By August 1, 2013 Read More →

Strolling Through A Painter’s Garden

Ever wonder what a garden would look like if it were designed with the eye of an artist?  It turns out that the end result is a space that looks like it stepped out from a canvas.

Photographs by: Erin Houghton
Written by: Staff Writer

Southern California – Some artists limit the beauty they create to canvas and clay, but not artist and North Carolina native Erin Houghton.  Her canvas extends to her own backyard.  Instead of traditional watercolors and acrylics, Erin paints with flowers and foliage.  Add in some vintage pieces and colorful whimsical finds, and you have a garden that transports any visitor into a painting come to life.

Erin has transported a chunk of her North Carolina roots to her Southern California garden.  Flowers that few people associate with the California landscape, like Hydrangeas and Delphiniums, seem to thrive in the temperate climate.  Add in a tumbled brick walkway, overstuffed cushions, vintage finds, and a picket fence or two and visitors might as well be strolling along the paths of a Master Gardner’s masterpiece in Raleigh, Tupelo or Nashville.

No garden tour is complete without a friendly and helpful guide.  Bentley, Erin’s resident Studio Assistant, is happy to greet guests.

In order to add color and depth to this small garden, Erin masterfully uses containers and vertical space.  Here, the rungs of a painted wooden ladder are used as shelves for terracotta pots overflowing with yellow and purple Pansies.  The addition of a hand painted wooden sign and a weathered yellow birdhouse provide opportunities to add both charm and extra punches of color to the space.

It’s in the details that Erin’s garden turns from stunning to pure genius.  A lovely wicker chair with elegant flared arms is a beautiful addition to the garden all by itself.  But add two oversized pillows with ruffled trim and bold, colorful prints and you have a sitting area no one will want to leave.  If you’re afraid of rain ruining your pretty cushions, bring them inside during bad weather, or better yet, make them yourself from weather-proof material.  Shop your local fabric store, you’ll be amazed at the range of textures, colors and prints that are available in outdoor friendly fabrics these days.

 Southern Guide to Life ~ Strolling Through a Painter's Garden

This garden proves that our traditional notions of color in a garden are just plain wrong.  Reds, yellows, and oranges blend effortlessly with pinks, blues and whites to form a vibrant and elegant design.

Here a vintage Rocket bicycle is planted with red, white and orange Geraniums and yellow Zinnias.  It’s parked near a white picket fence and matching planter box, overflowing with white Daisies.  Terracotta pots filled with Zinnias and Geraniums decorate the foreground.  Notice that the color saturation of the garden accents repeat the tone of the flowers – the blue of the bicycle mimics the blue of the Delphiniums and the red bird house echoes the tone of the red Zinnias.

Southern Guide to Life ~ Strolling Through a Painter's Garden

The color of old-fashioned Hydrangeas is determined by the level of soil acidity. So how do you get both pink and blue Hydrangeas in the same small stretch of garden border? Plant them in pots!  Here, potted Hydrangeas are mixed with warm yellow sunflowers behind a whimsical edging.

One of the secrets to Erin’s garden is her subtle repetition of colors and elements.  The miniature white picket fence edging of this boarder echoes the full scale picket fencing used elsewhere in the garden.

No true Southern inspired garden is complete without a place to sit, have a cup of tea and enjoy the beauty that you’ve created.  This painted bistro table and chairs fits the bill perfectly.

Whoever said fabrics don’t belong outside? Erin’s masterful use of traditionally interior elements interpreted for the outdoors transform her garden into a destination and extends the square footage of her living space.  Here, an old window frame is repurposed as a reflective window with the addition of a mirror backing and a window box.  Decorative wall mounted plant holders flank the mirror and give the impression of interior windows. The white and blue background elements act almost as a neutral tone, allowing the overflowing white, red and pink Geraniums to pop in contrast.

The tone of blue that can be seen in the Delphiniums and the vintage Rocket bicycle is echoed yet again in the table and chairs. This blue, in a slightly deeper shade, is also used on the window box and the wall mounted plant holders.


Weathered birdhouses in all shapes, sizes and colors make a recurring appearance throughout the garden adding a warm charm to the shape.

Old fashioned terracotta pots are used extensively throughout the garden, allowing the beautiful vivid colors of the flowers to be the main attraction.

With a garden this beautiful and vibrant, Erin has kept her furniture and hardscape elements a crisp clean white. Here, Adirondack style wooden chairs are arranged in a conversational pattern in this outdoor living room complete with side tables, pillows and an area rug.  Just as with advancements in outdoor fabric, weather resistance areas rugs have also come a long way in recent years.  If you don’t want to spend the extra money, select a cheaper rug at a discount store and change it up each year.

The addition of four comfy pillows turns this chair into an afternoon retreat.  The pop of color provided by the striped accent pillow adds great visual interest.  Notice the shade of green used in the other pillow is similar in tone to the green used on the wooden ladder and some of the birdhouses.  A darker tone of this greyed-green color can also be seen on some of the garden signs.

Hand painted signs are a great way to add personality and charm to your indoor space and your garden.  It is also an extra opportunity to add pops of colors without taking up much space.

Alone, rubber garden boots are a simple utilitarian tool. But grouped together with terracotta pots spilling over with colorful Pansies and the scene become a vignette fit for a postcard.

Once again, Erin uses an artist’s eye to reinvent tradition with this colorful and whimsical take on an old-fashioned scarecrow.  Gone are the tattered clothes and straw formed body. In its place is a vintage wire dress form and colorful frock.  A straw garden hat and red rubber boots top off this perfect assemble.  Instead of scaring off birds, this garden guardian welcomes guests into the space.

Notice the repetition of reds and blues, with pops of white, in this garden vignette allowing the eye to flow through the place.  Ever an eye for detail, Erin has ensured the wooden plaque of a little girl in a dress and bonnet is wearing a matching outfit.  Even the gray rabbits from the miniature white picket fence receive a subtle echo in the concrete rabbit statues residing by the patio door.

Herbs and vegetables coexist beautifully with annuals and perennials in a garden.  Their flowers, foliage and fruit provide great visual interest when intermingled into a boarder or sectioned off into their own little garden.  Herbs especially attract pollinators and beneficial insects that will help keep your garden healthy without the need for harsh chemicals.

What purpose is a garden if you can’t enjoy it? Even within her relatively small space, she has ensured that there are enough sitting areas to accommodate herself, Bentley and their guests.  Here, a vintage white daybed is repurposed into a beautiful garden sofa with the addition of red and white pillows and lovely checked shirt.  An abundance of sunflowers surround the area, and provide the feeling of a secluded secret garden space.  The yellow petals pop against the muted reds and whites.

Photographs by: Erin Houghton courtesy of My Painted Garden.

To see more of Erin’s projects visit her blog My Painted Garden and visit the website devoted to her art at

Her art can be seen at:

The Heart of The Island Gallery in  Balboa Island, CA {Telephone: (949) 673-1292} and

Debra’s Cottage at  2777 Bristol Street, Costa Mesa, CA 92626 {Telephone: (714) 662-5828}. 


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