ISSUE 33  |  Untamed Gardens

Best Outdoor Living Space: Earth Inc.

August 22, 2015 4:00 PM

BY Meredith Swinehart

The winner of this year’s Gardenista Considered Design Awards Best Outdoor Living Space is Earth Inc. of Toronto, Ontario.

The firm’s project was chosen as a finalist by guest judge David Stark, who said: “At first glance, this garden feels quite simple, but I appreciate that it’s anything but. It is a very convincing fantasy and a really fabulous space for entertaining. Exotic and unexpected!”

N.B.: This is the sixth of seven posts spotlighting the winners of the 2015 Gardenista Considered Design Awards. Go to this year’s Considered Design Awards page to see all the entries, finalists, and winners, and have a look at Remodelista’s Considered Design Awards, too.

Earth Inc.’s Design Statement: “Exiting the house, you enter a honed concrete dining patio and on toward a sunken fire pit lounge. A wood/I-beam boardwalk takes you across a water basin fed by three copper spigots set into a wood-textured concrete wall. The boardwalk continues through a meadow of mass-planted switch grass.”

Q: What does your firm specialize in?
A: We specialize in the design and construction of unique private residential gardens.

Q: Who worked on the winning project?
A: The whole Earth Inc. design team–we always try to collaborate on the design portion of each project.

Q: What were your practical goals for the project?
A: To create a modern and relaxing entertaining space to make the most of the outdoors, to increase the clients’ privacy, and to create beautiful views from inside the house.

Q: What solutions did you find to your design problems?
A: We created a raised dining and barbecue patio flush to the finished floor of the house to make it feel like an extension of the kitchen. We then created a sunken fire pit lounging area surrounded by a hedgerow of multi-stem river birch and canopied by four honey locust trees to create dappled shade in summer. Outside the living room window is a mass-planted meadow of Panicum virgatum “˜Northwind’ (switch grass) creating relaxing views in summer and winter. The water feature drowns out any noise of nearby traffic.

Q: What are your favorite features of the project?
A: The boardwalk made out of an I-beam frame with vertically oriented two-by-four slats. Strolling across it over the water basin and through the meadow of ornamental grasses is a delightful experience. As for the layout, the boardwalk accentuates the view of the existing mature maple tree, making it a focal point of the garden.

Q: What advice do you have for someone undertaking a similar project?
A: Be sure to maintain a good balance between hardscape and softscape. When working with concrete, be absolutely sure of your formwork and double-check everything before pouring concrete.

Q: What was your biggest splurge?
A: The planting; as you can see, there is no lawn in this garden. People often underestimate the amount of the budget that should be devoted to planting–but after all, it’s what makes it a garden.

Q: Where did you cut corners?
A: We wouldn’t consider it cutting corners as it was the desired look in this garden, but using honed concrete for the patios in lieu of mortared-in-place flagstone was a less expensive option. Also, the use of pea gravel is an inexpensive way to achieve a clean look while not using any paving.

Q: If your project was a celebrity, who would it be?
A: Christopher Walken, because it’s fun, classy, and edgy all at the same time.

Q: Where do you get your design inspiration?
A: Everywhere! Design blogs, our daily lives. Luckily, Toronto is a vibrant and diverse city with a lot of art and culture to inspire us on a regular basis. We like to take time as a company to visit art galleries and design events and even take trips to visit the RHS Chelsea Flower Show or to walk the Highline in New York.

Q: Which garden designers, gardeners, or landscape architects do you admire?
A: Luis Barragán, Oehme van Sweden, Piet Oudolf, Mien Ruys.

Q: What is your next project?
A: We are currently working on a fun little backyard in Toronto designing a custom foldup murphy table to make it into a multifunctional space. Another fun backyard we are building right now has a rustic, European-style pétanque court; we can’t wait to see it finished.