Design & Remodeling

Create an outdoor haven

Now that it’s spring, I spend every moment I can out in the garden—mulching the beds, planting flowers, reading, writing, and listening to the Royals on our transistor radio…hoping their losing streak won’t reach 12.

All this time spent outdoors got me thinking about ways to approach designing an outdoor space in the same way as you would an indoor room. Here are just a few ideas. Feel free to share yours in the comments below.

Starting at your front door, as this is the first thing you and your visitors see: Why not make it inviting? Consider adding a windowbox or two, and frame the doorway with a climbing vine like Kentucky Wisteria. Note: When buying wisteria, make sure the one you pick has flowers because some can take 7-15 years to bloom.

Wisteria by Kerry Pitt-Hart

Flowering plants can add beauty and fragrance to an entryway. Earlier this spring, we planted two Zephirine Drouhin roses in place of a pair of slow-growing, prickly Dwarf Alberta Spruces. Though removing the trees took a couple hours and left me with a rash, I wish I had done it sooner. Not only is Zephirine Drouhin a nearly thornless bourbon, she entices with her cerise-pink flowers and raspberry scent. It’s like having a bowl of potpourri to greet you as you walk in the house…or Glade PlugIns, if that’s your thing.

Zephirine by Kerry Pitt-Hart

The key to planning an outdoor space is to first be honest and ask yourself how much time will you have to maintain whatever it is you plan to put in. We planted close to 50 hybrid willow trees several years ago for privacy. In just three years they surpassed the roof of our two-story house. So ask yourself—will you mind standing on an 8-foot ladder for several hours navigating a telescoping pruner surrounded by mosquitoes and biting midges in 90-degree heat, in the middle of July? Don’t let your ambition and need for privacy get the best of you.

So there’s time, and then you need to think about how you’ll use the space. Al fresco dining for two? Use furniture you already have (indoors or out), add some throw pillows, hang some candle lanterns from the trees, fill a vase or two with flowers picked from the garden, and throw down an area rug to anchor the whole look.

Verbascum by Kerry Pitt-Hart

Also think about when you will use the space. If you work all day, and most of us do, plant some white scented bloomers that release their fragrance in the early evening. A few to consider are: Jasmine, Moonflower, Nicotiana, and mounds of white Impatiens if you have the space.

Plants that put on a show from spring through fall offer something to look at every season whether it be flowers, berries, or a change in foliage color. I love azaleas, but they bloom in the early spring when it’s still cold outside and everyone is indoors. Once the flowers have faded they aren’t much to look at the rest of the year.

Side yard by Kerry Pitt-Hart

So think of repeat bloomers and plants that offer year-round interest as the slipcovers and pillows you switch out when you tire of looking at them or the seasons change. Consider planting Physocarpus selections or Weigela florida to support bees and other pollinators and attract hummingbirds.

If you have a side yard, think of it as a hallway linking the front and back yards. If visible from the street, lead the eye by laying a path of flagstone pavers. Put up an arbor or pergola, and plant climbing roses, clematis and honeysuckle. Entice the viewer to see what’s beyond.

Don’t forget to look up. Plant a few trees to support wildlife, provide shade and cut your energy bills. Like a Regency gilt-bronze chandelier, seeing the sun through a canopy of lobed leaves and dark red berries is heavenly.

Russian Hawthorne by Kerry Pitt-Hart


Kerry Pitt-Hart has designed jewelry for Anthropologie, is a Getty Images contributor and is working on a children’s book. She finds inspiration in the beauty of things as they are, Hellenistic sculpture, Chinese calendar posters of the 1910s and creatures that make their homes in the sea. She’ll be lending her creative eye to’s exlusive home design blog.