Home Outside, Creating the Landscape You Love: Book Review

– Posted in: Book reviews, Design

Julie Moir Messervy opens Home Outside: Creating the Landscape You Love by remarking,

Most of us feel less confident about creating outdoor living spaces than we do about our interiors. Inside, we happily paint walls, choose finishes, and buy rugs, furniture, and fixtures, but when we step outside we’re unsure of how to begin.

Maybe that’s why I always open a garden design book with a sense of trepidation. I am just as “unsure of how to begin” inside my house as out, and I don’t “happily” decorate anything.

And yet, I couldn’t resist the offer to review Home Outside, because I had read many of Messervy’s articles in Fine Gardening and always found them helpful. I particularly remember one on archetypal spaces in the April 2001 issue that really resonated with my own experience.

Natural Evolution in Messervy’s Thinking

I can see that Home Outside is a natural evolution from that eight year old article. Messervy continues to uses metaphors to help you grasp design principles. I especially appreciate how she likens movement through your landscape as a flow of water that pools in certain places and rushes through in others. Many design books encourage you to personalize your space, but Julie goes a step further, providing a brief quiz to help you analyze and categorize your preferences.

Another helpful method for organizing an outdoor landscape is her concept of Big Moves. Big Moves involve three components: a basic layout, an aesthetic arrangement, and a distinctive theme. Messervy is not a design snob. In her world there is room for the homeowner who craves an ocean of lawn and a sidewalk that leads straight to the front door (Exposed basic layout, All Lined Up aesthetic). To further bring home the point that there is no One Right Way to design a home landscape, she devotes a two-page spread to illustrate one rectangular plot of land designed six different ways, everything from The Orderly Garden to Party Central.

Little Tips as well as Big Ideas

In addition to providing strategies for thinking about your outdoor space and what you want from it, there are a lot of tips in the book that help you get the details right, from making sure your fence wraps around a corner, to laying down screening before you install the decking on an enclosed porch or gazebo that mosquitoes don’t fly up through the cracks in the flooring, to this:

For those of us who live in cold climates, choosing the right surface texture for a highly used path becomes critical when the snow flies. Make sure it passes the “shovel test” and is installed as continuous level surface uninterrupted by cracks, juts, or bumps.

If you’ve ever tried to shovel snow from a cracked and heaving sidewalk, you know how wise these words are.

Home Outside is the kind of book where you read for a little bit, and it gets you to thinking, and you wander outside, and squint at your problem area, and change position, and squint again. Then you go back inside and scribble something down, perhaps in your garden journal, perhaps in the margins of the book. It encourages daydreaming, productive daydreaming, the kind that helps you transform your yard from a cookie-cutter replica of the yard next door to a garden that satisfies you aesthetically and emotionally. Whether you plan to hire help or do it all yourself, this book will help you articulate what you want from your landscape and bring it to fruition.

Home Outside is one of the prizes being offered in our scavenger hunt Have you entered yet?

Other Reviews

Two other garden bloggers published reviews of this book the day before I did. You might want to read them as well:

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

What differentiates a bulb from a perennial plant is that the nourishment for the flower is stored within the bulb itself.…There is something miraculous about the way that a little grenade of dried up tissue can explode into a complete flower.

~Monty Don in The Complete Gardener pp. 142

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Mary S. April 15, 2009, 9:20 am

I also reviewed this book on my blog (http://mynortherngarden.wordpress.com/2009/02/17/a-bouquet-of-mini-book-reviews/) and did a post on Julie’s idea of naming your garden (http://mynortherngarden.wordpress.com/2009/01/22/what-would-you-name-your-garden/) which I found to be a really helpful exercise. This is one of the best garden design books I’ve seen in awhile.

Mary S.’s last blog post..A Beautiful Easter and a New Raised Bed

Kathy Purdy April 15, 2009, 10:18 am

Hi, Mary S, it’s good to see you here again. In addition to naming your garden, you can develop your garden’s mission statement. I meant to do this in February, and it’s still not done. Helen Yoest has collected a bunch of them here.

Pam/Digging April 7, 2009, 6:32 pm

Nice review, Kathy. Thanks for the link. I know that Linda at Each Little World has also reviewed it.

Pam/Digging’s last blog post..Whale’s Tongue agaves at Barton Springs Nursery

Kathy Purdy April 7, 2009, 6:53 pm

Thanks for pointing that out, Pam. I just added her to the list of other reviews. Because I recently devoted so much time to developing my new website design, I’m way behind on my blog reading.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter April 7, 2009, 2:54 pm

I’m very interested in reading this book. It sounds both inspirational & practical.

Mr. McGregor’s Daughter’s last blog post..The Journey of a Thousand Miles

Chiot's Run April 7, 2009, 8:57 am

Very interesting. I’ll have to see if this book is available at the library.

Chiot’s Run’s last blog post..What a Difference a Day Makes

Dee/reddirtramblings April 7, 2009, 8:35 am

I’ve enjoyed your review and Pam’s especially the way yours relates to those with a cold climate. It is hard to design outdoor spaces I think, and I love that cover. ~~Dee

Dee/reddirtramblings’s last blog post..Dear Friends and Gardeners, Week Five

Colleen Vanderlinden April 7, 2009, 8:22 am

Great review, Kathy. I have this book on order through my library system, and now I really can’t wait for it to get here. I am one of those gardeners who definitely approaches design with more than a little trepidation (perhaps this is why I’m more comfortable in the vegetable garden?) so I’m hoping this book will help me get over some of that. I’m glad to hear she’s not a “design snob”–there are far too many of those, and they only make those of us who are unsure of our design skills feel even more insecure.

Colleen Vanderlinden’s last blog post..Appreciating the Little Things