Reimagining the Home Landscape

How therapy gardens can inspire our “forever home” landscapes
Photo: Scott Dressel-Martin/Denver Botanic Gardens

Think about the materials you use too, added Pat Giarritano, a master gardener who co-leads Colorado Center for the Blind’s demonstration garden. While stone walls are beautiful, they can house yellowjacket wasps. He suggested smooth raised beds for a care-free experience.

Smooth doesn’t need to be boring, though! Get creative with easy-to-maintain materials, from composite wood decking to boulders. What’s important is to keep things low maintenance.

Create a destination in the landscape

Didier suggests finding a magic spot that “will draw people away from their windows and invite them into the landscape.” It could be a bench, a small structure, or a tabletop water feature or bird bath–a place for reflection.

“Make the path to get there, as well as the destination, a journey of discovery,” Didier added. Walking aside plants swaying in the wind, seeing the first crocuses emerging in the spring, or finding peace in the sanctuary of a tree after a rainstorm can give people the sense they’re discovering something for the first time, which creates a stronger emotional connection to their home.

plant in pot next to bench
When plants are at eye level, it changes how people interact with them. Photo: Ann Kendall

Get to know how the space will be used

“When you build gardens for the people who’ll use them, they’ll get used,” said Angie Andrade, associate director of therapeutic horticulture at Denver Botanic Gardens.

If you’re designing homes for families with children, then turf-grass lawns, whimsical gardens and varied pathway textures may be ideal for stimulating young minds. If you’re building or retrofitting homes for aging adults or people with limited mobility, then smooth, compact surfaces are better—along with alternatives to stairs.

You don’t have to use concrete, added Lovely of Craig Hospital. Pavers, crushed fines and composite wood deck materials typically work well too. The key is to find materials that are flat or can compress down for easy rolling.

And consider how the materials will work in the winter—will the surface need to be shoveled? Let an ease-of-use mindset guide your material choices, so you’re balancing function with aesthetics. (Avoid rounded materials and uneven paths, like mulch, pea gravel or turf. They inhibit mobility.)

To make it easier to explore the yard, plan on pathways that are three-feet wide. Have more room? Four-feet wide pathways are better for walking side by side with someone.

Of course, if you’re designing homes for small urban lots, these paths could take up half the yard! Instead, think about creating narrower paths with “bump out” areas where someone could easily turn around or rest.

gardens home landscape
Place hose bibs and water sources close to where they’ll be used. Photo: Ann Kendall

Create smarter outdoor spaces

One way to do this is to make hose bibs easier to access. Place the water source close to where it will be used on a patio or pathway. Avoid setting it in a patch of gravel or rocks.

“Homebuilders put hose bibs out of the way, but then they’re hard to access,” observed Lovely. “We’re constantly problem solving and brainstorming how patients can move garden beds and water sources closer to patios and other hard surfaces.”

At Craig Hospital, they place electrical outlets in garden seating areas–a tip that translates well to home landscapes. People can enjoy their gardens, even if they’re using a ventilator for breathing support or waiting for a critical call and their phone isn’t charged.

RELATED: Yard-to-table Landscaping

And perhaps the best way to create smarter landscapes is to take inspiration from mother nature herself.

Are there spots that naturally offer shade on Colorado’s scorching summer days? Are there sunny areas that provide warmth and comfort on chilly fall afternoons?

Didier says it helps to listen to the land first.

“Be aware of what you have that’s special and sacred before you disturb anything, whether it’s beautiful, or it’s providing shade, or it’s creating a focal point. You can preserve what’s already interesting, and if you pay attention, improve on what’s not working.”

Ann Kendall

Ann Kendall, Western garden writer and Certified Colorado Gardener, Plant Select. Plantselect.org.

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