Enjoy Nature in your Home Outside


I'm more of a library-goer than a book-buyer and it's a rare gardening book that I'd buy, but 30 bucks for this hunk of inspiration and design how-to seems like a bargain to me.  That's because Julie Moir Messervy is a top residential designer with 30 years experience and seems to have gotten it right – and by "right" I mean transforming people's empty yards into what she calls "pleasure grounds".

See, even more exciting to me than getting folks to lay off the Miracle-Gro is helping them enjoy being outdoors, inspiring them to stroll their garden every day and connect with nature.  Julie's all about that, and makes this too-true observation:

"There's little that's pleasurable about the typical American yard….Why do we spend the bulk of our resources on the inside of our house, while settling for so little on the outside?" 

She touts old-fashioned pleasures like backyard swings and chaise longues and benches (which she insists have comfortable backs, unlike those utterly backless ones that HGTV designers regularly install).  Oh, and market umbrellas (which I'm forever recommending as a low-cost shade solution – from this source.)

Julie even suggests finding a nice spot – like inside an arbor – for a "tryst".  That's because with pleasure grounds, you never know.

Then there's Julie's personal style, which is all about the plants, and pleasing the eye. "No matter what kind of garden I'm designing, my perpetual quest is to find the beautiful line."  So the book is filled with stunning photos of gardens we can actually emulate.  As a design tutorial it's opened my eyes to possibilities way beyond my standard "mixed borders surrounding open space" mentality that's served me well but gee, there are so many other good choices.  Like creating a few "comfort zones" with paths connecting them.  The photos in the "Making the Most of your Front Yard" section are positively revelatory.

It's this kind of wise instruction+visual feast that's missing on gardening websites, including my own, which may be why gardening books can still compete with the Internet.

Thanks to the American Horticultural Society for turning me on to Julie's style and this awesome book by featuring them in a free-to-members webinar.  Home Outside was published by The Taunton Press in 2009.  Lower photo by Randy O'Rourke. 


  1. I just ordered the book. Something to get me through the Northern MN spring…garden is still asleep.

  2. This book is useful and beautiful. We were lucky enough to have Julie come and speak to the Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners Spring Symposium on the first day of spring. What an inspiring way to celebrate the start of the season.

  3. I’m so glad that you gave this book a good review and appreciated the educational and inspirational content inside of it.
    I’m always wary about coming to this blog and finding yet another dismissive rant about designing out door rooms and spaces.

    Julie M. Mersservy is one of the finest garden designers and garden writers practicing today whose work exemplifies fine garden design craftsmanship.
    Her gardens capture both the spirit of the site and the personality of the person(s) who will live in the garden.

  4. Michelle, I’m a BIG cheerleader for design – good-design – and just wish we had more of it, and more homeowners spending even a fraction of what they pay decorating indoors on creating living space outdoors.

  5. I love the look of the shed or hideaway on the book’s cover. Working with a (much) smaller budget, I take yards of brightly colored calico or batik and drape them to create a cozy gypsy camp of multi-hued shade each summer in the backyard. Kids of all ages love it.

  6. Pictures, JT? Sounds like a great idea — I used to do something similar when we lived in a tropical climate but I haven’t done it here.

    The book looks lovely — I have it on reserve at the library, and may buy it.

  7. Looks beautiful. It could be inspiring for the tiny courtyards we have here in New Orleans. For shade here, though, palmettos are really cheap and beautiful -my three extend fifteen feet from their group of trunks, with room for chairs underneath.

  8. Love her design attitude! Creating special places to sip a wine, enjoy a view, ETC. is the perfect reason for creating single-file paths!

    We are very pleased with the market umbrella we got last summer from your source, Susan.

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