Even more than plants, simple lines and forms make for inviting, satisfying spaces.

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NOT ONE OF the gardens in this issue relies on plants for its essence. Each is about lines, space, scale, materials, harmony, repetition, texture, contrast, color and lack of same. As is all good design, whether in fashion, interiors, architecture or landscapes.

For those of us who come to gardening because we love plants (and I’d guess that’s most of us), it can be bewildering to realize that it’s simplicity of line and form that makes for a beautiful and satisfying garden. Yes, even more than a stunning dogwood tree, or a fetching sweep of perennials.

Plants play a supporting role in all three of this issue’s featured gardens, even when the flora is as masterfully chosen for scent and scale as in the garden of Dale and Leslie Chihuly. Or forms the color palette, as in Vanessa and Peter Greaves’ green and white garden. Or, as in Connie Rodriguez’s garden, softens the hardscape while creating privacy for outdoor living.

Pacific NW Magazine: Outdoor Living 2017 edition

Pick up a hard copy on Sunday, Feb. 19 for a Great Plant Picks poster on the inside cover. 
The “cityscape” at the dining-room end of the deck features year-round grasses, rushes, ferns and a small maple tree in a cluster of gray urns. The dining table is from Crate and Barrel. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)
The “cityscape” at the dining-room end of the deck features year-round grasses, rushes, ferns and a small maple tree in a cluster of gray urns. The dining table is from Crate and Barrel. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)
Come visit The Seattle Times booth at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show at the WA State Convention Center, Feb. 22-26, 2017.

Whether you call it elegant simplicity, minimalism or modernism, pared-down gardens are as inviting and welcoming as plant-driven ones. Maybe even more so. They’re less needy, easier to care for, more satisfying to the eye (if not to the plant cravings) and gentler on the environment because they require fewer ongoing resources.

You won’t see any maintenance-intense roses — no roses at all — in any of the gardens in this issue, nor vast lawns or abundant perennials. But you will find wildlife-friendly and native plantings, spaces to relax in, herbs and edibles, art and the soothing sound of water. Also the personal touch of every garden owner, from a forest of Chihuly glass to a food writer’s raised herb and vegetable beds by the front porch.

How to turn a jumble, or perhaps a wilderness, of plants into a calm and serene sanctuary of a garden that best fits the needs of your family? Here are a few tips from local designers on how to design for simplicity, whether you’re renovating or starting from scratch.

Garden designer Stacie Crooks is known for her textural tapestry effects. “Think big brush strokes,” she advises. “Massing fewer varieties will create a calmer, more peaceful tone in the garden.” How to renovate a garden grown thick with plants? Crooks says to ask yourself hard questions about how often a plant needs pruning, and whether it contributes to the overall design. “Gardens need to breathe, like we do. Opening up your garden will create breeze corridors and views through the garden.”

Lauren Hall-Behrens is a much-published designer in Portland who loves plants and clean, modern lines. “Think of your garden as a whole, and create contrasting feelings or experiences,” she suggests. “Locate and prioritize the best views in your garden, and pay more attention to the big players, like large trees, the openness of the sky and surrounding views. Declutter; remove plants or garden elements that don’t really need to be there.”

Landscape architect Jason Morse of AHBL suggests focusing on a few key building materials and keeping your plant list relatively short. He emphasizes repetition: “Choose one hardscape material, and use it in different ways throughout the landscape for a sense of continuity,” he says. “Monochromatic color palettes can lend a feeling of serenity … Variety may be the spice of life, but it can make your garden feel downright chaotic.”

Morse, who takes his inspiration from nature, explains the power of horizontal lines in garden design. “The gravity that holds all of us down has caused our natural world to arrange itself in horizontal layers. These layers are powerful conveyors of comfort and serenity.”