From Healing and Vegetable Gardens to Zoom Classrooms, Outdoor Spaces Have Become the Ultimate Sanity-Savers
If there’s one thing landscape designer Andrea Scharff has learned through her nearly 20 years in business, it’s how much maximizing your outdoor oasis enhances your whole experience of home. “Many of my clients use their outdoor spaces 364 days of the year,” she says. And having a functional, usable outdoor area—or any private getaway zones outside your own front door, really—has never been more important than now, when so many people are spending so much more time at home. “We’re getting some desperate calls, like, ‘we can’t do this another day, please come,’” she says, noting that summer typically isn’t such a busy time for her. “People aren’t going on vacation, so they’re taking their vacation budget and investing it in their homes and yards. Which is great, as I’m not going on vacation either.”
This project, for a busy couple in the entertainment industry who have two small children, is a perfect example of how a well-planned outdoor space can enhance your lifestyle (and possibly save your sanity). When Scharff’s clients purchased their house from an investor, while masterfully finished inside, the unfinished yard was clearly an afterthought. “The house is really pretty, but it was like they’d just rolled down a bunch of lawn and that was it,” recalls Scharff. “The swimming pool was there, but everything else we had to redo. And there’s so much space, now that it’s nicely laid out.”
Scharff’s plan captures the yard as a series of interconnected rooms, from more communal to intimate—much like a house. Olive trees flank an open area perfect for gatherings near the house, with artificial turf underfoot (used due to the children’s’ allergies), which then leads to the fire pit, in a more privately designed space. The pool and its surrounding garden, at the rear of the property, are spacious yet enclosed and intimate once again. There’s also a large stretch of lawn that is a dedicated play yard for the kids. “It’s usually littered with sandals and slip-n-slides and finger paintings—it’s been put to very good use,” says the designer with a laugh.
She stripped out a bunch of what she deemed “hideous” black rocks from the property, opting for a simple palette of greens, utilizing olive trees, little ollies, myrtle, ficus, boxwood and portulaca. “When you have a limited plant palette, it’s very soothing,” she explains. “They’re super busy, they have little kids and they both have big jobs, so there’s something nice about seeing something serene when you get home. And it's easier to take care of too.” Her layout and plants are largely geometric with one notable exception: the spiky portulaca poking out of the round planters. “It’s wacky and it looks like a bad hair day, but it really works,” says Scharff.
The designer also opted to fill a decorative seam around the pool (formerly piled with the black rocks she disliked) with artificial turf, creating an eye-catching green ribbon amid all the concrete. It’s a solution that, as a bonus, feels really good underfoot. A water feature poised behind the fire pit also has creative feature: a nearly invisible piece of plexiglass sits just below the water surface, ensuring that a small child can’t tumble into deep water—or even push a hand in too far.
Her clients use their outdoor space constantly, the designer notes, even hosting as many as 100 people in their backyard (pre-COVID, of course). Now, naturally, they tend to have limited gatherings only, like hosting another couple out by their fire pit. A side entrance means that no one needs to enter the house to access the garden, either. “I’m no Dr. Fauci, but I do believe that sitting across a fire pit over a roaring fire is social distancing at its best,” says Scharff. “What’s more cleansing than fire?”
She’s also been re-considering outdoor landscapes as “healing gardens” lately too, environments where her clients can easily spend with other people at a distance or simply enjoy nature safely. She also has clients asking for vegetable-laden “COVID gardens,” and clients who have disclosed that their backyard has been doubling as the best space for Zoom school. In short, private outdoor spaces have never been so key on a physical, mental and practical level. She’s grateful to play a role in creating them.
“Maybe we’re an embodiment of people’s gratitude in their homes and gardens and their ability to invest, however small or large, in those spaces,” she muses. We believe it.
Follow more of Andrea Scharff’s work on Instagram, @andreascharfflandscape
Photos by Meghan Bob