Decor may be a term commonly associated with home interiors but since outdoor spaces have come of age as fully fledged living areas they now require the same attention to design detail. Considerations such as lighting, artwork, ground surfaces and amenities have become a vital part of planning a garden.
Outdoor spaces now offer a great opportunity to have fun designing a stylish setting for casual living.
Once considered a luxury, lighting has become an integral part of landscape design. Rather than lighting for practical purposes – such as illuminating steps, pathways and seating areas – the main aim here is to create drama.
Successful lighting takes plenty of planning because cabling has to be laid during the early stages of development. Selecting specimen trees or plants to uplight and highlighting water features, pools and sculptures is also a task that requires expert input.
There is now a wide range of lighting options available, including fibre-optic products and underwater lights. More subtle effects can be achieved by cleverly placed recessed lighting fixtures. Lighting professionals will take the angst out of trying to imagine the end result by placing portable lights around the garden so that clients can assess the look they want.
It is important to establish the main direction the lit area will be viewed from to maximise impact and avoid glare. Lights can be placed at a range of levels and some products can be dimmed.
Areas that remain in darkness are just as important as those that will be lit. Special effects such as cross-lighting, shadowing, silhouetting and wash lighting will lend an intriguing moody ambience to outdoor features.
USE OF SITE
The unique characteristics of a site are the most important factor when considering design options. Gradient, aspect, configuration and the nature of surrounding properties will all influence key design components.
Site characteristics such as steep gradients and changes of level can offer design opportunities rather than just restrictions. Highlighting a site’s peculiarities gives a garden personality and a design that works with these practical aspects will result in a more user-friendly outdoor living area.
Study how the sun moves around garden areas during the day at different times of the year so that entertainment spaces can be placed for maximum enjoyment. Consider how to provide shelter from prevailing winds and where shade may be needed. Assess drainage, access to utilities and privacy issues before committing to a design.
Look at the house’s floor plan with indoor-outdoor flow in mind for entertainment areas. Make a list of regular activities and ensure that the landscape design allows for them. And be honest about how much time you intend to spend on maintenance. You can then take account of this in the design and assess the help you’ll need to keep outdoor areas immaculate.
Planting species that thrive in your local climate will cut down on care – have a look at what’s growing well in your neighbourhood as a quick guide.
Celebrating a site will ensure an inviting landscape design that can be enjoyed all year round.
Outdoor decoration has come a long way from the ubiquitous cherub or gnome stuck in a corner. Just as a living room would seem incomplete without paintings and ornaments, gardens can be made special with finishing touches such as artwork.
There is a huge range of weather-proof art available, from reasonably priced decorative novelties found in garden centres to major works of art that have been made specifically for exterior display.
Choose art that integrates well with the materials used in the hard landscaping and choose pieces that enhance the mood of the garden.
Art provides a focal point for outdoor living areas and the appropriate setting or backdrop will increase its impact. Think about where the piece will be viewed from and whether it will dominate the area or would be better discovered while exploring the garden. Place an artwork among plants so that it is surrounded by a natural green frame or showcase it boldly so that it is visible from all angles.
Garden art placed close to the house and outdoor seating areas will provide interest regardless of the season. Check to see if it can be enjoyed while you are indoors as well as out.
Placing pieces is an art in itself – you need to think about whether the work casts shadows or sways in the breeze. Does it provide a much needed vertical accent or block of colour? A well-placed piece can be the highlight of a garden.
POOLS & FEATURES
Water is today’s must-have feature in gardens. Whether you are considering a major investment in a swimming pool or just want a simple water feature, there are plenty of options available.
Garden centres stock a range of easily installed free-standing and wall-mounted water features at modest prices. Perfect for a smaller garden or a spot close to an entertaining area or an entrance, they offer the lovely sight and sound of flowing water and require little maintenance.
Swimming pools are another matter, however. You’ll have to work through the resource consent process and major excavations. You’ll need to choose between competing construction methods, finishes and associated products. And then there’s ongoing care.
The constrictions of the site and how the pool will be used are the major factors in the design. Lap pools and infinity pools that integrate with the wider landscape have been in demand in the past few years.
Plunge pools are increasingly popular with those for whom exercise is not a priority, partly because they are perfect for smaller sites but also because they’re easier to heat.
Installing insulation at the time of construction and adding a heat pump, solar or gas heating system can extend the swimming period considerably.
Underwater lighting, flowing water, feature-finish walls and integrated spa pools are all growing in popularity.
Hard landscaping treatments around the pool will have a considerable influence on the final effect and many designs now incorporate walls that double as pool fences on at least one side, helping to integrate the pool with the wider entertainment area.
Forget the pool house or the cabana, outdoor rooms are fast becoming sophisticated spaces that mimic indoor living areas. Fully equipped kitchens, entertainment zones with sound systems and plasma televisions, built-in shelving and seating, upmarket dining and lounge settings with nearby fireplaces … there are no boundaries between what has traditionally been the interior realm and the great outdoors.
These set-ups are the ideal solution for expansive gardens where the pool and other amenities may be some distance from the house. Even smaller gardens can benefit from a room that offers a weather-proof outdoor living zone with all the comforts of “home”. Curtains, carpets, cushions and upholstered furniture can be left in situ indefinitely.
Shutters or sliding cavity doors allow the rooms to be opened up fully when in use. Pavilions that are deep enough to offer full shelter from the elements are also popular.
An outdoor room offers an opportunity to experiment with a relaxed, even offbeat, decorating style that takes a cue from the landscaping around it.
Lawns equal mowing plus mud – hence the increased use of paving in outdoor areas. Near the house, choose a treatment that continues the look of indoor areas and enhances indoor-outdoor flow. Consider ongoing maintenance by choosing materials that are non-slip and won’t mark, especially around barbecues.
Extensive paved areas can be costly and there is a trend towards combining them with stretches of aggregate – there is a huge range of pebble mixes available. Think about bordering one material with another or breaking down the area into a series of “rugs” delineating different spaces. But if you choose a grass chequerboard effect be aware of the maintenance required.
Don’t skimp on ground preparation and before laying paving make sure any drainage issues have been resolved and that design features are decided on. Gas heating, pool heating, lighting and cleaning systems all require underground cabling and connections to be installed before the surface work is done.
Barbara Garrett 021 441 411
Firth pavers available from building supply stores nationwide
Frontier Pools (09) 299 8659
Hot Water Heat Pumps 0800 336 633
Natural Habitats (09) 970 3488
Robert Watson (03) 366 2968
Robyn Shafer 021 717 377
Stevenson & Sons 0800 610 710
Strass Landscape (09) 623 3410
Trish Bartleet 027 653 9177
Trudy Crerar 021 810 776
Story: Sarah Beresford
Photographs: Gil Hanly, Frontier Pools and Firth Industries