Bringing the Outside In

Home design no longer stops at the walls. A national shift in architectural design is emerging with a more intense focus on incorporating the outdoor landscape environment with the inner design space.

Blank walls, once reserved for paintings, pictures, and entertainment centers, are giving way to large window units and double-wide glass doorways that open to allow the flow of the home to merge with the outer patio spaces and gardens. Solid, static walls are being eliminated to make way for design elements, whether in the living room, kitchen or bedroom, that allow the light, colors, shapes and sounds of the garden to become an integral aspect of the home.

For hundreds of years, Japanese home design has recognized the importance of allowing for the seamless transition from inside space to outside space. They recognized that the beauty and energy of the garden is a vital element that must be incorporated, not kept separate from the overall home design.

Landscape designers also have recognized the importance of designing the landscape as an essential part of the home. The garden experience is no longer limited to time spent in the garden, but also while one is cooking dinner, taking a shower, relaxing on the couch, or having a meal.

Hardscapes have become a crucial element in the landscape. Hardscapes elements include patios, pathways, rock walls, boulder formations, and waterscapes. Also arbors, pergolas, decks, grilling areas, fire pits and other design elements support the transition from the inside to the out. Lighting also is important in extending and enhancing the visual impact of your garden, as well as assisting in safely enjoying your garden in the evening hours.

Just as a home design focuses on color and textures for the home, the outside design must include these as well. Rock formations can anchor, frame, or draw the viewer’s eye to an intended spot with ease. Large boulders give a sense of permanence and age to a garden.

Waterscapes give motion and sound and sparkle to the landscape. The moving water offers a soothing, relaxing element that reminds most of us of a past peaceful experience we’ve had in nature. The sound and movement of a waterfall and stream acts as a bridge between the outside and inside environments. Fish and water plants add another dimension, another layer of interest, which draws us from the home to the garden.

This design trend is creating a demand for landscape contractors that have the skills and equipment to design and build these water features and hardscape elements. Waterspirit  specializes in creative landscape construction and is expert in creating this new level of landscape design and installation.

“There are so many aspects to consider when properly designing and constructing landscape environments. Construction skills become important. Knowledge of stone, concrete, carpentry, waterscapes, along with drainage systems, irrigation, and lighting are essential. Having the right equipment such as backhoes, concrete mixers, and large trucks are vital. And it’s crucial that you have a talented and experienced crew.”

Interior design aspects tend to remain fixed, but the beauty of the external environment is that it is ever changing. The colors and shapes of the plantings, whether they are large trees or small annuals, will offer continual interest to our eyes. As the seasons change, so will the landscape. As time goes by and the garden matures, different scenes will evolve. Birds and other critters that begin to visit the garden will continually add new interest as well as keeping us enchanted and connnected to the natural world.

As our world gets more hectic, people across the country are choosing to stay closer to home. That choice leads to the desire to create a complete environment that not only shelters us but rejuvenates and restores us. When designing a new house or remodeling an older home, don’t forget to include a place for Mother Nature in your design.


Steven Robbat is president of Waterspirit, Inc. an Asheville, North Carolina based company specializing in the design and installation of waterscapes for the past 28 years in the Southland as well as in Hawaii, California and Colorado. Their telephone number is: (828) 273-4342.

Sculpting Your Garden

Creating a beautiful garden is truly an art, and some find it similar to sculpting. The dictionary defines sculpting in the following way: “to carve, model or otherwise create a three-dimensional work of art.” In sculpting your garden, you should decide what the key elements are that will define your garden and help turn it into a magical setting.

Set the Stage

One such key is the sculpting of your existing terrain. Adding and contouring the soil to create grade changes will add interest and help define the space. The terrain sets the stage for the rest of the project. Let the terrain be part of the screening that defines and separates the “rooms” you want to create in your garden. It can make your garden more intimate and visually interesting, and help define where pathways, sitting areas, and planting areas will be placed.

Hardscape Elements

The creation and placement of hardscape elements are key in the sculpting process. Examples of hardscape elements include rock walls, patios, pergolas, firepits, pathways, waterscapes, and character boulders. In the sculpting process, give special attention to these elements along with the other main visual components that you would like to incorporate into your garden such as a specimen tree, garden art, or fountain.

A key landscape element often overlooked is the use of large specimen boulders. These large boulders, often covered with lichen and moss, make magnificent focal points. They add a wonderful strength and age to a garden, and contribute a color, texture and visual weight which is hard to duplicate by using any other material.

Keep in mind that hardscape elements are options you have available for sculpting a magical landscape. You don’t need to over-complicate the design. Some prefer a more complex landscape, and others a more simple design. Find what’s most pleasing to you.

Plant Selection

The next aspect of sculpting the garden is plant selection and placement. Consider how you want to layer the plants and if you want large swaths of a particular type of plant or a more complex pallet. Keep in mind the many different textures, the size and shapes of leaves and flowers, what flourishes when, and when some will go dormant.

Choose trees, shrubs, and plants with an eye for what they will look like today, but also keep in mind how they will look ten years from now. You don’t want to plant a tree that will completely dominate your garden in the future.


Take time to really think about the maintenance aspect of your garden. The truth is that few of us want to spend time maintaining our gardens, but the fact is that they need to be maintained. Some garden designs need less weekly care than others. Be honest with yourself (and kind to those who live with you) when you are in the planning stages, and you will find that you will enjoy your garden more.

If you approach your garden as an art form, and give yourself the time and focus you might give to any other art you are trying to master, you will create a thing of beauty that will give you and others joy for years to come.

Lighting In the Garden

Just as we enjoy how the sunlight plays off the different shapes, textures, and colors at different times of the day, lighting in the garden can add an entirely new dimension of richness, texture, and depth at night.

Imagine the warmth of your home extending out into the yard and the magical setting created by highlighted trees, specimen plants, or garden art. The shadow play of foliage on walls or being able watch the delightful movements and sounds of your waterfall, stream, and pond into the evening creates a cozy and safe setting.

Light Placement

To decide where you want lighting in your back yard, look out of your main back windows and your decks or patio and scan from one side of the yard to the other. Consider the various trees and larger shrubs that could be a focal point in each area. A small leafed or tightly trimmed plant might look wonderful during the day, but an up-light on it will cast an interesting shadow or give depth to the area in the evening. Look for broad-leafed plants or other plants with interesting branches or movement when a breeze visits. Regardless of the style of your garden, there will be some plants or trees that work well with lighting. Palms, Angel Trumpets, Japanese Maples, bushy Mediterranean species, and so many other plants will serve your needs.

Trees with multiple trunks almost always work well, and you can even have more than one light on a larger tree to subtly capture its grandeur. I remember standing on a friend’s new deck one summer evening and commenting on how beautiful the moonlight was filtering through the trees. I was a little embarrassed but delighted to find out that what I was enjoying were well-placed lights in the trees that were creating their desired effect.

In your light placement, remember that it is not just about illuminating a water element, tree, or sculpture,  but also playing with contrasts. In other words, where you don’t have light is just as important as where you do. Unless you are going for the Las Vegas look, subtlety in lighting works well. Just as you can enjoy the beauty of a pond or pool, it is often the reflections off the water that create the most striking images. It is not just what you’re lighting but how you light it and what shadows are created that determines the optimal design.

In the front area of your home, again take the time to look out at the area from your main viewing window and the front door to get a sense of where lighting would work best. Here though, you also want to go out in front of the home by the street or entryway. From there you can get a sense of additional lighting opportunities you have to create an attractive and safe setting for yourself and guests as they enter the property.

Entryways are wonderful transitional areas where you can create the feeling that you and others are entering a special and unique space. Let the beauty of your yard have the same effect as the stepping stones to a Japanese tea house that slow the person down and supports them in being more present and enjoying the beauty of the garden. Let the feeling of your entry support yourself and others in leaving the world behind and arriving in a more relaxed state.

Other Benefits Of Lighting

One surprise gift that outdoor lighting gives us is we find ourselves not only looking out at and enjoying the garden in the evening, but actually going out into the garden and discovering the gentle scents the evening moisture draws out.

While the beauty that subtle lighting brings to your home and garden is being enjoyed, there are many other benefits and reasons to have outdoor lighting. Being able to see and walk along pathways is certainly one main reason. While most light fixtures used for up-light are designed to disappear into the landscape, pathway lights can range from subtle to little “tah dahs” that light our way. Consider if you want the light fixture to be an art piece in the garden or something that almost goes unseen.

To know how many lights you need along a given path, find out what the radius (about eight feet is normal) of the light is. Some lights have easily adjustable ranges, so find the one you like and then determine how many you need to get the desired amount of light you want. In high traffic areas you probably want the adjacent lights to overlap a little, while on garden paths you might want a bit more distance between them. Measure the overall distance of the path and divide by the diameter of light each fixture gives off. Having one close to each step or transition along the path is important.

These days security is also a good reason to have adequate outdoor lighting. When a home and yard are well-lit, it is easier to see if there is someone or unwanted animal in the yard or approaching the home. While low voltage garden lighting is no substitute for 110-volt security spotlights, it can help since unless the security lighting is on or being triggered by movement, it’s not doing the job. I know I got so used to various critters (cats, raccoons, skunks, giraffes and what not) triggering movement-sensitive lights that I finally either ignored them or turned them off. My garden lighting (with a timer), on the other hand, goes on automatically, and I enjoy its beauty every night.

An essential part of any low-voltage lighting system is the transformer. It does what its name says it does: it transforms the normal 110 household voltage to 12-volts for the low-voltage lights. If you plan to have eight lights on your system, and each is potentially 25-watts, then eight times twenty-five equals 200-watts. So you’ll probably get a 300-watt transformer to handle the anticipated demand.

If you need more lights and the total wattage of all the lights is over 300 watts, then you’ll need the next larger transformer to handle the demand. I always install a larger transformer than is needed, so the homeowner can add more lights later, if they wish. You might also want separate transformers for the front and back, so the lights can be on different automatic timers.

While a small lighting system is relatively easy to install, professionals can help you technologically and artistically design and set up your more extensive systems. Just keep in mind that “subtle” is the guideline for most professionals. The appropriate number and type of lights in a yard make the home cozy and inviting. Too many or too bright of lights can have a commercial look or the look of a security compound.

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