Importance Of Your Viewsheds

Ilona Erwin

In a very real way your garden is the connection between you and your surroundings. That has a number of different perspectives, including the house and the greater surroundings, the plantings and the house, and the garden with “borrowed views”, or viewsheds.

Some of us are blessed with dramatic natural viewsheds, whether of mountain or ocean, or forest. Some have viewsheds including churches, or other magnificent architectural focal points, or long stretches of farmfields, or bucolic pastures. Others have views that are not so engaging, and have need of screening from distracting city streets or unwanted buildings.

The Borrowed View

taking in the view

Taking in the view.

While I was introduced to this idea from English garden authors, it is also a Japanese concept called shakkei (which means “borrowed landscape”). While the English interpretation of this idea is the one most of us in the USA would think of using, a landscape view framed by our own plantings, the Japanese might cut a window in a wall to capture a certain scene outside the boundaries. Looking through a window in the garden enclosure much like looking through the window of our home into the gardens surrounding it.

East and West

Both the Oriental and  Occidental views of borrowing the greater surrounding views might be expressed as “symbolizing the harmony between nature and the nurtured garden”. [1]

The Landscape movement, headed primarily by William Kent, Lancelot “Capability” Brown and Humphry Repton brought emphasis to this idea of borrowed landscape into dominance over the immediate surroundings, erasing many of the previous garden ideals where the work of the human hand had held preeminence.

Today, this idea of the importance of the “viewshed” is again coming into more of our conscious design.

More on this topic…

Practice: How to integrate this in your own home landscape

  • First, take notice of the views around you, think about taking communal ownership of these views
  • Like an artist, take some license in what you want the eye to focus upon, plan to use landscaping to “frame” and “screen”
  • You might even use smaller structures to bring the outside into the garden, like the wall openings, or to create your own sense of imagined space and surrounding context by winding a path outside the immediate view.


Looking Toward the House

Another perspective is the one from outside your property, something which Realtors often call “curbside appeal”. The way your property appears from the street has a message, and it is one you see every time you return home. Think of bringing a mix of invitation and boundary to the space between the street and the home. Visually tie your house to its surroundings. Frame the house.

Connecting the Public with the Private

How to connect the yard and the house:

  • Consider your locale and the feeling or style of the neighborhood; the genius loci.
  • Use colors that are harmonious to the color of the house
  • Choose a style that complements the architecture of the buildings
  • Step the heights of landscape plantings

There are no strict rules for this, unless you want to make them in a formal design. The traditional choices can be pleasing, but originality can work just as well. In some places traditional design is the new originality! But our eyes work in specific ways so that they travel over a line given them, and that is what will create flow and harmony between your home and the view from the street. If it is hard to visualize, then take photos to hone your view and thought process of how the property looks from that point of view.


More on connecting house and garden…

Inside Looking Out

This point of view is especially important if you live in a cold climate. Winter cold keeps us indoors and the views from the window are the way we enjoy our gardens in inclement weather.

I think our own pleasure in the views from the house into the garden are every bit as important as the “curb appeal”. There is something in the human soul that hungers for the beauty and interest of the natural world. Views from the window provide a bit of that.

A little part of the garden surrounding a bird bath, or berried shrubs create a hub of bird life. A bee garden helps important pollinators, but also introduces us to friendly observations of buzzing insects. Bright spots of flowers near the house are lovely during the growing season. A tree chosen for its interest through changing seasons often creates a connection between our lives and the natural world.

Appreciate Your View

How to create your views:

  • Don’t obscure windows with overgrown shrubs or trees
  • Use the “borrowed landscape” perspective, give yourself a focal point, if there isn’t one already
  • Bring nature up close
  • Make garden “pictures” with harmonious plantings that create a “scene” when viewed through the window of the house


The whole idea is a rather holistic one. Making our connections with nature and weaving the ones between our living spaces and the outdoors, and then beyond to the wider world and the views of the greater surroundings…. and bringing the focus of our vision back around to our homes.

To give recognition to our place in the world and the importance of the environment to us gives us a sense of harmony, as well as a reminder of our responsibility. It is a simple thing, really, and the design principles are just guiding markers to help us see how to make the connections a little more clearly.


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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.