edging to create steps and level changes. You may find it challenging to see those step edges in shady areas, even if they are clear in the sun. Jot that down! Or you may love a combination of Agaves with big fat leaves sharing beds with soft low grasses yet you aren’t attracted to those same agaves when planted on a slope with different, sun-loving grasses and succulents in a haphazard way. Jot that down, too.