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The Resource Center

Architectural Plants

 

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Architectural Plants

Bold Use of Architectural Plants to Build Contemporary Outdoor Spaces

Contrast shapes and texture
Contrast shapes and texture to improve the look down sidewalks.

Plants with bold forms contrast with fine-leafed foliage in raised planters that step down to the sidewalk on both sides of the driveway. In the bed pictured here, two large, blue-green Agave americana, a spiny, stick-like Fouquieria splendens, and a tall Aloe thraskii are sculptural focal points among soft green Agave attenuata and low-growing, cool blue Senecio mandraliscae. Rosmarinus ‘Severn Sea’ trails over the walls and covers itself in spring with sky-blue flowers.

Build in some seating
Build in some seating in the garden.

A zigzag wall is capped with teak for seating in the backyard. “This isn’t just a garden to look at but to be in,” says the designer. Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’ fringes the seat’s back edge. Low-growing Stipa tenuissima and Helictotrichon sempervirens, along with taller, Miscanthus sinensis condensatus ‘Cosmopolitian’ and plum-colored Phormium tenax ‘Rubrum’ surround the shapely trunks of mature ‘Manzanillo’ olive trees, found at an old grove and hoisted into position by crane.

Mix materials.
Mix materials.

Wood, pebbles, stone paving, water, and plants blend together to create a multi-textural passage. Just beyond the deck, staggered pavers of various widths give way to more uniform pavers laced together with strips of grey-green Dymondia margareta. Deep green Equisetum hyemale forms vertical hedges. Clumps of Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’ are edged with Rosmarinus. The same materials are repeated throughout the garden for a cohesive overall look.

Create surprises.
Create surprises: slow the journey and reveal the garden gradually.

“Bringing people straight to the house is a missed opportunity”, says designer Michael Schneider. Instead, slow the journey and reveal the garden gradually. Here, the entry steps up from the sidewalk to the first outdoor room, but the Equisetum hedge conceals part of the view beyond. Outside the hedge, you may hear bubbling water, but you can’t see its source. Then, as you pass the hedge and approach the front door, the reflecting pool comes into view. Schneider calls this a “journey of sound and movement.” Stipa tenuissima, clumps of , and succulents edge the steps; Dymondia margareta spreads a gray-green carpet in Festuca glauca the foreground. An Olea europaea ‘Manzanillo’ canopies the bench.

 

 
Blur The Boundary

On the front deck, a mass of Chondropetalum tectorum makes a striking kinetic sculpture as it moves in the breeze above bluish Mexican beach pebbles.

“Blur the Boundary” to enhance the connection between indoors and outdoors.

Planting pockets and large windows on the ground floor enhance the connection between indoors and outdoors.

On the front deck, a mass of Chondropetalum tectorum makes a striking kinetic sculpture as it moves in the breeze above bluish Mexican beach pebbles. Viewed from indoors, it’s also a visual safety barrier in the front of the hard-to-see glass. The teak decking gets refinished twice a year with an oil stain.

 

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