NEWS 2018-05-24T19:17:51+00:00
Set the Mood: Ambiance for Outdoor Entertaining

As designers of space, we understand that the feeling of your outdoor living space makes all the difference, and never is this more key than when it comes to outdoor entertaining.  The feeling we refer to as ‘ambiance’ could better be thought of as the transformative experience of a space, and it is something we are really aiming for when we design!  So how does one create ambiance for entertaining?  While the answer is a little abstract, we do consider a few factors when we design, and even when we set up gatherings of our own.  Here’s how we create ambiance when we design, and set the mood for outdoor gatherings of all kinds.

Geometry Class

This is really elemental, but when we design one of the first things in our minds is actually geometry.  Believe it or not, the shape of a space affects our emotional response to it.  Closed shapes, in particular squares and circles, are restful for us to inhabit because we have an innate sense of the center.  These spaces also tend to be more intimate.  Rectangles and ellipses (elongated circles) have a similar effect, but can read as more formal especially with corresponding furniture.  A gathering, since it often centers around a single point, is natural in this kind of space.  In contrast, long linear spaces should be avoided as they encourage movement.  As a Landscape Architect we know once told us, imagine having a dinner party in your hallway!  Promoting restfulness with geometry is an amazing tool to make space feel inviting.

A simple round seat wall encircles a matching firepit alongside a bocce court, which is a very linear space.  Without the strong defining geometry of the circle, the gathering space would feel exposed and the intimacy would vanish.

Scaled to Fit

From indoor entertaining, many of us know that scale is also a crucial factor.  There is nothing more awkward than a small gathering at a huge table, or more uncomfortable than the other way around!  (Dinner party in the closet, anyone?)  When planning a gathering space, defining the size of your party and how you want interactions to take place is major- should it be more intimate or more spacious?  Should the kids have their own space?  Combine the right scale with the right geometry and you have the right effect right away.

This courtyard has multiple sitting areas, creating a café-style atmosphere.  This space is designed for small gatherings with a less formal feel.  Spreading a formal dinner between multiple tables would definitely break things up when it comes to conversation, but might be ideal for the right crowd.

A Sense of Enclosure

One aspect of a gathering space is what surrounds it.  The sense of gentle enclosure can make a space feel safe, intimate, and cohesive.  This can be accomplished in a variety of ways.  A ‘ceiling’ structure, like the pergola or even umbrella, walls as in the image below, even a low wall surrounding part of the space will give the illusion of enclosure.  If you’re on a budget, well-placed decorative pots can even serve the purpose.  Think of our geometry lesson – define the center of your space and the size, then work around the borders to give definition to the space.  You’ll notice the change in atmosphere!

Lush ivy walls surround the rooms in this sweet Spanish-style courtyard, and a custom-tiled fountain fills the scene with an instant grounding effect.  This project also made use of decorative pots and structural plantings to define spaces on a narrow site.

Arrangement of furniture and accents can sometimes be enough to define space.  Don’t underestimate the use of color to draw attention to a space you want people to find.  The same rules apply here as in interior design, with an inviting tone set by artistic as well as geometric principles.  Place seating facing inward, and define the center of a table with a point of interest to draw people in.

These couches form an ‘L’ shape around a square table, providing an irresistibly inviting nook.  The repetition of orange accents in the pillows and pottery draw the eye, and the planted arrangements give a fun touch to define the space as classically outdoors.


When night falls, lighting transforms your evening experience.  Lighting can be used to highlight a gathering area, illuminate the floor plane, create a mood-defining centerpiece, or twinkle overhead.  Lighting around a seating area should be directed so as not to shine in your guests’ eyes.  Down-facing riser lights and patio lamps are made for just this purpose.  Café lights and pendant lamps can be dimmer – more for the effect than for bright illumination.

Down-facing lights illuminate this formal outdoor dining area, defining the walls for a cozy effect.  The simple lanterns are a perfect addition for a contemporary take on traditional table lighting.

A few pendant lights and tea candles are all it takes for inviting ambiance around this outdoor bar.

The simplest touches can make the biggest difference! In next week’s blog, we will celebrate summer with creative outdoor dining embellishments and a few of our favorite garden recipes to bring your next outdoor gathering to life.

Love your Leisure – J. Montgomery Landscape Architects

June 11th, 2018|Uncategorized|
Edible Landscapes- Getting Started

It’s starting to feel like summer, and around here we are all excited about what that means for gardens.  Not only do we love to see flowers in all their summer splendor, we also love thinking about what we can enjoy eating from our gardens, and how we can help our clients do the same.  Integrating vegetables and fruits into designed landscapes has become a real trend.  In addition to being a wonderful addition to your table, vegetables and fruits can be a beautiful element in your outdoor living space.  Since it is peak gardening season here in the Bay Area (though to tell the truth, you can grow hardy vegetables year-round in our climate), we have put together this intro to home gardening for anyone aspiring to grow some seasonal fruit or veg. Check back later in the season for articles on backyard orchards, and how to plant and use backyard herbs.

The ‘Green Thumb’ myth is one many people have heard and smiled at, but we find that thinking you lack one can make you feel limited in the garden!  If you want to grow something, and have the climate, resources, and time to do so, there is no reason that you can’t.  It just requires practice, and believe us, we have all had our share of failures.  Understanding the needs of your garden is the first step to keeping it happy.  If something dies, try again with a new approach, or a different type of plant!  It’s not your thumbs, we promise.

A Place to Thrive

You can plant vegetables and fruiting plants in a variety of spaces.  Raised beds and planter boxes are a popular solution, giving a clean look to the space and helping maintain enough water and nutrients for the garden to thrive.  You can also plant straight into the ground if you have done work to amend the soil, or use pots to create a complete container garden in a small space.  Generally speaking, vegetables and fruit-bearing plants prefer full sun and regular water.  This makes most vegetables compatible for planting together, though some are better friends than others.  To ensure sunlight for all plants and prevent overcrowding, be sure to leave space for tall plants, such as tomatoes, to grow without shading out the small ones.  Plant in a rich soil mix high in compost.  This will get your plants off to a great start and maximize your harvest!

Picket fence bordered raised bed garden area

Planter boxes are generally most successful with soil at least 18” deep.  Wood and Corten steel are stylish materials with a variety of aesthetic possibilities.

Growing Leafy Greens

Nothing is more refreshing than fresh-picked garden lettuce or more robust than home-grown kale or collard greens.  These plants are easy to grow from seed, but this requires a little care.  The young plants can also fall prey to common garden pests, such as snails.  To protect against hungry critters, you can start some seeds indoors or in protected starter pots to transfer to the garden later, or visit your local nursery for tips to deter these pests.  Nurseries also sell ‘Starter Packs,’ or baby vegetables that are ready to plant.  Remember that some greens will eventually get big, so if you don’t want more kale than you ever knew what to do with, start only with a six-pack or two.

Here at our studio garden, John and Cynthia grow lettuces almost too pretty to eat!  A variety of colors and textures make for a beautiful, mouthwatering display.

Growing Summer Favorites

Not everyone loves tomatoes, but if you do, you know that once you’ve had a home-grown one, you can’t go back.  Tomatoes love heat, and if you live in a cooler area of the Bay you will have more success with a cherry-type with smaller fruits.  (That’s right, tomatoes are technically fruits!  But we won’t bore you with botany…)  If you live in an area blessed with real heat, you can grow beautiful giant heirlooms and slicing tomatoes.

Still green, this Better Boy tomato is coming in beautifully!  …Ever get those weird black spots on the bottoms of your tomatoes?  It’s a calcium deficiency.  Ask your local nursery for fertilizer to help with the problem.


If squash is more your style, or cucumbers, they are just as rewarding and easy to grow.  One thing to consider is space.  A single pumpkin plant can spread up to 8 feet around, so you may not want it next to your door.  Cucumbers can stay smaller, and can even be allowed to trail out of a large container.

Squash blossoms are also edible!  Our designer Arlene has a great recipe to share with us in our next series on entertaining in the garden.


Growing strawberries is a fun activity for both kids and adults, and the attractive flowers and fruits can add beauty to any garden or container.  You can even mix them in with flowering plants for a sweet effect!  Strawberries are as tasty to many insects and animals as they are to us, so be sure to protect yours from being eaten by someone else!

We tucked strawberries into the rocks in this naturalistic landscape design.  Our clients love picking the berries, nostalgic of their childhood summers!


All of these plants love summer heat and can be planted now!  Provide regular water and fertilizer at least once a year.  These plants are heavy feeders, which means they will eat up soil nutrients that you must replenish.

Growing Climbers

Peas, beans, and fruiting vines will need a structure to climb.  Given a pole and a little encouragement, beans and peas will quickly shoot skyward and begin producing prolifically!  As legumes, these plants also add nitrogen to your soil.  Grapes, passionfruit vines, and other fruiting vines will need a much larger structure- why not train them up an arbor or landscape structure for a beautiful effect?

Blue Lake Pole Beans climb and flower on a custom trellis in our studio garden. As each flower has the potential to become a bean, try to resist picking the cute little things.


Grapevines grace this arbor for a lush effect.  Grapes can even be trained to fill in a shade structure to provide a cool green ceiling in the warmer months.  John and Cynthia’s vegetable beds, behind, show an example of a well-thought-out edible garden.

We hope you get growing right away with these tips on introducing edibles into your home landscape!  Next week we will begin our series on backyard entertaining, so check back in for ideas to throw the best garden party.  Happy Summer~

June 4th, 2018|Uncategorized|
New on the Scene – Plants For Bay Area Gardens

We admit, we love plants.

On being asked our favorite plant, our team became distressed.  We asked, “Only one?”  How could we ever choose?  To us, each one is stunning in its own way, in the right place any of them would shine.  But that’s not to say we don’t have a whole stack of favorites… or that we aren’t enamored when new plants appear on the scene.  So, we’ve decided to share our favorite new selections for zones 8-11 (winter lows of 15 degrees Fahrenheit).  These plants have become popular in the US within the last 5 years, and so far show outstanding performance in the landscape.  Also, they are available at your local Bay Area nurseries.  Enjoy~

Lomandra (Mat Rush)  –  Australia

An evergreen ornamental grass solution, Lomandra doesn’t go through winter dormancy or require cutting back in fall, so your landscape maintains interest year-round.  We love these plants for their indestructible nature and range of beautiful leaf types.  One of the newest on the market, the unusual variegated ‘Platinum Beauty’ is our new beloved at our studio garden.  Over 50 varieties exist, but these are a few of our favorites, all growing 2 foot to 3 feet around:

Lomandra Seascape

Lomandra Breeze

Lomandra Platinum Beauty

Lavandula ‘Meerlo’ and ‘Platinum Blonde’

Speaking of variegation… this is something new!  Incredible but true, variegated lavenders are the trend.  These little shrubs aren’t just waiting for flowers anymore, they’re stunning all year with intensely patterned leaves.  Put in a pot with black Ipomaea vine for the ultimate contrast, or combine with any color combination for a bright compliment.  Both about 2 feet round, they are easy to pop into any sunny garden.  What’s the difference between the two?  The leaf shape, as far as we can tell… Meerlo (top) has a ruffled leaf margins while Platinum Blonde (bottom) is straight.  Which one to pick? That’s personal preference… have more insight? Let us know!

Digiplexis®  Illumination Series  –  Developed by Charles Valin of the UK

A modern take on the classic garden favorite, this hybrid foxglove has many advantages and is a completely new look!  Crossed with wildflower Isoplexis of the Canary Islands, Digiplexis® is a longer-lived foxglove with a long bloom season, a longer life span, and good sun tolerance.  A little more compact than Digitalis, it reaches 2- 3 feet with its bloom, 18” to 2’ wide on the leaf base.  And it comes in unique colors for ultimate versatility.  We hope for more colors and varieties in the near future.  These are our favorites:

Digiplexis® Illumination Flame

Digiplexis® Illumination Apricot

Digiplexis® Illumination Raspberry

Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’ – 2001 Karen Reiter Stever, ItSaul Plants, Atlanta, GA

An evergreen stunner for shade!  Unlike its relatives including its parent Mahonia eurobracteata, it lacks thorns (hence the name).  Plants resemble layered ferns, with lush green leaves and yellow summer flowers.  Though if you aren’t wanting the color, it’s easy to pinch back buds when they appear.  While they appreciate regular water, one of our team members has grown them successfully under very dry shade conditions, and they look gorgeous!  If you’re planting in a container, use a large one (24” deep) to accommodate its hearty root system.  Can reach 4’x4’ if given the space.

Salvia ‘Wish’ Series

Salvias are one of the most popular genera in the horticultural world, and for good reason.  It seems there is a Salvia for every garden, and their hardy nature and beautiful flowers are a sure win.  But a totally new Salvia is something to get excited about!  And one that can take some shade is really a plus.  At 3 feet around these are a lot of bang for your buck!  When buying, know that a portion of proceeds from this series is donated to the Make-a-Wish foundation through the patent provider, Plant Growers Australia.  Who could wish for more?

Salvia Wendy’s Wish  –  Discovered 2005 Wendy Smith, Sue Templeton, AU  –  Developed by PGA

The first natural hybrid found by Wendy Smith in her garden, Victoria AU.  This is a must-have for any hummingbird lover.  The plant is large and flowers nearly year-round, though it is deciduous in colder areas it comes right back every spring for another show

Ember’s Wish  –  Developed by PGA  –  Named by Paul and Lynn Shegog

For anyone who loves coral flowers, this color is delicious!  Just as florific as Wendy’s Wish but with a Hot New Look.  Did we mention the hummingbirds?

Love and Wishes  –  Developed by John Fisher, Orange AU  –  Distributed by PGA

Currently planted front-and-center here at our studio garden, this one lends a new definition to ‘royal purple’.  With rich purple flowers and deep purple calyxes, we think it’s drop-dead gorgeous next to Lomandra ‘Platinum Beauty’.

Live in the East Bay/Danville area and looking to spice up your garden?  We have the answers to your questions! 

Contact us on our website or view our Houzz profile to book a consultation.

We want to credit photographers correctly for their work!  We did our best to find our image sources for this post, but if you see your image please contact us and we will give credit where it is due!

May 23rd, 2018|New Projects, What's New|
Design For Outdoor Living

We use the term ‘Outdoor Living’ a lot.  It’s a beautiful phrase that to us means thinking of your garden as an extension of your home.  Here in the Bay Area, we are blessed with such a climate that we can be comfortably connected with nature year-round.  This connection inspires advances in environmental sustainability, farm-to-table movements, and many examples of exquisite Landscape Architecture.

While there are many incredible gardens in California, some of the best landscapes we know are the simplest in design.  Since residential landscaping is our forte, a well-designed yard is close to our hearts.  Good design is possible at any scale and on any budget.  Here are a few of our tricks for designing outdoor spaces you will want to spend all your time in!

When you are designing a yard, you have to ask yourself what you are designing for.  As designers of experience, we approach outdoor spaces based on their use as well as their aesthetic qualities.  Designing livable space isn’t about filling it with objects, but creating areas for human interaction to take place.  This leads in to a design concept many Landscape Architects live by, the visualization of areas of a landscape as ‘Garden Rooms.’

If your landscape is an extension of your home, it only makes sense that it have ‘Rooms’ designed for different experiences – for activities, dining, gatherings and quiet contemplation.  In recent years, we have begun to embrace the many ways our outdoor spaces can enhance our quality of life.  When designing your yard, think about what it is that you enjoy or would enjoy doing outside.  It could be morning coffee outdoors, having friends over in the evening for dinner under the stars.  Maybe you’ve always wanted to grow vegetables, or sit in a garden corner with a book.  Think outside the box- if you work from home, what better way to make a conference call than from your outdoor desk?

Bring the experience of café dining home with a patio table and chairs on your porch or tucked into a spot in the garden.  Geometry is very important here.  If your dining spot has a fence or wall, soften the vertical surface with a hanging planter or a piece of garden art in your personal style.  In our studio garden, we’ve repurposed old garden tools and funky thrift store finds for this purpose.  If you have a more modern look, consider a succulent wall or modular wall piece.  If you’re working with an empty corner, bring in some pottery or consider planting in that spot to make the corner fade away.   A sense of gentle enclosure creates the cozy vibe.  For the night experience, café-style string lights and a heater or firepit can really amp up the ambiance!

Organize your space in a way that makes sense when you are moving through it.  It makes sense to have dining near the kitchen, for example, the vegetable beds in the back of the yard if you would rather look at flowers from your bedroom window.  Consider plantings to separate the different rooms.  This is why formal gardens rely on hedges.  But again, think outside the hedge!  Dry-garden plantings, structural evergreens, or an arched trellis with a vine can create the illusion of entering a new room, adding depth or even mystery to your landscape.

Always design with the experience in mind.  As your yard is an extension of your home, it is also an extension of you.  Be bold, be creative, and love your garden!

The J.Montgomery Design Team

May 23rd, 2018|New Projects, What's New|