Designing Period Gardens for Older Homes

Celebrate the Architecture of Your Home with Landscaping Reflective of the Decade—4 Tips for Creating Period Gardens from Our Austin Interior Designers

Casa-del-Herrero-Garden

The concept of the residential garden for the average American family became popular during the Victorian Era almost 200 years ago. Today, gardens and landscaping remain an integrated home feature, enhancing curb appeal and indoor-outdoor connections. What I find that many homeowners don’t realize, however, is that garden and landscaping trends evolve through the decades. For example, many people associate the 1920s with the Art Deco style and know it included elements like metallics, geometric forms, and interesting proportions. What they don’t know is that landscaping trends favored ornate front yards with textured holly trees, poppies, and boxwood shrubs. In the 1950s, landscapes shifted from lush gardens, and it was all about who had the greenest lawn. In the early 2000s, Meditteranean-themed gardens with lush palm trees were trendy. Just as the interior design plan should nod to the period architecture of the home, the landscaping should include popular plantings and materials of the decade.

As our Austin interior design team renovates our new 1920s studio space, we decided it would be beneficial to dive into a study of period gardens and share how we matched the landscape with the architecture and interior. In this blog, I will review our own landscape design case study for our Austin interior design studio and share four tips I learned along the way for designing period gardens for older homes.

Case Study: Creating a Period Landscaping Plan for the Amity Worrel & Co. Interior Design Studio in Austin, TX

The Amity Worrel & Co. interior design team recently moved into a new studio space in Austin, Texas. We found the perfect building, which was built over 100 years ago. Our interior design team jumped at the chance to add our personal spin to this period renovation project. Of course, first impressions start with the exterior and the garden.

Deciding on a Decade

Our new studio was originally built in 1901 and underwent additions in 1922. I decided to lean into early 1920s design for the interior style, adding custom vintage light fixtures, period colors, and painted pine floors. On the exterior, our design team selected scalloped striped awnings that added the 20s feel to the facade. When it came to the garden, our inspiration was clear. We decided to continue the theme of the 20s in the plantings, hardscape, and garden accessories. When we renovate period homes, our Austin interior designers embrace the original architecture and create a transportive feel with an established sense of time and place. The front garden is the first step of the journey.

Seeking Inspiration from 1920s Period Gardens

Once we decided to embrace 1920s landscaping trends, it was time to start researching period gardens of the decade. When I think of the 1920s, California bungalows come to mind. I knew I wanted to incorporate the feeling of these homes, which featured beautiful stonework and lush tropical-themed gardens. I partnered with my landscape architect, and we landed on a specific time and place to draw inspiration—1920s La Jolla, CA. At the time, the area was experiencing a boom in Spanish Revival architecture. It was popular for La Jolla gardens to include palm trees, highly textured plantings, and lush foliage, which feel exotic compared to our modern landscaping trends.

Creating a Sense of Time in Place Through Landscaping

Just like interiors, gardens need to establish a sense of time and place through their design and honor existing architectural elements of the home. For our Austin interior design studio, the original cottage was set in the middle of a pecan orchard outside city limits before development encroached. The structure is grounded in humble authenticity. At the same time, the 1920s brought the end of World War I and welcomed a new feeling of hope and celebration of glamour. Over-the-top style and lush gardens were all the rage. I wanted to honor both the home’s original roots and inject the spirit of the decade into the landscape design.

Like Furnishings and Color Palettes, Plants Trend Throughout the Decades

To welcome the energy of the 1920s to the garden, my landscape architect and I worked to curate a selection of highly textured and lush plants that were popular in the decade. Just like furnishings and paint colors, plants go through trends. When browsing through options like Queen palms, Italian cypress, boxwood hedges, camellias, and gardenias, all once popular in the La Jolla gardens of the 20s, I was immediately transported to a different time. It is easy to see that the texture and color of these plantings are not at all current.

As of now, our garden is still in progress. We cannot wait to enjoy a Bee’s Knees on the patio admiring the swaying palms and blooming snapdragons. 

4 Tips for Designing Period Gardens for Older Homes

Hopefully, reading the case study of our Austin interior design studio’s period garden provides an excellent example to follow when planning your own garden design. If you own a period property, there are many complementing garden designs for older houses to consider. For example, you could plant a 1920s Spanish Revival garden like us or opt for something like a Federal, Queen Anne, Arts & Crafts, or Mid-century Modern landscaping plan. Here are the four tips our Austin interior design team learned while designing our period landscape.

1. Take Time to Learn About Your Home

Before you can design a period garden, you need to take time to learn about the history of your home. Find out the year it was built, who built it, and the design style. This information will serve as the basis of your period landscape plan.

2. Research Landscape Styles of the Decade

Next, research the landscape style associated with the decade of your home. Indoor-outdoor living has been prevalent throughout history, and popular trends and even world events influenced the design of gardens. For example, mid-century landscape plans valued lush green lawns and minimal plantings, providing an open space for backyard BBQs in line with the rise of suburbia.

3. Establish a Time and Place with Trending Plantings and Materials of the Decade

When planning your home landscaping, lean into the architecture and period of the home. If you can, do something different than what is expected. Distinct moods and a sense of time can be created with plantings like palms, willows, and ivy. Hardscape materials like iron fencing, brick pavers, or painted tilework can add unexpected charm and define the outdoor living space.

4. Unite the Interior, Exterior, and Garden

One of the most important lessons our Austin interior design team learned was that the home’s interior, exterior, and garden must be united. To establish indoor-outdoor connections and flow, carry color palettes, motifs, and materials from the inside to the outside. One way to do this would be to take interior colors and apply them to exterior patio furnishings.

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Amity Worrel

Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.