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Ask the Expert: 8 Ways to Add Pattern to a Landscape

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Ask the Expert: 8 Ways to Add Pattern to a Landscape

April 4, 2016

Plants tell a pretty color story, but only temporarily. They stop blooming, drop their leaves, and—despite your most valiant efforts—are prone to die. To create a permanent palette for a garden, consider adding pattern to a hardscape: herringbone brick, a mosaic border, or a starburst on a terrace.

But where do you start? For suggestions, last week we phoned Greenwich, Connecticut-based landscape architect Janice Parker, who creates spectacular and surprising patterns in gardens large and small. Here are her eight top tips for adding permanent pattern:

Photography courtesy of Janice Parker Landscape Architects.

Don’t Start with Pattern

bluestone-grass-pattern-landscape-janice-parker-gardenista

Above:  “Pattern is a small element in an overall landscape. It’s like the throw pillow that you’ll put on a chair,” says Parker. “Before you get to that, start  with the big picture: how big is your garden and how do you want to use it? Where do you like to sit? How does the light hit?”

Tip: Collect photos of landscapes, patterns, and things that move you. Refer to those for ideas.

Look Inward

mosaic-pattern-hardscape-janice-parker-gardenista

Above: “If you look around your suburban plot and see other houses and your property line is very defined, it’s time to use pattern to create private, intimate areas,” says Parker. “If you don’t want to stare at your neighbor, create magic in very small space to bring the visual focus inward.”

Tip: Choose a style and pattern that’s meaningful to you, like a beautiful pebble mosaic to draw your eye. Or cut out the center of a terrace and plant a small tree to create a focal point.

Get the Scale Right

metal-fence-pattern-janice-parker-gardenista

Above: “Don’t go too small. Small details are more in the leaves and flowers in your landscape,” says Parker. “A 20-by-40-foot garden in New York City can inspire an enormous amount of pattern. In a small space pattern adds a lot of interest.”

Tip: Mock up your pattern to scale, on cardboard, and lay it out to see what your think.

How to Pick a Pattern

bluestone-rocks-pattern-janice-parker-landscape-gardenista

Above: “Look at the architecture. Pick a reference from the house—is brick existing? Is there a style of color to match?” says Parker.

Tip: You don’t want to be fussy but you still want a pattern to be intricate to create the most interest. But be prepared: with a complex pattern there will either be an additional cost to cut and fit it “or there’s waste,” says Parker.

To Mortar or Not?

gate-bluestone-path-grass-lawn-janice-parker-gardenista

Above: When I first started 30 some years ago, the building of gardens was a gentler art. We didn’t have the kinds of subcontractors we do now, and you did a softer, more English style, and people realized that over time joints moved, and moss grew, ” says Parker. “Now gardens have evolved and people want very perfect paving.”

Tip: When you can, rely on grass-jointed paving rather than a perfect, hard surface, because it has more charm. “Yes, it gets uneven and yes, stuff grows through it,” says Parker. “But it makes a soft surface.”

Play Up a Pattern

starburst-hardscape-pattern-bluestone-janice-parker-gardenista

Above: “On a terrace lay out the furniture first because you don’t want to have chairs across a beautiful pattern or for it to be in a place where food drops on it,” says Parker. “If you center furniture on a terrace, you can use interesting bandings and edgings to create pattern.”

Tip: Use pattern to create a strong visual band running through a terrace at an angle “to hold everything together,” says Parker.

Colors and Materials

terra-cotta-bluestone-janice-parker-gardenista

Above: It’s OK to mix and match materials and colors, says Parker: “I’m very attached to the way the warmth of brick and the coolness of bluestone work together.”

Tip: Choose a color carefully. “Sometimes a very light-colored stone, like sandstone or limestone, will look glaring when the sun hits and be very hard to look at,” says Parker. “Think about how much sunlight you have when you are choosing color for a pattern.”

Mixing Shapes

boxwood-balls-pattern-janice-parker-landscape-gardenista

Above: “I have no problem with mixing curves and straight edges,” says Parker. “If you’re going to go for it, go big or go home.”

Tip: “Even though it’s tricky, people should try to work with curves. I think they are more human,” says Parker.

For more hardscape pattern ideas, see Hardscaping 101: Brick Patios and Design Guide to Paths and Pavers.

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