Behind the Private Gates, Design, In the Garden, The Parterre Bench

Inspiring Garden Design: 7 Key Points for Creating Garden Rooms

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When invited to speak in New Orleans at a garden club fundraiser, I was  asked specifically to talk about the ins and outs of creating my own garden.  But, of course, that creation took place almost twenty years ago. It was entertaining as well as enlightening to put the microscope to a beloved project that seems now in the distant past (the results in the image above). I hope you’ll see this as the perfect subject for kicking off Private Newport’s second annual winter series on “Inspiring Garden Design.”

Of course we’ve all heard the term “creating garden rooms.” But do we really know what that means? I well remember a conversation on this topic with Bunny Williams when she visited Parterre (and I’m paraphrasing)…referring to a perennial border as a garden is like mistaking a  couch for a decorated room. Garden rooms are the result of a series of design choices that take place within a defined space with floors, walls and yes, the sky for the ceiling.

#1 Define your spaces.
Hedges, both subtle and substantial, can be of varying heights…and leaf shape, color, form and texture. In one area at Parterre, a crescent of Newport’s signature copper beeches creates a dramatic division between one garden and another.

While in the Cutting Garden, a four-tiered deciduous pear espalier serves as an “openwork” hedge (that also produces delicious cooking pears).

#2 Be sure to include evergreen and non-deciduous selections
This was a very important point for us as we enjoy spending time in Newport in the winter.
And our Winter Garden takes full advantage of this point! Every bit of plant material (with the exception of the hostas) remains green; here, the 10′ high euonymous hedge is a welcome backdrop when viewed from our sunroom and library, much-enjoyed rooms in the winter.

In the same Winter Garden, low evergreen hedges of Korean boxwood and cotoneaster form a stepped up design that is separated from the next garden room by a hedge of summer-blooming hydrangea ‘Limelight.’

#3 Create paths to move from one space to another
How you move from room to room and around the “furnishings” actually play a much greater part in the success of a garden than most people realize. Paths invite you to enjoy the magic of strolling through a garden…from sun to shade…around a corner for a surprise.

#4 Choose a theme for your” furnishings.”
This adds another level of engagement and keeps you focused. For us, it was obelisks, in all their myriad forms, from the front entrance hollies and through every garden.

A pair of tall variegated euonymous in the Black and White Garden…

Graduated variegated boxwood obelisks against an evergreen yew hedge.

#5 Include signature accessories.
Containers are those taken-for-granted additions that deserve more attention than they often receive. I always knew that we would have a pair of stone urns, on plinths, at the entrance to the front courtyard. They have proven more than satisfying as a design addition!

But I do have to confess that the wooden copies of Versailles boxes (custom-designed to scale with the house) are my favorite containers…

Heavy stone Italian containers, with their traditional swag design, are used specifically as accents in the long Korean box hedge; floral selections change with the seasons.

Three matched urns in their own narrow bed underplanted with blue caryopteris that is a magnet for bees.

#6 Finish with wall treatments.
Hedges need not be boring green structures. In our Black and White garden, we interjected a bit of whimsy with a diamond cut-out in the yew hedge that looks through to the woodland garden plantings.

And house facades can be used for another green statement…like the love knot espalier in our Winter Garden.

Think, too, about hedges as a backdrop for a signature furniture accessory, nestled into its own bower. This was designed specifically to shelter a bench that I had promised myself I would design some day…and here it is, lovingly named after our house, Parterre.

#7 Always make a statement!
A surprise Christmas gift when we were building our house was to have been a working greenhouse on the other side of the property; instead it became a “folly” that is a welcome entertaining area and central point in the garden.

It took us two years to locate 4 matched ‘Hally Jolivette’ cherry standards to place in front of the Orangerie but it was well worth the exercise. They are equally as beautiful in flower in early spring  as they are frosted with snow in the winter. Stars of the Parterre garden, their trunks are now as thick as an elephant’s leg!

Designing this garden at Parterre was a wonderful journey for me as I trust it will be for those experiencing the magic of walking through it…room by room.

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Bettie Bearden Pardee

About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

11 thoughts on “Inspiring Garden Design: 7 Key Points for Creating Garden Rooms

  1. Thank you Bettie. Your blog always inspires me. I live in High Point and know of you through Kay and Dave Phillips.
    Your garden is beautiful in all seasons.
    Beth Thomas

    1. That’s a lovely compliment, Beth. Fortunately, a good friend counseled me that I should have evergreens in my garden (quite an eye opener for a girl from Southern California).
      And coincidentally, I just saw Kay and Dave…always a treat!

  2. P.S. Love the comment on a working greenhouse. I attached one to my house in Winston-Salem and friends intervened with horror stories of amount of work in seedlings and nurturing! Ours too became a comfortable sitting room with tree pots.

    1. Thank you…and yes, Eve, I have two coffee table books available that each include elements of my garden. Amazon should still have a few copies.
      The books are “Private Newport:at Home and in the Garden” and “Living Newport: Houses, People, Style.”

  3. Be still my heart. Bettie, every inch of your garden thrills me. I’m sure that all the effort you put into it now pales in comparison to the enormous joy derived in every season. I so miss my gardens now that we have downsized and have a tiny yard. We definitely will have more property when we build our retirement cottage–nothing as glorious as your gardens because of my bad back, but certainly enough to have the species of trees and flowers we love the most. In the meantime, I’ll just drool over yours LOL! Great to read you have two books out–congratulations!!! I’m going to Amazon now to see if they are still available–what lovely eye candy that should be!

    1. Just finished reviewing our garden orders and timeline for the garden this year, and yes, it does take time. But it is still a high priority for me.
      Always something new to consider and challenges to contend with. Aaaah, gardening is a humbling avocation! Enjoy my two books! Stay warm, B.

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