Ambiance Alfresco

Paul Sangha on the evolution of BC’s backyards

 Paul Sangha
Paul Sangha

 Nature’s music creates a soothing tranquility and adds a hint of shimmer.
Nature’s music creates a soothing tranquility and adds a hint of shimmer.

There’s a wondrous quality to the world’s most exquisite outdoor living spaces, a sense of tranquility experienced only when architecture, design, and Nature’s beauty converge. Time moves more slowly in these private oases. Treading their paths and walkways is as much an exploration of self as of the actual garden. So how are the best ones achieved? We asked a renowned landscape architect, Paul Sangha of Vancouver, to divulge outdoor living trends and his best-kept secrets.

“A hundred years ago, Mother Nature did most of the landscaping,” Sangha says. “But as Vancouver’s passion for outdoor living matured and evolved, something happened. Our West Coast outdoor spaces became extensions of our home, spaces that carry equal importance to the interior rooms. Suddenly, life expands. After all, a house is just one facet of our entire being.”

Today, landscape architects like Sangha often work their transformational magic from the ground up — literally. “A flat site is much harder to landscape than one with a slope or hills because flatness diminishes depth perception. That’s why we frequently create hills to give a sense of individual spaces. Topography should always move you forward through the landscape — you’re always discovering something new rather than fighting the distraction of backtracking to something old.”

Water, he believes, is also integral to timeless landscape architecture. “A reflection pool creates a meditative ambiance and has the wonderful quality of a mirror drawing the sky to the ground.” He does, however, have one caution. “There is a fine line between water sounds that are acoustically pleasurable and ones that are irritating.” His guideline? Avoid flowing water that hits a sheer plane — instead, concentrate on replicating the soothing sounds of a brook babbling over stones.

Sangha is also a fan of incorporating art directly into the landscape — sometimes a single sculpture inspires the entire design. He cites a recent project focused on a Gathie Falk sculpture of a reclining woman’s gown. “The folds of the garden beds echo the folds of the dress. The implied movement of fabric is reflected in the movement of the plants.”

And Sangha sees alfresco culinary trends hitting BC. “An outdoor kitchen with a pizza oven is now something on almost everyone’s list,” he says. “Yes, barbeques have stood the test of time, but a pizza oven is more versatile.”

There’s also a return to the classic vegetable garden but with a contemporary twist — herb gardens and seasonal greens to match homeowners’ increasing fascination with gourmet cooking. “Try filling one planting pot with herbs, one with berries, and another with peppers,” Sangha suggests. “It’s a great way to engage children. It’s fun, colourful, and you can eat everything you grow.” These working plants, which take well to pots or containers, add another, easy-to-change layer of texture and colour.

“Successful landscape architecture never looks like it’s been designed,” Sangha stresses. “It flows effortlessly, creating a place of sanctuary. After that, the limitations of an outdoor space are really just ourselves.” 

aul Sangha: Photo by Milos Tosic; Garden: Photo by Nic Lehoux