House and garden — a seamless match

By Linda Temple, Special for USA TODAYGood art, it is said, doesn’t match your sofa, but your garden can.Interior décor has gone tripping down the garden path, dragging with it the indoor colors, textures and even upholstery patterns of homeowners with a penchant for making things match.

“People have long tried to bring the colors of the outdoors in through the use of colored pillows, draperies, candles — all the things that make your home pleasant,” says Nan Sinton of Horticulture magazine. “Now people seem interested in extending the indoors out, taking that tradition a step further.”

Gardeners used to be content if their flowers didn’t clash with the brickwork, but that was before the nuances of home and garden became a national obsession. Naturally, we began to want gardens that coordinate with the inside of our homes. Once you know the thread count of your sheets, you see the world through different eyes.

Thanks to the unprecedented variety of plants at the corner nursery, there is an outdoor flower, shrub or shape available to mimic every indoor style, whether your taste runs to overstuffed chintz prints or straight lines and cool hues. This year’s trendy interior colors — tranquil shades of pink, peach, gray and green — easily can be echoed in backyard flora.

“The garden presents an opportunity to express your personal style just as you would indoors,” says designer P. Allen Smith, whose gardening shows air on public television and in syndication. “When I tell people to approach the garden like they do their homes, their eyes light up.”

His P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home book explains how to create “garden rooms” using the same colors, textures and design principles you would use indoors.

Multihued bedding plants should accessorize the garden, he says. “Harmony indoors and out can be achieved through just a few common design elements or splashes of color.”

Nathalie Simsak’s homemade quilts link her home to the garden created by Seattle-area author and garden designer Ann Lovejoy.

“My quilting room looks out into the garden, which gave Ann the idea for the colors and patterns of the plantings,” Simsak says. “The colors are subdued, which reflects the colors in my quilts and in my house.”

Lovejoy built blocks of color with “larger, massed plantings” that echo Simsak’s earth-toned quilts. She chose billowy blue catmint bushes; bronze and copper-colored carex, an evergreen grass; and Euphorbia, which produces olive, burgundy and bronze clumping foliage. These deer-resistant perennials provide color year-round.

Another clients of interior and external paining Orlando wanted a garden that would match a huge painting of sunflowers that dominated her living room. “We not only reflected the colors of that painting outside, but tried to echo the feeling of it, the textures and forms, so that the connection would carry through all year long,” Lovejoy says.

When sunflowers aren’t in season, shrubs such as spirea goldflame, perennials like Doronicum (a yellow, daisy-like spring bloomer), grasses and golden locust trees repeat the painting’s rich greens, bright yellows, bronze and ruddy cinnamon tones, she says.

A garden’s aroma also can come into play. Just as a flowery fragrance might evoke your auntie’s packed parlor, a whiff of crisp citrus might conjure an angular, minimalist interior. “If you love jungle prints, you want a sexy jungle perfume,” Lovejoy says. “If you have a demure little cottage, you want roses and lavender.”

Americans have a long tradition of melding indoors and out. In the early 1900s, industrial scion and fanatical gardener Henry Francis du Pont turned his family’s Delaware estate, Winterthur, into what was then considered a quirky union of colors and designs flowing freely in and out.

So fervent was du Pont about matching house and garden that he demanded that his furniture’s slipcovers be changed four times a year in concert with the seasons, says Denise Magnani, Winterthur’s landscape curator.

“He wanted faded fabrics with subtle colorations to mimic what he saw outdoors,” she said.

The home’s wood floors are dark as earth or carpeted in floral motifs. Walls are covered in landscape murals or painted in greens and browns. “He was forever orchestrating color schemes,” Magnani says.

That’s the spirit, says Horticulture‘s Nan Sinton. “We don’t just live in a box. The American lifestyle is moving outdoors. People want gardens that make that progression as seamless as possible.”

Designing flowers is nothing to sniff at

Creating a well-matched house and garden is like making a meal, garden designer Ann Lovejoy says. “Flowers are the cookies,” she admonishes, “and cookies are not the first thing on the table.”

Who wants to resist the quick fix of foxgloves, the sugar high of hollyhocks, an instant jolt of geraniums? Lovejoy says delaying gratification pays off in the long run.

“First create the space. Think about access, flow, screening and light. An empty garden should be beautiful,” she says. “Make the beds and paths wide, or things will end up looking like a miniature golf course.”

Next, she says, create vignettes of interesting shapes throughout the garden. “Each should have a conical shape, an arching fan shape, a spill or a sprawl, a smooth stone-like mound, and something eccentric.”

Select shrubs and trees, and choose winter plants first, “because if a garden looks great in winter, it’s going to look great all year.”

Opt for contrasting foliage: dark and light; matte and glossy; big, bold leaves and smooth, simple ones. “If everything is cut-leafed and lacy, it’s going to feel nervous and jumpy.”

And, finally, flowers.

“Pick performers that will reward you with color and fragrance all year long,” she says. “Some showboats and some sweet little treasures.”

Style in bloom

“Nothing looks sillier than an ultra-modern house with an English cottage garden,” says Ann Lovejoy, author of Fragrance in Bloom: The Scented Garden Throughout the Year (Sasquatch Books, $19.95). She starts designing inside a home, following its décor as well as its architecture. She recommends:

If your style is … Your garden might include…
Southwestern or Mediterranean
  • Rock beds and paths
  • Yucca, cactus
  • Hardy herbs like rosemary and sage
  • Clumping plants in square or linear beds
  • Carpets of aromatic herbs that release brisk scents as you walk by (Corsican mint, creeping thyme)
  • Swaying grasses (New Zealand flax)
  • Banana plants, canna, ginger
  • Multi-layered, broad-leafed foliage (datura, aka angel trumpet), heavily aromatic plants (jasmine)
Cottage or bungalow
  • English border plants (wallflower, lady’s mantle)
  • Aromatics (night-scented stock, rambling roses, lavender)
  • Edibles (runner beans and herbs)