As much fun as it can be to work in the garden, we’re ultimately working to make it an enjoyable place to use. How do you use your landscape now? How do you want to use it? Try thinking of your landscape as an extension of the home and you may quickly identify it as your outdoor “kitchen” or outdoor “living room” or even outdoor “foyer”.
All of these rooms have a few things in common: walls, windows, a ceiling, and a floor. If you look at those elements and begin to identify their equivalents in the landscape, the result will be a well thought-out, comfortable space. Accents like outdoor furniture and art will quickly make this your new favorite room!
Walls, or lack of, should be a deliberate decision. The most common reason to add “walls” to an outdoor room is usually for privacy. However, a wall may help break up a huge space or just give it some definition. A wall, or a part of a wall can also help block sound from a road, noisy neighbors, or other noises that may inhibit you from enjoying your garden.
Walls may be made from a variety of materials, either newly installed or borrowed. You may pull from an existing wall of the house or a garden shed to define one or more walls of the room. For another solid wall, fences are a quick and effective way to screen up to approximately eight feet.
Of course, plants can make beautiful, natural walls. If you’re installing a plant wall from scratch, plants will likely be small, so you may need to wait a few years before you get the coverage you want. Some evergreen shrubs can start at a nice size (anywhere from 4 to 10 feet), but consider using something different than the standard row of Arborvitae. Mix evergreens with deciduous shrubs, understory trees, and even canopy trees if you want higher coverage. The result will provide seasons of interest and add to the garden-feel of your outdoor room.
Finally, you don’t need walls on every side of your outdoor room, but make the walls you don’t build intentional, which brings me to my next point…
It may sound strange to incorporate “windows” outside, but the windows I mean are really just framed views. If you’re fortunate to be on a property with beautiful vistas, the vistas can actually get overlooked if your eye isn’t directed there. The same goes for a specimen plant, you want to draw people’s attention to those beautiful views.
Views are framed in a number of ways. Trees can be strategically placed or removed to direct the eye between them. People often think that you need to take down all trees to get the view you want, but it usually helps to leave a few to get the best picture. Arbors and gates can help frame views as well as invite the viewer to step into picture. Depending on the style of architecture, columns or planters can also help frame views.
Usually when you’re outside, you’re there because you don’t want a roof over you. But on those hot days, it can be nice to have some shade. Pergolas add a beautiful architectural element as well as provide shade. They can be stained wood or painted to match the style of your home. Add a climbing vine to make your outdoor “roof” feel even cooler.
Shade from canopy trees can also be a welcome roof. If you’re in the early stages of planning your outdoor room, consider utilizing shade from nearby trees- you’ll be grateful you did come August!
Then there’s the reason people buy convertibles- it’s nice to look up and see the sky and feel the sun on your skin. If you’re more a convertible type of person, you may choose not to address your outdoor room’s roof at all.
As with the interior of your home, the exterior floor options are endless. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks. As with any paver/hardscaping type floor, it is comfortable to walk on, it doesn’t need to be mowed, and it comes in infinite color and texture options. From dyed concrete pavers to natural stone, brick to pea gravel, consider the types of activities you’ll be doing in your outdoor room and that will help with the material selection (budget will likely affect it too). Travertine pavers are a wonderful option for bare feet since they don’t hold too much heat, but the price tag to buy and install travertine pavers can get quite hefty. And remember, hardscaping is impervious, so you’ll need to address the stormwater running off of these surfaces in the nearby landscape.
Herbaceous groundcovers may also be appropriate for your outdoor room. Lawn is the most common herbaceous groundcover because it is so versatile, but it can also be boring and unimaginative. Consider using hardy perennials like Creeping Lilyturf (Liriope spicata) or certain Sedges that can also withstand foot traffic. I love using herbs like Creeping Thyme in areas with light foot traffic because they send up intoxicating fragrances when they’re stepped on.
Garden beds and planted areas can also be considered floors in your outdoor rooms; they will just need a path through them to make the space inviting.
Furniture in your outdoor room has only one mandate- it must be weatherproof. But other than that, it can be as custom as you like it. If you’ve installed an outdoor kitchen, equipped with grill, stove, and bar, it makes sense to use higher end furnishings like stools, tables, and umbrellas. However, if your outdoor room is a peaceful escape away from day-to-day life, you might only need a log, a boulder, or couple of Adirondack chairs for seating.
Outdoor rugs can help complete the look in more formal spaces and give your outdoor room a true “room” feel.
As with all rooms, they need those special elements that make them personal and interesting. Just as indoor spaces are set off by exquisite artwork, gardens can become inspired with sculpture. Functional sculpture is always great- add a birdbath for your own “performance art” installation. Handmade sculptures from friends or kids add a personal touch to the garden. Or you may find it worthwhile to invest in a large sculpture by a professional artist. Even a twisted branch or a found object can work as art in a garden. Just remember, all spaces benefit from a focal point which adds interest and ties the space together.
The suggestions here are just the beginning; there are options to fit every style, taste, and budget. Start with imagining the type of room you’re trying to create, and then build from there. The designers at GreenWeaver are always available for help too. Before you know it, you may just be spending time in your new favorite room!