Now that we have room to plant and grow, the hubby and I have starting a garden at the top of our Spring list. The in-laws’ are also interested in gardening, so last weekend, the mother-in-law and I drove down to Petals from the Past for a seminar on “Creating an Outdoor Room.”
It was my first trip to the nursery, and I loved it. Everything was well labeled and easy to find. They had a huge selection of fruit trees and a lot of plants that I had no idea could grow in Alabama. The instructor, Tracy Britnell, did a great job explaining how to build an outdoor room from the ground up.
For someone who knows a lot about what she likes, but nothing about how to break it down and pull it all together, this seminar was very helpful. I hope you find it useful as well!
The list of criteria to consider before starting the project is this:
- Purpose – Do you want a secret garden type retreat or an outdoor kitchen? A pool or a swing? Do you want it to be informal or formal?
- Location – Choose a location based on the following criteria:
- Accessibility – How will you get to the room? Will it be connected to the house? If you want an informal lounge, a meandering, curving pathway is best. If you want something more formal, choose a straight path.
- Elements: sun/shade/wind exposure – If you want an outdoor kitchen with pots of herbs and vegetables, you’ll need a lot of sun.
- Utilities – In most locations, you can get lines marked by
- Privacy and noise control – If you want a serene retreat, placing the garden by a road or street isn’t the best plan. If you want a community garden where neighbors are welcome, something closer to the road would be best.
- Mature growth of plants – Don’t plant a maple tree under a power line unless you want the middle cut out by the power company.
- Style – Choose the style of your outdoor room based on the following criteria:
- Existing architectural details – If your house is a cottage, a sleek modern room and garden won’t match. Keep styles similar in nature.
- Visually link indoor/outdoor locations – Repeat a pattern used inside. Duplicate a color, or style of furniture outdoors. Use similar accents
- Colors – Warm colors like red make a space feel smaller. Cool colors like blue and lavender make a space feel larger.
Once you decide all of the above, you can start breaking down the elements of your outdoor room:
- Pathways – The journey is just as important as the destination. Keep the pathway clear of thorny plants or big branches. Use materials like flagstones with creeping thyme planted in between. Get creative with accessories and incorporate fragrant herbs and blooms.
- Walls – These serve as the bones of the room, defining the size and creating privacy. Walls can be made of natural (bushes and trees) or man made materials (fences, brick, cement or lattice). They can be high for privacy or low for definition with out blocking the view. Low walls can also provide additional seating.
- Ceiling – This defines the upper limit of the room, creating intimacy. They can be made of a canopy, pergola, or tree canopy. Use beams, wrought iron or branches. There are limitless possibilities.
- Entrance – This creates a focal point and can be a gate, gap in hedges, arbor, steps, or anything else that creates a three sided entrance to the room.
- Floor – Flooring divides rooms inside a big outdoor area. Use grass for a game area, pea gravel for an eating area and elevated wood planks for a lounging area. Make sure the flooring is stable for chairs and tables, won’t be slippery when wet and is safe to walk on (no rough wood, etc.). Can be made out of grass, brick, stone, dirt, gravel, etc.
- Stairways – Use a natural slope to create a sunken or raised garden.
- Plant Materials – Start by getting a soil test and replacing missing nutrients. Match plants to the location (don’t choose a tree that sheds copiously in autumn by a pool). Incorporate fragrance. Use heirloom plants from a family garden. Make sure to use a blend of plants that bloom during different seasons. Pot plants that need to be moved inside during frost warnings. Add edible elements, like herbs and fruit. If the garden will be used at night, introduce night blooming plants. Use layers, which will make the garden look more natural.
- Furniture – Avoid using plastic chairs, they look cheap. Choose classic styles and shapes, leaving the seasonal changes for accessories like pillows and such. If your goal is a place to relax at the end of the day, provide shade and a great lounge. Your furniture will define the purpose of the space, so choose appropriately.
- Accessories - Let your style shine here using wind chimes to water fountains, pillows to pots. Hang art on the walls. Make sure each piece is durable, water proof and easy to clean.
- Lighting – This will really set off your room. Light your pathways well, preventing tripping at night. Use focused direct lighting for ares that need it, like outdoor kitchens and grilling areas. Use soft diffused lighting everywhere else. Use a combination of spot, up, down, twinkle, silhouette and shadow lighting.
- Inside Out by Daniela Santos Quartino
- The Outdoor Living Room: Stylish Ideas for Porches, Patios, and Pools by Martha Baker
- Outdoor Rooms: Fresh-Air Kitchens and Living Areas by Melissa Cardona
- HGTV: Outdoors
- Outdoor Rooms by Better Homes and Gardens (special publication)
[Images: via My Home Ideas]