Read This: Home Outside, & Sunset Design Guides

As springtime sends you racing out into your yard, eager to create the garden you’ve been dreaming of all winter, publishers are releasing new design books seemingly daily to inspire, to educate, and to demystify the process.

One of these is Julie Moir Messervy’s Home Outside: Creating the Landscape You Love. An internationally known designer and author of two other books—The Inward Garden, which sits on my bedside table awaiting a few spare hours, and a collaboration with architect Sarah Susanka called Outside the Not So Big House, which I reviewed last summer—Messervy explains in Home Outside that she wants “to revive the home landscape as a place of importance in people’s lives. By teaching you what I know about landscape design, I’m hoping that you’ll learn how to create the spaces you love and go outdoors to enjoy them.”

She wants us outside, reacquainting ourselves with the joy of being in nature that most of us felt instinctively as children. By tapping into memories of outdoor spaces that were special to us then, she urges, we can create meaningful gardens for ourselves as adults. If the psychology of understanding oneself is always an aspect of good garden design (and it is)—What do I want? What makes me feel safe and comfortable? What brings me joy?—Messervy is Freud, bringing the exploration of self all the way back to childhood memories of the outdoors and mining them for what still resonates with us today.

Messervy works hard to demystify the process of landscape design, to make it less intimidating to people who just don’t know where to begin. Understanding that most homeowners construct and plant their landscaping over time, sometimes on a shoestring budget, she encourages readers to make an overall guiding plan for their property and illustrates the process with a step-by-step explanation of her design principles. She even includes a personality test for figuring out what kind of designer you are.

Like anything that involves artistry, however, landscape design concepts can be broadly sketched and deliciously illustrated, but they’re hard to transform into a step-by-step manual. Messervy is a good writer who puts her concepts into plain English without talking down to anyone, and the book’s numerous, full-color images of gardens are inspiring. But ultimately, landscape design is more art than science. Instead, read this book for inspiration, for lessons in what makes a particular garden beautiful and a place you want to linger, and for the enjoyment of Messervy’s enthusiastic advocacy for creating a landscape that’s as welcoming and reflective of your personality as the inside of your home.

Like Home Outside, Sunset’s new design guides, Backyards and Patio & Stone, seek not only to inspire but to provide practical, hands-on resources to readers. The inspiration comes from 224 pages of gardens, landscaping features, and hardscaping ideas that you’ll be marking with Post-its or dog-eared corners. The hands-on resource comes in the form of an interactive DVD tucked into a sleeve at the back of each book. I confess that I have not touched the DVDs of either book, so I can’t offer any opinion on them. For what it’s worth, the DVD is billed as 3D interactive landscape design software from Punch! Software Company, and it’s compatible with both PCs and Macs.

I find Sunset’s publications to be particularly appealing to those of us living in the western parts of the U.S., thanks to equal time given to more-arid landscapes. Anyone interested in accessible contemporary design would probably also enjoy them.

Sunset’s two books are all about hardscaping. The text is succinct and provides basic information, but what you really want anyway are the lovely images and numerous design examples. They’ll provide plenty of inspiration to get you going this spring.

All material © 2006-2009 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

posted in Books, Design

15 Responses

  1. I can’t imagine life without our outdoor rooms. Our garden is our sanctuary. I’ll have to look for these books.


  2. I came this close to buying Home Outside just this weekend! I spent half an hour perusing it at the bookstore instead (will spend $$ on a design element instead). You’re right – garden design is an Art. Here at Blithewold we’re starting to work on a Master Plan and I realize that that’s exactly what I need for my garden at home. That and patience.

  3. I love the cover of Home Outside and the idea that the outdoors is an extension of our homes. Perhaps I’ll pick that one up when I get a chance. Thanks for the review on all three. Are you reading these because of all of your landscape work on your new space? I’m guessing, yes.~~Dee

    Hi, Dee. Not really. I just love garden design books and enjoy passing along recommendations for those I particularly enjoy. —Pam

  4. Gail says:

    While gardening didn’t play a large part in my early childhood, adventures in and around back yards did! It wasn’t until I added the tiny green area off the patio that I realized I needed a calming and cool spot of lawn, to lie down on in the middle of the summer heat and stare at the sky….The first book sounds like a good one for me; I could use a little garden design demystification! Thanks, Pam! gail

  5. Sherri says:

    One of my favorite things to do in the winter is to look through gardening books. I discovered Elizabeth Lawrence perusing the local library shelves.

    Thanks for the suggestions

  6. Cindy, MCOK says:

    Pam, I picked up PATIO & STONE at Lowe’s recently in preparation for my courtyard renovation. It’s given me all sorts of ideas! Although most of them will never be implemented, I enjoy visualizing the possibilities.

  7. Germi says:

    Hey Pam!
    The garden on the front of Sunset’s “Backyards” is by Elysian Landscapes! I designed those plantings! It is a great garden, a wonderful scale – people can realize a garden like this easily on their own. Sadly, the owner had to relocate two years after we installed – he said that leaving the garden was the hardest thing about moving. That makes me proud – when the owner falls in love with their new outdoor space. It truly expanded the square footage of what was a small house; he used the garden to host many dinner parties and even had Thanksgiving outside!
    I was so excited to see the book on your blog – I always pick up whatever you review!


    Germi, I’m so impressed! That’s a beautiful and very appealing garden. When are you coming out with your own garden book, which I expect will be heavy on giant aloes and agaves? —Pam

  8. Jenny says:

    I have a feeling you may have had to move house so that you could have a library! What fun looking at all those new books. I would just revel in looking at those books but I’d better get out there and get busy!

  9. I just got done putting the finishing touches on my review of Home Outside. It will publish tomorrow. I’d say you and I are pretty much in agreement.

  10. I love Messervy’s way of looking at the garden. She is a wonderful person as well. I had the opportunity to meet her several years ago at a lecture series help in Columbia, SC at the Riverbanks Botanical Garden. Great book reviews.

  11. Monica says:

    Love the retro chairs in the first and second photos!! !

  12. Great books to have in any library, Pam! I’ve seen some outdoor room books where it’s just that–a room moved outdoors, with the garden nowhere in evidence. Even if the Sunset books concentrate on hardscape, they seem to place the hardscape in the garden, not only outdoors.

  13. cindee says:

    I love garden books and have a ton of them. I love to look at all the designs and dream away(-: Thanks for sharing these!

  14. Thanks for the book reviews, I’ve loved Sunset books for years. I’ve never dabbled with the interactive DVD’s, but I’d love to give them a try.
    I’ve only recently started to follow your blog, so this may be a question I could answer if I read through all your previous posts, but I’ll ask anyway… Do you have plans on ever compiling a book on landscaping for the central Texas area? With our extremes in temperature and rainfall, we Texas gardeners can always use more help!

    Oh, what a flattering question, Nola. I have no plans to write a book, but you never know.

    The best way to get ideas for landscaping in central Texas is to visit as many gardens as you can and take pictures and notes on plant combinations that you like. The Wildflower Center in Austin has been a great help to me over the years in learning about native Texas plants and how to combine them. Also, go to KLRU’s site or find them on YouTube and watch a bunch of “Central Texas Gardener” episodes. The Wasowski books on native Texas plants and gardens are also useful. As, of course, are regional garden blogs. —Pam

  15. Laura says:

    Thanks for the review. I need a good book on garden design. My back yard is pretty untouched, aside from a few small fruit trees I’ve planted. I’ll have to pick up “Home Outside”.

    It’s a keeper, Laura. I hope you like it too. —Pam