review: Home Outside

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As I wrote some time ago on the home page of this website: “We’ve all heard that Home Is Where the Heart Is. The home you love is where you want to be and, when you go away, the place you long to return to.” Perhaps not a completely original thought, but a sincere one, nonetheless.

Imagine, then, my (mild) surprise — and sense of having found a kindred gardening spirit — when I opened Julie Moir Messervy’s 2009 book, Home Outside: Creating the Landscape You Love, and read the very first paragraph: “Home is where the heart is. It’s our sanctuary in a stressful world, the place we long to return to when we’ve been away.”

Hmmm. I think she and I are on the same wavelength here.

And then she continues, “But home is more than just the four walls of our house; it encompasses the land around the house as well. … In many ways, our home outside is just as important to our sense of home as the inside is.”

Yes!

As I’ve mentioned before, my concept of “home” is more than just a single place; it’s also a feeling of peace and contentment, wherever you happen to be.

And your physical home is so much more than just a house. It’s the inside of that house, the outside of the house, the neighborhood, the city, even the part of the country you live in.

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As it happens, we live in a 1920s Craftsman-style bungalow, with a front porch and a huge perennial flower garden that takes up most of our tiny front yard. Among the many reasons I’ve always been drawn to Craftsman-style houses are their abundant windows and the Arts-and-Crafts / Craftsman ethos of drawing the outside in.

Gustav Stickley wrote in his early-twentieth-century magazine The Craftsman, “Let garden and house float together in one harmonious whole.”

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We do love our flower garden (above) and how well it sets off — and hides — our cozy porch.

But our narrow side yard (an empty weed- and gravel-filled space that is, thankfully, hidden from view by a fence) and our back yard are, as we like to say, “works in progress.” And I’m so happy to have found Messervy’s book to help with these projects.

She doesn’t simply share ideas and “solutions” for particular spaces, but she helps readers discover their own ideal garden-design style and then plan according to those guidelines. And, as I mentioned, she’s a kindred gardening spirit, in terms of believing that a house’s yard, like its porch, is another set of rooms to decorate in harmony with the house itself.

The book presents six main principles of garden design, with an overall goal of creating an “outside home” that makes you happy. Each of these is explained in detail and in relation to your own design personality (yes, there’s even a garden-designer’s personality quiz!). The six principles are Lay of the Land, Big Moves, Comfort Zones, Making It Flow, Placing the Pieces, and Sensory Pleasures. Once you understand these, there’s no more simply looking at photos of beautiful gardens and wondering why, exactly, something appeals, or doesn’t.

I can’t wait to put Messervy’s ideas and theories into practice, so that our side and back yards can eventually be as lovely — and as true to both our garden-design personalities and our house — as the front yard.

Tell me, does your “outside home” make you as happy as the inside does? If so, send me a photo; I’d love to see it. But if not, I’d suggest taking a look at Messervy’s system for making it all better.

 

Jennifer Singleton, blog author

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