Gardening with window views in mind: 4 tips from a design pro

Judy Horton's living room windows look out onto grapevines and other plants, a painting-like composition that makes the house on the other side of the fence practically disappear.
(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)

A tuft of poppies growing underneath a streetlight in the Hollywood Hills blasts unexpected color along the sidewalk, but the real surprise rests behind the tall ficus hedge, inside Judy Horton’s 1925 cottage.

When the garden designer and plant lover moved here in 2005, she knew she wanted to see her landscape from the interiors of the small rental. It is, she said, what drives her design process: gardening from the inside out.

PHOTO GALLERY: Gardening from the inside out


So before she planted anything, she stood inside every room in the cottage and looked out the windows and French doors.

“When you look at the garden from the outside, you see something different from the people who live inside,” she said. She asks her clients: What do you want to see when you park your car? Or walk in with groceries? Or stand at the kitchen sink? Or read the paper in the morning?

Inside her own house, views bring the lush garden in, as every window frames a portrait of her landscape. From the living room, you can see California grape vines growing outside the windows on either side of the fireplace. Soothing sprays of green leaves populate the views with pops of color coming from orange kumquats and purple wisteria.

To create a pleasing view outside her office, Horton simply placed a potted pink begonia on top of another pot outside the window, so its flowers peek up into frame. When it is done blooming, she will move it to another part of the yard and replace it with something else. “I move the plants around a lot,” she said.

Pink fuchsia hybrids — a supermarket impulse buy from 15 years ago — spill against her bedroom window. “It makes me feel like I’m in Bermuda,” Horton said.

And just off of the sun room, Horton created an exciting patio filled with giant hydrangeas in pots, succulents, ornamental herb topiaries and bougainvillea. She added towering black bamboo in containers for privacy and a baker’s rack for more pots of plants.


Most of the property, in fact, is covered with plants, whether soil is available or not. The side yards, porch, even the driveway are thoughtfully staged with plants. Aloes share space with citrus trees, camellias mix with shrubs, pretty fuchsias blend with ferns and drought-tolerant shrubs grow alongside self-seeding California poppies and nasturtiums.

Rows of potted plants add structure along Horton’s driveway and essentially serve as a nursery where she can see how plants perform for her clients’ gardens.

“I’m always amazed by new plants,” she said. “I don’t like to put something in a garden until I know it’s going to work.”

Eight years after she moved in, the serene garden built from the inside out has a staggering variety of plants. (At the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days tour in May, Horton passed out a plant list that was nine pages long.) And the garden views have made the cottage feel not like a house at all.

“It feels like a pavilion in a garden,” Horton said. “Living here, I feel like I’m at summer camp.”


When we asked Judy Horton to share her design process with readers, she wrote that good garden design, like good interior design, starts with the bones of the garden: floor, walls, ceiling, paths. “The bones,” she said, “are vital.” Here are four strategies she uses to design gardens from the inside out:

1. Fill the foreground. Place an interesting plant — perhaps something that changes with the seasons or gives off a pleasing aroma — close to a window or door. Horton has flowering vines that practically hug her windows and frame the views. Large pots of kumquat, Buddha’s hand citron and Rangpur lime add fragrance outside her front windows.

2. Create a sideyard tableau. In urban L.A., windows often look onto the house next door, just 12 feet away. Horton hung an old Gothic window frame on the fence between her house and her neighbor’s, with a vine trained over it. The tableau catches the eye and makes the house on the other side of the fence disappear.

3. Consider multiple points of view. When laying out her Teucrium fruticans hedge in the frontyard, Horton stood in the garden to position plants. Then she went inside her living room and considered the view there. The goal: Get the curve just right for both vantage points.

4. Rethink color. Resist the kneejerk reaction to plant bright blooms left and right, and instead ask yourself what kind of effect you want to achieve. “I like a calm, clear, quiet space,” Horton said, which is why her garden has surprisingly little color — just many hues of green.


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