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I admit it: I’m a homebody. While I enjoy traveling to new places, I am always thrilled to be back home again, reconnected with the people and places I love. One of the spots that fills my soul is my garden, and on a beautiful June afternoon, there’s no place I’d rather be.

Do you have an outdoor space that revives and inspires you? If not, here are three tips for turning your garden into an oasis.

I am not a gardener. (In fact, plants shake in horror when they come through my door, knowing their days are numbered.) But I love, love, love beautiful gardens. So I was thrilled when two very dear friends of mine took pity on me several years ago and turned the patch of weeds that surrounded my home into Eden. Through the years, Gloria and Lynda, who are master gardeners, have taught me a lot about creating lovely and livable outdoor spaces. Thanks to their guidance, I’ve learned that every garden needs three things:

1. Plantings Suited to Your Space and Skills

I’m in the slow learning class when it comes to landscaping, so it took me a while to learn that for the plants in your garden to flourish, they have to like the physical conditions of the space and be OK with the level of care you will give them. The key to success is to know your space and know yourself, then create a garden that suits both.

For my garden, that meant giving up on fussy, finicky plants that need a lot of care and opting for shade lovers that have an irrepressible desire to live, despite all odds. Lynda and Gloria have rimmed my beds with shrubs that give me four-season color, then under planted them with hearty perennials like hostas.

And, they convinced me to invest in a sprinkler system so my plants would be watered on a regular basis, something I could never remember to do on my own. Thanks to the miracle of water, my plants have not only survived, they have actually thrived, and now my garden looks prettier every year.

The only annuals you’ll find in my garden are contained to a few intriguing pots and urns. I used to plant a dizzying array of flower-filled pots and put them all over my porch. Unfortunately, I felt like a slave to those things, and by July, they looked awful. Gloria and Lynda have zeroed in on a few kinds of annuals that like my yard and that I don’t kill, and we’ve stuck with them. I am thrilled that my garden is now beautiful and carefree.

2. A Place to Rest and Reflect

What good is a garden if you can’t go out there and enjoy it? After a long day at work, I can’t wait to flop into a comfy chair in my garden, put my feet up and let myself unwind. That’s why I’ve made sure my garden includes a few seating areas. To add a little drama to this peaceful grouping that stands on my front patio, I stacked a wrought iron side table on top of a wrought iron coffee table to create a two-tiered structure. The top level is a perfect spot to put an iron urn filled with a gorgeous hydrangea. (For more on creating a beautiful outdoor room, check out my April 16, 2012, blog, “Style Attractive & Easy-Care Outdoor Rooms.”)

Dan and I also really like to entertain outdoors during the summer, so I made a spot for this super cute table and chairs on our front porch. It’s a perfect place to drink our morning coffee or enjoy a glass of wine after work. When we entertain bigger groups, we take the party out back, where I have a large, round concrete table at the center of the courtyard patio.

3. Intriguing Focal Points

Just as with your indoor spaces, your outdoor rooms must have a few arresting focal points. These well-chosen treasures will give your garden beds character and provide a place for your eye to rest as you drink in the whole scene. In my garden, I’ve used a host of different types of artwork. One of my favorites is concrete statuary, like the bench in the photo above. I nestled this petite seat right into the bed, providing a hideaway under the green canopy where I could sneak away and enjoy a quiet lunch during a hectic day. I’m also crazy about iron urns, birdbaths, trellises and fountains.

The old adage “less is more” is definitely true when it comes to decorating with outdoor art. It’s essential to keep the number of pieces you feature in your garden to a bare minimum. Otherwise, your garden runs the risk of looking like a graveyard or an amusement park. Pick just a few pieces that capture your heart, then subtly weave them into your landscape so they are hidden treasures awaiting the observant guest, like I did with this religious carving from a convent in Europe. I have it tucked back into a corner of my garden, surrounded by plants, an intimate spot for rest and reflection.

Next Week … Want a fresh summer arrangement for your mantel? I’ll have three great looks to inspire you.

P.S. Don’t miss a bit of Nell Hill’s news – stay up to date on my favorite finds, new arrivals at the stores and all our special events by checking the Nell Hill’s Facebook page every day. You don’t have to have a Facebook page yourself to look in on the fun, but if you’re already on Facebook, “like” us today!

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23 Responses to “A Garden of Delights”

  1. Lisa Fernandez Says:

    I have had to chance to walk through your lovely home and garden and in all honesty these photos do not do it justice. It is so lovely and inviting and Mary has placed focal points that draw the eye in her garden and landscaping. Ilove this post because it provides wonderful steps to achieving this in a simple way. Lovely, absolutely lovely Mary Carol. As always, thank you.

  2. Kathy Says:

    On the first page of your online shopping there is a mantel with blue and white vases and four beautiful tall crystal/glass candlesticks. Do you have them available. Love your blog and, needless to say, your stores.

  3. Judy C Davis Says:

    I know we’ve missed your spring open house, when is your fall open house and could you give me the name of some b&bs nearby or a web site that would list them. Some friends and I are thinking of making a trip up there this fall.

  4. Sandy Says:

    I would also love to know when you Fall open house is as well as some favorite B&B’s. I love all the pictures, such an inspiration!

  5. Teri Sutton Says:

    My side yard has a wall of star jasmine that runs the width of my house. At the end of the jasmine are two pink climbing roses that meet on a arched trellis. Strings of patio lights wrap around the top up high. The other gated end is covered with ivy – varigated on one side and green on the other. The gate has antique push plates on each side. One giant pot has cottoneaster growing out and down until it sweeps the ground.

  6. Ginger Says:

    Great ideas! Thank you! Would you consider putting the photos alongside the text about them rather than above (or below) in future? It would be nice to be able to glance at them while reading the description, instead of having to scroll back up to see the picture.

  7. Teresa McAnerney Says:

    Nobody does it better! What a beautiful retreat! Recently we put up a wild bird feeder and have been enjoying the red finches and cardinals….never thought I would but it is very relaxing and fun. Just another sign I’m turning into my mother:) Ahhhh summer.

  8. Mary Beth Crocker Dearing Says:

    Love your blog! And I absolutely love the outdoor furniture in your first photograph! Is it offered in your store?

  9. Marilyn Taylor Says:

    Mary Carol, as always every setting is lovely. I especially love the 2nd setting, “A Place to Rest and Reflect,” Are the wrought iron side table and the iron urn for sale in your store? If so, what are the measurements and price of each?

  10. Marilyn Boesche Says:

    Mary Carol, Your garden is truly beautiful. I was at your Fall Open House last year and was so impressed with your outdoor spaces, as well as your beautiful home. You constantly inspire me. Thank you for all the wonderful ideas.

  11. Cindy Samlow Says:

    I love the cute table and chairs on your from porch. Can I purchase it at your store? Where can I get it. Thanks Cindy

  12. Bobbie Says:

    Thanks for the garden inspirations. They are delightful.

  13. Nancy Says:

    The stacked tables and urn in your garden is extremely eye catching. I am going to adapt this on my porch, to the side, so it doesn’t obstruct conversation. Great photos and information. Thanks.

  14. Mary Carol Says:

    Hi Kathy—-The crystal candlesticks are still available, however, the blue and white vases pictured are NLA. Call 877-746-4320 for more details.

  15. Mary Carol Says:

    Hi Judy—We would love to have you all for the open house. Our next one in Atchison is Sept. 7-8–the ‘Fall Open House’, then we also have a ‘Holiday Open House’–Nov. 2-3. Fun B&B’s in Atchison are Tuck U Inn at Glick Mansion–contact Chris @ 913-367-9110, or St. Martin’s B&B, contact John @ 913-367-4964. Hope that helps, and hope to see you then!

  16. Mary Carol Says:

    Hi Sandy–Ditto to you, for the info I provided for Judy.

  17. Mary Carol Says:

    Sounds heavenly Teri

  18. Mary Carol Says:

    Hi Ginger–I will pass that idea to my folks that handle–thanks for your tidbit.

  19. Mary Carol Says:

    I am with you Teresa—love my birds and wildlife. How true that we sometimes find ourselves becoming like our mothers.

  20. Mary Carol Says:

    Mary Beth—We do have that gorgeous set shown in the first picture at our Briarcliff store location. Call 877-746-4320 for all the details.

  21. Mary Carol Says:

    Marilyn T—Unfortunately, we do not have the iron table and chairs available in the stores—I have owned that set for a long time. However, the cast iron black urns are available (also in a french ivory color) in the stores. Please call 877-746-4320 for more details and sizes available.

  22. Mary Carol Says:

    That too is a set I have had for a long time Cindy. However, I think we have some other bistro type table and chairs in the stores. Call 877-746-4320 for all the details.

  23. Lisa Fernandez Says:

    Wanted to thank Mary Carol for all the inspiration she has given me through her books and blog posts over the years. I posted thanking her today on my blog because my house was featured on http://www.cotedetexas.blogspot.com. Cote de Texas posted about The Big Chill house and my house and I have so much to thank Mary Carol for so I just wanted to say thank you on her blog.

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