Behind the Private Gates, Design, In the Garden


Inspiring Garden Design: Chic-ing Up Parterre’s Solarium

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Each winter plays out a bit differently at Parterre…some years I may be traveling, or immersed in a “master class,” or working diligently on a new project. For winter 2021, we’ll continue to be nestling in at home, where I’ve found myself yearning to bring the solace and refuge of the garden into the house…the sun porch specifically. While it’s always been the perfect spot to winter over a few plants, this year it will be the centerpiece of my activities–and my sanity–a green space just a few steps from the garden but a world unto itself.

And so, the first post of my annual “Inspiring Garden Design” series will focus on the enhancement of this “porch” and the possibilities within. Our house was always designed with a premium on space and light; there is an inviting sense of flow, with wide doorways between each room, including the entrance to the porch off the sun room. The existing and substantial glass-fronted French doors, with brass cremone bolt handles, provide the perfect “first step” to this newly-minted solarium.

In many ways this project followed some of the tenets of designing a small garden…1) Stick to one or two bold elements that will make the garden seem larger. A pair of hefty antiques bronze grates (that we’ve owned since our young married years but could never find a place for) were used by our architect as part of the windows between the sun room and porch.

2) In building the composition, think in three “levels.” High…the elevated pair of ferns on either side of the bench; Mid (or eye) level…the two large pots and stone-urn-with-fruit; Ground level…continuing the concept with foliage spilling onto the floor from pots at various heights.

3) Create focal points where the eye can stop, breathe and relax…and show off little vignettes, like this green and white miniature garden.

4) Play with scale. The minute you put something big into a small space it immediately looks grander.

And, the obvious…5) What to leave out can oftentimes be more important than what to put in. Depending on their “mood,” some plants come and go but with careful selection there is a reliable stable that will fill the heated blue stone floor for winter through spring (approximately 5 months!).

Little bonuses have come their way with this project, like a gift from a friend whose begonia’s leaves match the floral on my ages-old Colefax and Fowler pillows.

Did I remember to mention my fondness urns? Any size, shape, material–stone, terra cotta, iron, or marble. This metal corner table lets me rotate my collection and take advantage of the blooming bulbs of the moment (like paperwhites).

And I love this table because the design feature of its curved legs make it possible to suspend a pot underneath.

Given the trials and tribulations of this past year, I’ll also be looking for any opportunity to add some humor to my garden…as in the tiny watering can and the bird’s nest nestled into the stems of the paperwhites.

How very much I’m looking forward to throwing the doors open for the whole day, walking in and out as the mood suits, thrilling to this my winter chill spot. This just-completed project was truly about taking what had been a simple porch and “chic-ing it up” with some attention and lots of plant material…not a very difficult venture! Now tell me that wasn’t worth the effort! What a difference some green makes, especially when it is just a room away.

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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".

13 thoughts on “Inspiring Garden Design: Chic-ing Up Parterre’s Solarium

    1. It’s difficult not to love urns, such a variety…and so versatile. I’m sooooo glad I pulled this “new” garden together!
      Maybe this can provide inspiration for you to create a little indoor green area for your urns? xB

  1. I also love urns and porches and green/white plants and now I want to get out to my porch asap. Your porch is lovely and inviting but why THAT bench?? susu

    1. Oh Susu, I was wondering if someone would ask me that question…The Parterre Bench is in the Fountain Garden and this metal Lutyens bench has always been on the sun porch (it actually preceded the PB). And there are also 2 other benches on the property (but my heart belongs to the PB)! xB

  2. Beautifully designed, Bettie! It’s wonderful that, during the bare months of winter, you can enjoy all the loveliness of your indoor garden, and I always like whimsical touches. Hugs!

    1. It is a joy, and I am thrilled to have had the inspiration and the capacity to create this “new” garden. xB

  3. This post had me oohing and ahhing and holding my breath for the next photo in the post!!
    I LOVE plants and flowers in our house. You caused me to grab two ferns wintering in our garage, and a pedestal with fruit compote off the patio and plop them right in our family room, which doubles as a sun room. I will spend the day adding more plants and more of my pots thanks to your beautiful inspiration. Much needed right now! I absolutely love your posts and am so glad to have found you. You have the most wonderful taste and touch and I so appreciate you sharing your home with us.

    1. Cindy, it is always my hope that my Private Newport family will be inspired…but you are a standout!
      So happy that those 2 ferns and the fruit compote have found a winter home in your sun room. I am thrilled beyond my expectations with our results.
      If you’d like to see more of my garden thoughts (+++) you might want to follow me on Instagram at @privatenewport.
      Looking forward to “seeing” more of you in 2021! xB

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