Garden Tour: Open and Enclosed | Midwest Living
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Garden Tour: Open and Enclosed

In a tightly packed Missouri neighborhood, this backyard’s varied garden rooms work together to draw the focus inward.

Garden designer Kristopher Dabner has a thing for open floor plans in the open air. So he designed the entertaining area of a Kansas City, Missouri, family’s yard as stylishly as their home’s living and dining rooms—sans walls. “You get more sense of the experience of a garden if you can see what’s next,” Kristopher says. “Surprise is interesting, but it’s nice to have a notion of how much more there is.”


The pergola's "ceiling" gives a light sense of enclosure, a bit of shade and a place to hang pendants and plants. A strategically placed fireplace screens out the neighbor's garage. A round coffee table smartly cuts corners to seat more in a tight spot without nicking your shins. Photo by Bob Stefko

Steps from the upper terrace to the lower dining patio mark room transitions, and short hedges and small trees distinguish each area—like walls and ceilings—without blocking flow. Kristopher also uses plants and structures to help keep the focus inward. “When you sit down, the plants are enough of a distraction to make you not notice neighbors,” Kristopher says. “But they still allow light and air to move through.”


"We keep the hedges 14-16 inches tall so they give enclosure but don't make you feel walled off," Kristopher Dabner says. Photo by Bob Stefko

Steppin' Out in Style

Here’s how to upgrade outdoor spaces with as much decor élan as you have created indoors.  

1. Best seat (not) in the house Invest in comfy outdoor seating, which comes in nearly any style, from bistro sets to sectionals to upscale Louis XIV chairs. Add coffee tables and pillows.

2. Night lights “Put LED rope lights beneath handrails or step treads,” Kristopher says. Submersible LED lights brighten water features to highlight the vessel. 

3. Material matters Repeat design elements. Here, brick flows through the garden, and the fireplace’s stonework matches the home’s limestone foundation.

Smooth transitions

Wide stairs, two large plant containers and a row of redbud trees subtly signal the move between terrace and patio. Throughout the yard, Kristopher hints at room boundaries with low hedges of yews and boxwood, roses, and topiaries of dwarf Korean lilac and crabapple.


Photo by Bob Stefko

The garden flows with pendants, path lights and spotlights that shine into the redbud canopy (left). The best way to mitigate noise? Place a fountain between you and the hubbub (right). Photos by Bob Stefko.

Buying guide

Landscape designer Kristopher Dabner, The Greensman, Kansas City, Missouri (816) 523-1516; thegreensman.com

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