The Garden Designers Roundtable: Transitions

by Jenny Peterson on April 23, 2013

in Garden Design,The Garden Designers' Roundtable

I’ve always said that the transitions in a garden are the most difficult to plan out. What to do with that one space where your decomposed granite area meets up with river rock, grass and steel edging? How to move from your patio out to your hot tub area? What about weird colors that meet up suddenly in your established plantings, or two different garden styles (tropical and cottage) that bump heads? While I wish I could address all of these, I can’t — some things are a work in progress, and I’m learning all the time, too — here are my favorite YES! garden transition moments.

Patio Transition-2

1. Your patio ends and the grass begins. Anyone can have a simple concrete patio edged with lawn, but that’s a little expected and seems a bit harsh to my eye. Transition from one to the next gradually by adding some concrete pavers in a somewhat random pattern, then add pieces of flagstone set into the grass. More visually interesting, more creative and definitely more cool!

formal garden entry

2. One garden “room” butts up to another. Perhaps you have an entertaining area (pool, spa, patio) that is adjacent to your vegetable garden or a quiet meditation space. You don’t necessarily want these two spaces to be visible to each other, do you? Create an entryway that says, “You’re now leaving one area and entering another.” Stone pillars, a cool gate, matching planters standing sentry, a well-made fence with surrounding plantings are all ways to delineate spaces and create an entry. You don’t have to be as high-dollar as this example — use what fits your budget and your aesthetic best.

David Barrad_s garden

3. You’ve got natural rock in your yard but you also want pretty landscaping. Don’t fight what Nature gave you — make it a part of your landscape, or shine a light on it and feature it. This buried boulder was not going anywhere in this yard, so the homeowners went right around it. The landscape edging butts up to one side and continues on the other, making the bed look more natural and like it fits into its surroundings. Genius.

Formal xeriscape

4. You want to use natives but hate the “regional” look. Whether that “regional” look is arid cactus gardens or billowy cottage gardens, you can have your natives and the style you want, too. It’s all in the design and layout. This garden marries formal design with Texas native plants by using symmetrical plantings, geometric shapes (the circular lawn area) and a graphic criss-crossing pathway. 

cordyline:coleus:mums

5. You have oddball plant colors that don’t necessarily “go.” There are a number of ways to deal with this one. If you have some orange flowers and pink flowers (not two colors I generally use together) and want to keep them both, add another plant that has both colors in it, like purple coneflower. Or use a third color that draws the eye and and creates interest, like the bright green coleus in this image. I wouldn’t necessarily put the strappy cordyline next to those red mums (nothing horribly wrong with it, just not something I would gravitate towards), but add in that shock of lemon-lime coleus and suddenly things go POP POP POP! It’s the horticultural bait and switch.

Most of us have our smart phones on us at all times — I use mine constantly to take pictures of interesting transitions and garden features outside my doctor’s office, driving home from the grocery store or walking through my neighborhood. You don’t have to totally dig the entire landscape to glean something from it, so stay alert and look for those moments where brilliant transitions do their job and figure out how to work them into your space.

Read more about transitions from my colleagues on the Roundtable:

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Deborah Silver : Dirt Simple : Detroit, MI

Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT

Mary Gallagher Gray : Black Walnut Dispatch : Washington, D.C.

Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT

David Cristiani : The Desert Edge : Albuquerque, NM

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Desert Dweller/David C. April 23, 2013 at 10:54 pm

“stay alert and look for those moments where brilliant transitions do their job and figure out” – words of wisdom. #2 and #4 really speak to me, as those are challenges many don’t realize can become one’s favorite place. Great post JP!

Ally April 24, 2013 at 7:17 am

Such a great topic and a timely one for me. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I’ve been sectioning off and building garden rooms in my large space, but I’m lacking in transitional elements. Lots of food for thought here. Thanks.

Becky April 24, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Love, love the idea of the path transitioning to the lawn!

katina May 7, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Love the transition from deck to grass…I’m pretty sure my husband would not agree with this sentiment

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