There’s a boutique hotel in Antigua Guatemala with the most gorgeous courtyard. In the early morning, a gardener comes to shave the bright green grass with a machete, though it is inconceivable to me that it could be cut any shorter than it already is. I like to sit under the broad porch on an outdoor siesta bed and watch him in motion. His wrist moves rapidly in short, sweeping movements. When he holsters his knife on his hip, there isn’t time for him to stop and reflect on the perfection, but I take note of it. I wish that I had the language to express my amazement.
It was this Antigua courtyard with the manicured grass and potted plants spilling over with bright flowers and broad-leafed succulents that started me planning for a “destination garden” at my home. I started making mental notes and taking pictures of things I loved in the outdoor spaces I visited around the world.
This year, I’m finally getting to put some of these visions into place. It seems like the perfect time, since my back yard has largely become our vacation destination during this strange time.
Travel from Home Garden Inspirations
As a part of our “travel from home” blog series, and to celebrate the national gardening day this week (April 14), here are three destination inspirations for an outdoor room, along with some practical tips and ideas for creating that outdoor space.
Do you dream of the bright yellow umbrellas of Cinque Terre, or Tuscany’s vineyard terraces? Italian gardens (giardino all’italiano) were birthed out of the Renaissance period of the 15th century where the philosophy, even in the garden, was to bring order and peace to chaos (something we could all use right now). As a result, Italian gardens tend to be calculated and manicured. These giardinos inspire people to breathe, to dine in tranquility, and to pursue things like artwork and contemplation as an escape from the rushing madness of the rest of the world.
Elements to consider for your Italian-inspired garden:
- Plant Mediterranean herbs that remind you of Italy – things like lavender, rosemary, and sage.
- Focus on formal and manicured shrubbery, like topiaries and hedges. Sure, it involves maintenance, but gardening IS therapy!
- Choose flowers with strong fragrances that activate your artistic side and encourage relaxation (essential oils are popular for a reason).
- Add a simple arbor with a vine overhead for shade. Tuscany uses grape vines, but any vine will offer a similar function and aesthetic.
- Make a space for dining “al fresco”. Place intimate seating arrangements throughout your garden. If you want to stick with a renaissance theme, you could find a fabric style that fits that period for the cushions or tablecloths. Or, consider a fabric that feels Tuscan (lemons, olives or vines and grapes).
- Add a bit of theatrics with a water feature or a sculpture that has the look of a prized antique.
- Remember, pleasure over function!
This country feels like a lush garden. The trees have flowers, the homes have tiny wooden bridges spanning ponds with exotic fish, the spas are filled with lotus and crafted artwork. Places like Japan, China, France and India brought some of their best global gardening ideas to the Thai kingdom during the period of the Ayutthaya civilization (14th to 18th century). The gardens tend to be tranquil and meaningful; and, of course, Thailand has a lot variety and beauty in its native plants.
Elements to include in your Thai-inspired garden:
- Think LUSH and tropical: plant large-leafed plants and shrubs that work in your climate. You don’t need the actual plants that grow in Thailand, but think about styles that work in your region. Bamboo is also a great material to incorporate in a screen or planted in a pot.
- Thailand is HOT and sunny, so Thai gardens provide shade. Creatively plan ways to build shade features into your garden. A more ambitious project to consider is a Sala. This open, gazebo-like traditional Thai structure is a perfect focus that can tie everything together.
- Incorporate a wooden walkway or orderly stepping stones to lead from one intimate place to another.
- Garden ornaments are commonplace in Thai gardens. An elephant, a wooden boat, a decorative wooden lantern… these all provide connection to your destination.
- Install outdoor furniture that looks Asian. This heavy, wooden style is very popular and commonplace now in stores and online. Accent them with bright, multicolored fabrics and pillows popular in Thailand.
- Add a fountain. It needn’t be big, but the white noise it creates may transport you back to that Thai spa in Chiang Mai.
The Spanish style can be seen in several Niteo locations, but perhaps the best example is found in the Mexican hacienda garden tradition. Homes are built around an inner courtyard inspired by the Mediterranean and Moorish influences that came to the New World with the Spanish. These outdoor living spaces use elements to create an oasis that feels cool and very private, often visible only to the occupants. They also focus on bringing together the natural world (flora and fauna) and the decorative world (art).
Elements to include in your Mexico-inspired garden:
- Courtyards are secluded and protected from the outside world. Creatively think of ways to “wall off” your space.
- Use vibrant hues – the Spanish style relied heavily on terracotta and vivid colors like warm orange, lime green and sky blues. Consider using bold paint on a wall (it will fade or whitewash in the sun) or choose decorative glazed tiles that feature bright, bold patterns. Or, consider fabrics that play on these traditional colors.
- Use rustic touches – dark wood beams, iron lanterns and gates, heavy, hand-carved wood furniture are all very Mexican.
- Include handmade folk art in the Mexican style. Check out Etsy or Amazon for inspiration. You can support an artist, or make your own!
- Choose local plants that will mimic Mexico’s succulents and tropical colors. Some wonderful authentic choices can work as potted annuals: bougainvillea, dahlia, agave, and bromeliads. Consider using ceramic painted pots or terracotta pots to enhance the look.
- If you want an outdoor fire, why not try a traditional Mexican clay chiminea fireplace?
We hope you enjoyed these ideas. What country would you feature in your backyard design?
Oh the places you’ve been! Thank you for the refreshing tour of gorgeous gardens….a nice escape.