Garden Tour: Pattern Play | Midwest Living

Garden Tour: Pattern Play

A black-and-white scheme and geometric designs create a fun yet sophisticated look for the garden.
  • Check mates

    Black works for a tuxedo or a cocktail dress. But can it work in a garden? “Absolutely,” says horticulturist Michelle D’Arcy, who designed this landscape in Barrington Hills, Illinois. Its classic black-and-white theme features three intimate checkerboard patios, more than 30 black containers and dozens of black ornamental spheres.

    A checkerboard design adds interest underfoot. “You have to think about the best scale for the squares,” says Michelle, who used 18-inch squares of limestone and slate, which repeat elsewhere as stepping-stones.

    Landscape designer Michelle D'Arcy, Horticultural Associates Inc., Gurnee, Illinois.

  • Open palette

    In this scheme, “anything goes” for the plant palette, Michelle says, noting that the homeowner likes colorful beds with brilliant pops of reds and yellows, as well as more hushed plantings of soft-color heirloom flowers.

    “Before, the surface was orange brick, and I had to be careful what colors I used,” Michelle says. “The new scheme gave us an open palette to work with.” 

  • Geometry lesson

    The limestone and slate combination is striking, but other inexpensive materials work, too. Try stamping and painting poured concrete, staining individual concrete pavers or covering existing concrete with exterior tile (just be sure it offers traction in wet or snowy areas). If you don’t mind frequent clipping, classic grass-and-paver checkerboards are beautiful. Beware that cut grass can stain pale stone, and individual pavers tend to sink or tilt without a firm foundation. Don’t rule out faux turf: “The new products are surprisingly realistic,” Michelle says.

  • Walk this way

    Stepping-stones surrounded with sprawling groundcovers and fragrant herbs make a spectacular path suitable for a narrow side yard or garden. Michelle packed this space with coral bells, ajuga ‘Chocolate Chip’, lavender, golden oregano and Corsican mint.

  • On a roll

    If stone spheres are too costly, make concrete balls like these using molds (available at most big-box stores). Or check out our simple DIY tutorial here. For stability, each orb has a subtly flattened bottom and many are glued in place. A little touch-up paint applied every other year keeps them shiny. 

  • Bold pots, bold plants

    Every pot in the landscape is black (some are painted terra-cotta) and most are big. “It’s a common mistake to choose pots too small,” Michelle says. The potted arrangements are dramatic—a single plant with a bold bloom or foliage, such as caladium.


  • Spiffy seating

    Save money with bargains on outdoor furniture in fall. Or paint good-quality metal furniture. Find a powder-coating pro who doesn’t skimp on prep, Michelle advises—“The finish will last for years.” Add zippy cushions for extra pizzazz.

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