Backyard Beauty: Plants And Patio Vistas
By Lauren Green
ust before our kids graduated from high school, my husband and I considered our soon-to-be-empty nest. Do we downsize and move or stay and remodel? Partly because our kids planned to attend nearby colleges (but mostly because we loved our neighbors and our proximity to the airport), we decided to go for the remodel. In preparation, we rooted through a cabinet and dusted off the house file.
It’s nearly an inch thick and filled with home-centric pictures collected from years’ worth of magazines and newspapers. Tucked between those tear sheets are two sheets of paper ripped from some long-forgotten notebook. On these lined pages, we keep an ongoing list of everything we would love to have in our dream house.
We started this before we even had a house. Newly wed, we lived on the third floor of a 100-year-old brick building that had been subdivided into apartments. We spent a lot of time at the local coin laundry thinking about what we wanted in our first home. “Laundry room” was an early entry. Now, 29 years and five houses later, I still dig out that checklist every once in a while. On it are several features we currently enjoy. Fireplace? Check. Hardwood floors? Check. But there’s one item that has eluded me all these years: a sweeping vista.
When we travel, it’s all about the view when it comes to selecting our lodging. Snow-capped mountains, oceanfront sunsets, rolling hills, forested canopies: Give me a deck with beautiful scenery, and everything else is a second-tier amenity.
Back at home, I don’t have a deck, but I do enjoy the scenery in my backyard. I have a small patio under a tree, just off the kitchen. In the summer, I sit under strategically placed umbrellas and watch hummingbirds and butterflies dance around. In the winter, I bundle up and enjoy our outdoor fire pit, looking for the faint twinkle of stars.
Any given season, I see squirrels, birds and beautiful blue skies from my vantage point. Unfortunately, I also see my sweet neighbor’s roof towering just behind our HOA formula-brown fence. As such, it’s not quite the scene I envisioned years ago when I included “vista” on our list. But after years of experimentation, I have a little trick that alters my perspective. And it starts with the pot.
Although majestic Colorado mountainscapes might bring to mind one specific kind of pot, the kind I enjoy using is the garden-variety flowerpot. Here, especially in our vertically challenged Texas terrain, a pot full of blooms is an accessible (and legal) reminder that beauty can be cultivated just about anywhere.
Aesthetically speaking, a well-designed flowerpot arrangement includes three components: a filler, a spiller and a thriller. Fillers are the reliable plants, mounding in and rounding out open gaps and empty spaces. Spillers are the energetic ones, bubbling over the edges with an enviable you-can’t-hold-me-in vitality. Thrillers are the showoffs. They are conspicuous, striking and command attention. Together, this trio makes for a pot-lover’s dream. Tabletop or oversized, a strategically placed flowerpot captures my eye, and before I know it, I’m a little less concerned about what I’m missing out on way out there on the horizon.
To be honest, my backyard is no dream come true at first glance. My mulch is often dotted with presents from my dog, the sunset is mostly obscured by tree limbs, and the only rolling hill on this property is the uneven slope along the far edge of the yard.
But I can’t complain. Because on my patio, year-round and never far from sight, is a combination of potted pretties. To be fair, if I look close enough, I’ll see dead leaves, fungus, creepy crawlies and blooms that stubbornly refuse to live up to their botanical potential. But taken as a whole, the filling, spilling and thrilling earn my admiration. Technically speaking, it might not be a vista, but wow, what a view.