Sometimes, it may seem that all Southwest Floridians possess a green thumb. Our lush landscaping practically grows itself, thanks to tropical temperatures, year-round sunshine and drenching rains. All we have to do is step outside with a cool beverage or book in hand, prepared to select a gorgeous garden spot to sit and linger.
Ah, but there’s the question: What about those spots to sit and linger? Furnishing a garden to complement your home can be a thorny task, as it presents not only design considerations but also special issues of versatility and durability. Yet it’s also an opportunity to allow your individuality to bloom and sow the seeds for a space that’s memorable, mystical and relaxing.
Worried that it’s a jungle out there? Here’s what landscape and design professionals say you’ll need to know to come up smelling like roses.
Gracious garden décor has become an increasingly important extension of any well-appointed home, explains Rufino Hernandez, co-owner of the Garden District in Naples. The first step in creating it, he says, is to take steps to avoid the sharp disconnect that occurs between indoor and outdoor environments if a garden isn’t given its due design time.
"One of the ways we do that is by selecting furniture that’s made for the outside but that coordinates with the inside," Hernandez says.
The challenge is not to reproduce your home’s interior, but to reflect it, finding garden furnishings that are stylistically in synch and sensitive to a home’s color palette. For example, if a home has a contemporary design ethic, the garden may be complemented by tightly structured furnishings; if red plays a prominent part in the interior, vibrant variations of that hue may be used on outdoor accessories such as throw pillows and garden pots.
Fortunately, today’s outdoor furniture makes it easy to design a space that mirrors your home’s interior. In addition to an array of styles, the overall construction of many pieces is heavier and better-built than ever before. Greg Hunt, general manager of Robb & Stucky Casual Living Outdoor, describes these pieces as being often over-scaled in size and rendered in sturdy, weather-resistant products that imitate natural materials.
Hunt favors furniture designers such as Brown Jordan and Lloyd/Flanders, which offer lines of upscale synthetic wickers that are intended to remain outside. Also, Hunt notes that it’s no longer unusual to find upscale aluminum furniture and accessories doing a fair impression of wood. With these accessories available, it’s increasingly easy to carry a home’s design through to the outdoors.
Outdoor lighting, too, is enjoying an environment-influenced overhaul, too. Floor and table lamps intended for a garden setting now frequently feature weighting so they may withstand wind, special safety seals to protect from humidity and umbrella fabric lamp shades to improve outdoor durability.
Versatility is vital
Part of the reason for the increasing popularity of these environmentally hardy furnishings is necessity—in a climate like Florida’s, man-made materials such as synthetic wicker are a savvy choice against an onslaught of furniture-fraying conditions. But certain natural materials are appropriate, too, including teak, stone and bamboo.
In addition to offering durability, many of these materials also provide increased versatility. While reflecting the design of your home, the garden also reflects the way you live and entertain outdoors; thus, it’s likely the area will be more relaxed, and you may need to pick up and move the pieces around, depending on entertaining requirements or environmental factors, such as sun or shade.
These everyday environmental factors have led to an increase in the popularity of garden structures such as pergolas, gazebos and arbors, notes Naples landscape architect Ellin Goetz. Goetz+Stropes landscape projects include the Norris Gardens at the historic Palm Cottage in Old Naples and the 160-acre Naples Botanical Garden. While an arbor is a permanent piece, an umbrella will also serve the same purpose—to summon the cool, shady space Goetz says is an essential for enjoying any Southwest Florida garden.
Garden furnishings, like the gardens themselves, are ever-evolving, she notes. "We’ve gone way beyond just a big lawn of useless grass," Goetz says. "Before, they were just sort of lawn areas and a bunch of shrubs. Now, they’re actually places where people want to come out."
She also suggests using versatile outdoor lighting. Candles, lanterns and other moveable sources of light are garden accessories that easily add ambience. "I personally love bringing your own light into the garden," she says.
Make it your own
A garden is also a perfect place to showcase your sense of individuality, Goetz says. If you’re a collector, someone who likes to visit consignment shops or markets, this is an ideal area to give that passion a place to take root.
Artwork is appropriate, too, if it’s weather-resistant. Hernandez mentions the process of taking photography and transferring it to aluminum panels so that it may be displayed outside. Clocks, mirrors and other wall-hanging pieces once reserved for indoor use now receive the same treatment as furnishings, making them ready for the outdoors.
But, of course, not all environmental elements are a scourge to building a fantastically furnished garden. A water feature makes a garden more magical, becoming the ultimate accessory. Barbara DuFrane added several when she transformed a grassy area next to her Bonita Bay home into a glorious garden.
DuFrane chose Naples landscape architects Dale A. Slabaugh & Associates for the project, which she calls "The Doctor’s Garden" in honor of a radiologist friend who planted many of the botanicals. For DuFrane, who owns DuFrane Jewelers in Bonita Springs and often entertains at her home, the garden will become an area where she will host parties and events.
A paved path leads guests from the front of DuFrane’s home through an arbor; beyond that, her garden sweeps open to a multi-level fountain and wide views of the lake beyond her home. Along a wall are seven wall water fountains. Music pours from hidden speakers, and sculptures are placed among the many plantings.
"At night, it is spectacular," DuFrane says. "There are all kinds of lighting that’s subtle, and the pools are lit."
Water features such as DuFrane’s add character and individuality, explains Christian Busk, founder and principal of Naples landscape architecture firm W. Christian Busk. Water can create awe, but also intimacy: Busk describes one company project where he added a water feature to a garden outside a home’s spacious master bathroom shower. The homeowners could then push aside a sliding glass door and go directly outside.
"You have these elements that just make the space private and custom," he says. "You want to feel like it’s all about you."