Five Basics of Scandinavian Landscape Design

There is something intriguing about an outdoor style that is so celebrated when it can only be enjoyed a couple months out of the year.  The region of Scandinavia refers to the kingdoms of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, situated in Northern Europe, with parts extending into the Arctic Circle.  In other words, it’s cold.  So, while the geography and topography are varied, its landscapes are designed to a few overarching concepts:

  • Winter lasts a long time—a really long time—so when the little bit of warm weather does arrive in summer, time outdoors is precious and to be enjoyed.
  • Not as many plants are hardy here. They must be carefully selected and often are few in number.

Outdoor environments must make room for non-living landscape elements that can literally weather the conditions.

These guidelines, while seemingly strict, result in a landscape style that is unique and desirable all over the world. But, how can a southern Californian achieve the look of a classic Scandinavian garden when it is the direct result of a frigid climate? Several design principles can make the look possible in an outdoor space at any latitude:

1. Minimalism.  Small, compact plants with lots of “white space” in between will reflect the simplicity and openness that are classic to the look.

2.  The ground plane in between plants becomes just as important as the plants themselves.  Simple and flat but ever changing is the way to go.  Large, square pavers set upon a bed of pea gravel contrast gracefully with interest and impact.  Mulched beds surrounded by small and tidy lawns or hedges are well-framed and draw the eye inward.

3. Strong lines.  Scandinavian gardens, in their most revered forms, are generally geometric and linear.  Beds and lawns are squared off, while pavers or stepping stones are set in straight lines along strong axes.  Many gardens are not without striping on some man-made element such as decking or adjacent walls.



When it comes to creating a landscape, homeowners generally fall into two categories:  those who itch to start putting plants into the ground themselves and those who recognize a need to hire out the work. Just as it wouldn’t be wise to  …

4. Warm materials.  Focal points, furnishings, and conversational pieces should be inviting and suggest warmth.  Timbers and wood, darker mulch, and heavy fabrics offset effectively against the cooler stones and paving materials that are reminiscent of the region.

5. Seasonal use.  It can get cold in Southern California, too, and so the idea of a fire pit or fireplace are not unheard of here.  Incorporate a fire element with seating around it to suggest the cooler temperatures of Nordic reaches.

While Southern California may lack the cold hardy plants of the Scandinavian region, it’s fairly easy to replicate the austere yet comfortable look of its gardens.  Even better, these gardens can be large but fit in smaller spaces as well, making the style a possibility for homes of all sizes.

The next step is creating a vision.  A seasoned landscape professional can help develop that vision and bring it to reality.