Garden Design Master Class: Relationships

In GARDEN DESIGN MASTER CLASS, 100 garden designers share lessons on the art of the garden. In an excerpt from the book, Mike Kaiser discusses the way architecture and landscape relate to each other and to the people who live there
climbing roses, garden wall
The details of the garden walls, the gates, and even the rustic rope-bound fence were inspired by a recent visit to Lutyens’ Great Dixter in England and draw from the language of Tudor architecture. Plant selections were guided by the overall color palette, consisting of blues and pastels, each intended to unite home and garden.

When creating a garden, it is essential to consider the complex relationships between the land, the home, and its inhabitants. My work as a landscape architect grew out of my fascination with the architecture of the home and my conception of the garden as a magical place where architecture and landscape become one. Designing a garden that is a seamless extension of the home requires a deep understanding of the house and how it reflects the personalities and desires of its owners.

Ideally, home is a sanctuary. At its finest, it encompasses comfort and beauty while capturing the unique characteristics of its inhabitants. The garden is the extension of that refuge into the outdoors, a place where we experience the transitory pleasures of nature and light, the change of seasons, and the passage of time. Designed to complement each other, architecture and landscape can merge into a nurturing, harmonious whole.

“We can draw from the language of the architecture in the creation of outdoor rooms by careful repetition of materials, forms, and patterns.” — Mike Kaiser

Every family has its own idea of the perfect home and garden. To make that vision a reality, I begin by getting to know my clients: how they live, entertain, relax, and play. I ask questions ranging from the practical to the personal. Will they harvest vegetables for cooking or cut flowers for decorating? In what rooms do they spend the most time when they are indoors? What inspires them? I ask about the aesthetic and emotional qualities they are seeking from their outdoor spaces, as well as the ways in which they want those spaces to connect with the rooms inside. I want them to see their gardens as places where special moments and memories are made.

Next, I study the house along with the surrounding landscape. I need to understand the scale and flow of interior spaces, the arrangement of furniture, and the way in which the home visually and functionally connects to the outdoors in order to make thoughtful decisions about how adjacent outdoor rooms relate to the home and its inhabitants.

pool, hardscaping, landscape design
An ancient scrub oak that arches over the fountain and rill, spilling into the pool, was carefully preserved to lend age to the composition of this garden in the shadow of Mount Olympus in Utah. The greenhouse from which this view is seen serves as a favorite location for dinner parties, and in early evening the setting sun illuminates the house, garden, and mountain in dazzling colors, all reflected in the cool, dark surface of the pool.

This exploration must be guided by several key design principles, including scale, enclosure, intimacy, privacy, and solar orientation, as well as what I like to call screening of the objectionable and framing of the favorable. We can draw from the language of the architecture in the creation of outdoor rooms by careful repetition of materials, forms, and patterns. Masonry walls, paved terraces, level changes, landscape hedges, swaths of lawn, and carefully positioned canopy trees are all devices designers can use to define outdoor spaces and reinforce the relationship of house to garden.

The revitalization of a historic Tudor home in Holladay, Utah, provided the perfect setting for exploring these dynamic relationships. Invited by frequent collaborator Greg Tankersley of McAlpine to extend his architectural vision into the landscape, my firm and I sought to complement the interior spaces with a series of outdoor rooms in every direction. The theme of each garden emerged from its visual and physical relationship to adjacent interior spaces and reflected the owners’ interests and lifestyle.

“Ideally, home is a sanctuary. … The garden is the extension of that refuge into the outdoors.” — Mike Kaiser

On the south side of the house, the architect added a spectacular glass conservatory containing the home’s central gathering places and the family’s collection of treasured mementos from a lifetime of travel. Not wanting to compete with the buzz and color within, we created a simple lawn outside the conservatory surrounded by a semicircular hedge of pleached European hornbeams to provide privacy and shade. To the east, the formal dining room and outdoor terrace overlook a restrained, meditative walled garden, where the gentle murmur of a bubbling grotto provides just enough sound to accompany any gathering. By contrast, the western side of the house, where a new swimming pool and pool house echo with children’s laughter all summer long, was the perfect site for an exuberant display of perennial blossoms.

Whether a designer is tasked with creating a series of outdoor rooms in the English Tudor tradition like the ones I’ve just described or planning a single, modest garden, considering these relationships between landscape, structures, and people is essential. For me, taking the time to explore these unique personalities and characteristics is an exciting process, yielding unexpected insights that leave a human imprint on the natural world and bring the outdoors into the most intimate spaces of the home.

By Mike Kaiser  |  Photography by Caroline Allison

Excerpted from Garden Design Master Class: 100 Lessons from the World’s Finest Designers on the Art of the Garden, edited by Carl Dellatore (Rizzoli, 2020)

book cover

See more books selections from Flower’s 2020 reading list.