Dig in for Spring Gardening

Modern pots, low-cost lights, pared-down plants make for an ideal setting to entertain
(photo: courtesy ElysianLandscapes.com)

Almost everyone who lives in a mid-century modern home understands the theory behind indoor-outdoor living—how the two merge seamlessly. But few understand it where it really counts—in their pocketbooks.

“Embracing your outdoor space the same way you embrace your indoor space does not come naturally,” says landscape designer Matthew Carhart, owner of New Forest Landscape Design, based in San Francisco. Too often, he says, people focus on their interior space while giving the exterior short shrift.

“If I tell someone to buy a $2,500 garden bench, people think that’s nuts. But for a sofa indoors that could be a bargain, and the two may only be separated by a quarter inch of glass,” Carhart says. “So what’s the difference? For an MCM home, the outside is the inside.”

Spring is a great time to get your out-of-doors areas ready for entertaining and relaxing. That’s true for all homeowners. Owners of MCM’s face some unique challenges.

Carhart, who grew up in a San Mateo Highlands Eichler and who serves Eichler homeowners from the Peninsula to Marin, emphasizes the need to connect the indoors and outdoors visually, by choosing harmonious colors in both. Place in your atrium or backyard simple, modern pots that play off your interior colors.

And keep the plantings simple. “Let each plant be its own specimen,” he says. “Don’t mash them all together. Keep it to one plant per pot and you’ll have a much cleaner look. Enjoy the textural quality of each individual plant.”

For “that final attention to detail,” Carhart suggests topping the potting soil with decorative stone, such as “little aqua-green stones from Thailand that look so pretty you want to eat them.”

And what good is a garden if you can’t see it? “When it’s pitch black out, it looks like the garden doesn’t exist,” he notes.

He suggests inexpensive solar-powered lights to highlight plants or other garden features. “It gives your eye some place to go in the darkness,” he says. “It’s a way of getting into the concept of garden lighting without making a big investment.”

Terry Bremer, an avid gardener at her Eichler home in Marin County’s Lucas Valley, also emphasizes simplicity in her designs, compatibility with the architecture, and utility.

She suggests that people provide enough hardscape—her backyard has a concrete aggregate and bluestone patio—for entertaining. “It’s an open space, clean and very geometric, and it lends itself to people moving around,” she says

For plantings, Bremer suggests “simple clean lines, not overly fussy.” Her garden incorporates Japanese maples, for a Japanese flavor, a mix of plants along the periphery. She suggests “grasses, flowing birches, ferns, and mixes of color.”

Other elements that add interest to a garden, she says, are fountains, for their sound and to attract birds; plantings that attract butterflies and birds; small stones and boulders; and “fruit trees, plum or cherry, very Japanese.”

The result will be a garden that gets its owners out of the house. It works for the Bremers.

“To me, this is like paradise,” Bremer says. “It would be great if I didn’t have to go to work. My happiness is to sit outside on a chair, with a glass of iced tea, and read. I get out and enjoy all our hard work. I use it.”

New Forest Landscape Design: 415-621-6420; newforestdesign@comcast.net