Cultivating A Westchester Summer Garden

Landscape designer Jan Axel on creating a more inviting outdoor experience for warm-weather entertaining.

Summer entertaining means drinks on the terrace at sunset, impromptu backyard barbeques, and elegant dinner parties under the stars—so, of course, you’d like your property and garden to look its best. Founder of Delphinium Design in South Salem Jan Axel, a landscape designer since 1998, holds a certificate in Landscape Design from the New York Botanical Garden and has also done graduate studies at Columbia University. Here, she offers easy suggestions for making the outdoors of your home an inviting place to visit and enjoy, just in time for alfresco entertaining. 

Landscape designer Jan Axel

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Add bird feeders and houses to attract aviary “entertainment.” Axel hangs a humming-bird feeder right outside her breakfast room and places whimsical birdhouses on top of wooden fence posts instead of caps. She likes the selection of these items at Gossett Brothers Nursery in South Salem and Pound Ridge Nurseries, Inc., in Pound Ridge.

Hang wind chimes where they can catch a bit of a breeze; a spot that’s too windy can actually create too much sound. Axel says metal chimes generally make the nicest sounds.

Sprinkle sculptural cast-stone containers featuring draping plants around your property, including your front door. Check out Gossett or McArdle’s Florist and Garden Center in Greenwich, Connecticut, for these, says Axel. Lantana, salvias, petunia, and verbena do well in sunnier areas and begonias, fuchsia, and ferns in the shade. 

Hang baskets of verbena or petunias by an exterior door, on a porch above the railing, or under the eaves. If hanging more than one in a series, keep the plant type and color the same, and use no more than four different types of plants in any one container.

Introduce fragrant plants near your seating areas. You and your guests might enjoy the scent of sweet alyssum or angel’s trumpet. Or consider a fragrant viburnum shrub in early summer. 

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Paint your front door a new color, depending upon the architectural style of your house. A cheery red might work well on a classic or antique Colonial or a quirkier deep periwinkle on a modern house. The door to Axel’s shed, for instance, is painted a fun bright orange.  

Repaint your outdoor furniture to lend a visual punch to your backyard. Have a professional paint your junky old metal furniture an outrageous color like purple or paint each chair a different color for a whimsical effect. Or, you can paint old wooden furniture a new hue yourself or rub it with color for a mottled effect.

Swap out tired old outdoor furniture cushions with fresh new prints or solids. But pick an overall direction to tie together your plantings and seating. To create a wild, more tropical effect, use orange and blue striped cushions with dark periwinkle furniture and then pick up these same colors in your flowers. Or create a more muted design with pale pastels. 

If you are considering outdoor lighting, hire a lighting professional and not, say, a landscaper or irrigation company, urges Axel, who recommends Gary Novasel at Patio Light. 

In lieu of lighting, use beautifully designed copper torches and lanterns or glass and metal hurricane lamps; Axel likes the ones from Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel. Using citronella candles will help keep mosquitos away. And check out battery-powered LED lighting instead of traditional candles. They’re like little light bulbs and very attractive on the table, says Axel.

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If you have access to electricity outside, place fairy lights under your outdoor table umbrella for a charming effect while dining at night. And where you can see your plants at night, introduce white or light-colored flowers like white begonias or white osteospermum—they glow in the dark!

Hang a hammock—ideally between two trees. If you only have one appropriate tree, attach the other side to a six-foot capped fence post anchored in a cement base—or skip the cap and top the post with a birdhouse. If one of a pair of trees from which you’ve hung a hammock dies, take it down to about six feet and top the stump with a planter.

Create resting spots or little niches within your garden. Place two chairs and a small table or a bench under a big old tree where it’s shadier. The groupings act as lovely sculptural elements, says Axel. Outdoor sculpture is something else to think about. But, please, she says, no gnomes!  

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