Gardening - On the Inside Looking Out
by Carol Wallace
When we celebrated our first spring in this 100+ year old house of ours I was absolutely amazed to look out the windows at the spring blooming shrubs. They were all in shades of rose, white and lavender.
And why was that amazing? Not only because I had painted the living room in a deep lavender-rose with white trim - but because as I scraped away old paint as I prepped I found that a much earlier owner had painted those walls in exactly the same colors that I was using. Which was kind of spooky - especially since the same thing also happened in the kitchen and sunroom. And those colors coordinated perfectly with the garden I saw through my window. It was like having a lovely and ever-changing painting on the walls, chosen for its ability to harmonize with the décor.
Since it was still pretty cold out - enough to discourage more than a brisk inspection walk around the yard, I was doubly grateful to be blessed with such a lovely picture as I gazed out my window. And that is when I came to the conclusion that it's not enough to plan your garden so that it looks good to you when you're outside enjoying it. If your garden can be seen from inside, then you might also want to plant your planting with that in mind. Not only will it look great - but also the flowers you pick will be bound to work well with your interior décor.
A couple of years ago I ran across something that verified my hunch. Did you know that you can actually buy interior and exterior paint to match your flowers? That's right! Benjamin Moore paints have a listing of paints and the flowers that they match, so that color-coordinating house and plants is almost foolproof. So that's taken care of. If you feel more confident about decorating your house, start there. And if you have more confidence in your garden design ability than your interior design, start with the garden.
What you are doing is painting with plants. When you're creating a painting to be seen from inside the house things get a bit trickier than they do when you are painting with watercolor, crayons or oils. Things move and change perspective as you move around the room. But don't let this bother you. You're not responsible for every possible angle of the portrait - only those that will be seen most constantly.
Where are you likely to spend the most time viewing your garden portrait? We have two rooms with no walls to speak of - just windows. So any time we pass through them we see the side yard gardens. But the most constant view is from the rattan rocker where my husband sits to do his phone work. And let me tell you - my husband LOVES the phone. I've suspected that instead of an umbilical cord he was born with a telephone cord. My own seat in that room is usually a sofa that puts me back to the window - so his perspective is the crucial one.
So now that I know the perspective, I have only to sit there and look at the picture I see framed by that window wall. What colors will look best when I sit in this room? And don't forget - the colors you choose also need to look good with the colors of your house's exterior.
I get lucky here --the room has cedar green floors and cupboards, and old-fashioned dark pine molding. So anything goes when it comes to garden colors! But I am planting loads of spring bulbs and early summer lilies, and then later daylilies and hostas. Many of these will be picked for indoor bouquets. So I choose flower colors that will look good in the living room, where the bouquets are most likely to go. If the room from which you view this living picture is less neutral, then select flower and foliage colors that will work with the room. Think about choosing a picture for the wall. You will want one that picks up the accent colors of your room, right? Choose plant color the same way.
Then I start thinking about picture composition. Where do I need height? Where do things need to be cleared away to give me a better view of the flowers? Are the elements of the picture balanced? Would the picture look best if it used an arching tree as part of the frame through which the smaller elements of the garden are viewed? If you need some help with this aspect of your plant painting, then I strongly suggest that you look at Kirk Johnson's series on Unity in Gardening - how to turn your garden into a work of art. It's in 11 parts - so you'll find a ton of useful information.
Have you thought about winter when the beds get pretty bare? Can you incorporate some sculptural elements into the picture for winter interest? Not necessarily artistic sculptural elements, but growing ones like evergreen shrubs and plants, those with interesting winter twig patterns such as the corkscrew and contorted willows, or those with colorful twigs such as the red, yellow and orange twigged dogwoods.
Perhaps a trellis, arbor or pergola will give you some permanent interest.
Do you need to plant something to disguise utilitarian, necessary but ugly things in the yard? Maybe a piece of sculpture or a really terrific rock will give the picture a focal point.
Let your imagination run free. Dream a bit, and then scale down things so that you have a dream that you can actually realize. Chances are excellent that in composing this garden/picture you will not only improve your indoor view but also have an outside garden with more interest and excitement than before. It's your garden and your picture so paint it to make you happy.
About the Author
Carol is a garden writer and college professor in northeast Pennsylvania. She manages the Gardening section of Suite 101.com, where she also writes the column Virtually Gardening.