Michelle Byrne Walsh is an editor at State-by-State Gardening, a master gardener and a member of the Garden Writers Association. Contact her at editor@sbsmags.com.

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The View from Here
by Michelle Byrne Walsh    

Looking out the window is not just for daydreamers. The view is kind of a big deal, especially in December. It is vital to plan your indoor views as you create your garden and landscape.

The views of your garden from your windows serve several functions. Usually people think of the aesthetics when they think of views to the outside. But safety, screening and lighting are also important issues. You might need to be able to watch your children as they play outside or see out to the driveway. You might want to screen certain views out the windows, such as air conditioners or a neighbor's house. Also, how does the sunlight shine into the room? What is the exposure: north, south, east or west? Would you like the change the intensity of this light?

These are some things to keep in mind as you gaze out the window and try to decide what projects to tackle next spring. 

Favorite Rooms, Familiar Views

One of first things to consider is where you spend most of your time at home. Which window? What time of day? Most of the time you are probably in the kitchen and family or living room. You also might have a home office from which you often gaze outdoors. Start at these windows and look carefully. What do you see? What would you rather see?

The view from the dining table should be “appetizing.”2

All Year Long

French doors that open onto a lushly planted patio area and water feature invite the sounds and colors of the outdoors in.2

You want to put something in the landscape that draws your eye — and it can be shrubs, perennials, water features, statues and many other things. Your eye wants to move to something in the landscape that is interesting or desirable.

If you want a beautiful vignette all year, plan a four-season planting. Texture, foliage and color all play roles in a good four-season planting. Think of not just spring and summer, but fall and winter as well.

Fall gardens shine when their foliage changes colors and the dried seedpods of many perennials add to the structure of beds and borders. In that vein, forego the fall clean up. Don't cut perennials to the ground in late fall. Leave them standing. The snow and ice that fall on them can be exquisite.

Winter gardens consist of plants with interesting forms, bark and snow-holding capabilities. For instance, ornamental grasses such as switch grass (Panicum virgatum), Miscanthus spp. grasses and prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) catch snow and frost and glisten in the sunlight. They also move in the wind gracefully. Broadleaf evergreens like boxwoods and hollies keep their shape and hold their own, and conifers are evergreen and lend “bones” to a bed or border.

Hardscapes are also the bones of the garden. Well-placed fountains, water features or statuary offer year-round points of interest.

In spring, the ornamental grasses and perennial stalks should be cut back before the spring bulbs bloom. For spring interest, try adding naturalizing bulbs like daffodils (Narcissus sp.), crocus, muscari, camassia and other bulbs in spots were the bright color will be visible from indoors.

In summer you might want to group annual plantings or containers where you can see them from indoors (remember it will be 95 F one day and you will be again “stuck” inside).


If watching children or pets from the house is important, be sure to frame views of the play areas. Maybe you need to see visitors in the driveway. Ask yourself a lot of questions to help you focus on your needs. Where is the kids' playset? Do they play basketball in the driveway? Do they play in the street? How do they walk to the bus stop? Do you enjoy watching the school bus or the neighbors come and go? Frame the views accordingly.

Pools, hot tubs and fire pits also need to be viewed from the house for safety. You will want a line of sight to them from the kitchen and family room.

Screening or Enhancing Views

But sometimes there are situations where you want a little more privacy through the windows. You might want to use a small multi-stemmed tree, such as a crabapple (Malus spp.), serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.), redbud (Cercis canadensis cultivars) or a dwarf river birch like Fox Valley (Betula nigra ‘Little King’) in front of a large window at the front of the house where you dine or watch television at night. With deciduous multi-stemmed trees like these, you can feel “invisible,” yet you can often see through them from inside of the house to the lawn or street.

And sometimes the existing view out the window is plain ugly. It might be the neighbor's garage, trash cans or the dog run. Or you might be looking directly into your neighbor's windows. In these cases, screening is the answer, and better still if you can create a planting or trellis that showcases beauty on your side. Fences can be used, but they typically are limited to 6 feet tall. Trellises and wall panels can go higher — from 8 to 12 feet tall. But plants are probably your best bet. Columnar or fastigiate cultivars of sugar maples, oaks, arborvitae, juniper, false cypress and other trees can grow relatively tall but stay somewhat narrow. Do your research to choose the right tree for your yard.

A winter scene through leaded glass still offers interesting opportunities for garden vignettes.1

Exposure and Light

Another way to "view your view" is by watching the way the light comes into your home.

Consider which direction the most-used rooms face — north, south, east or west — and how the sun shines into that room. This will help you figure out what you need to accomplish outside the window. For instance, a sunny southern exposure might benefit from a shade tree near the window. A northern-facing room might require removal or pruning of existing foliage from trees and shrubs let more light into the room. (Or you might enjoy the light levels just the way they are now.)

Poet Walt Whitman wrote, “A morning glory at my window satisfies me more than the metaphysics of books.” Whatever your situations, or unique needs, design parts of your garden with "The View" in mind and find your own "morning glory."


1. Photo by Michelle Byrne Walsh
2. Photo by Robert Hursthouse


Posted: 12/16/13   RSS | Print


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