I’ve often said that designing a garden for someone is a very personal act of creativity. More often than not it is a great pleasure. Certainly, this is the case with a delightful couple in Lafayette Louisiana who contacted me many years ago to help them with a garden plan.
They were new to gardening, but you could tell straight away that they were eager to learn. Innately curious they each dug in with zeal and determination to create a beautiful place for themselves. At the time they knew they would soon be empty nesters with their two sons off to college. Together they each wanted to jump into something previously unexplored and different in this new phase of life, so they turned to create a garden as a couple and, happily, chose me as their guide.
Their wish list was short. He wanted to turn his attention to growing edibles and she loved the beauty, fragrance of flowers, and the sound of water, but they wanted the garden to ‘hang together’ in a compelling way. They wanted a design that allowed them beautiful views from inside the home, yet made them want to spend more time outdoors enjoying the river.
The ‘canvas’ I had to paint upon intrigued me. The house was handsome, and traditional in style and the property backed to the Vermilion River. When I arrived the back was essentially a large well-groomed greensward to the river’s edge.
Since one of my design principles is that the garden should always ‘bow’ to the house I took the style of the architecture and materials of the house as precedent for the garden. In an area of the country where the shadow of the exceptional work of architect Hayes Town looms large with his authentic take on vernacular Louisiana domestic architecture, this house was decidedly different. Here we had a traditional style home with 19th century mid-Atlantic DNA to work with, complete with white clapboard, shutters, old brick, and good proportions.
We set about with design by first breaking the expansive and relatively flat space into various areas each serving different functions. The centerpiece of the garden became a pavilion that resonated architecturally with the style of the house and served as a place to entertain or from which to just relax and watch the abundant birdlife and the river roll by. From there we created garden rooms and paths that connected one to the other; some axial and others serpentine and meandering like the river itself. A combination of fences, hedges, loose masses of azaleas, and an allee of Crepe Myrtle trees were employed to define spaces and create garden ‘rooms’.
This was one of those collaborations that was immensely satisfying for me, mainly because a clear design intent had been laid out in the beginning. But, most importantly, the owners participated in and understood the process and then followed the plan to the letter. I remain as proud of them as the garden itself. They took on a new endeavor together and to this day continue to see it through. Too often I see gardens going astray over time when the original design intent is no longer followed or forgotten altogether.
To create a garden for someone you have to get inside their head and learn what brings them the greatest joy. As a designer, I interview my clients to learn how to craft a place special for them. Leaning on special memories, favorite destinations, or a particular garden they may have visited all are ways to better understand the image they may carry around with them. It’s my job to extract that image and help them bring it to life. preferred colors and fragrances are important, but there is a deeper well from which to draw to create the spirit of place. It’s a collaborative and engaging exercise that that reveals much about the personalities of the participants. Large or small when designing a space for someone or in this case a couple it is a very personal exercise, and it must be so for the results to be successful.