Cozy outdoor hangouts for you and the birds
Story and Photos by Norman Winter
Cozy outdoor rooms, have become goal number one as the commuting, stress weary executives and entrepreneurial skippers simply want to land in their nest and feel embraced by comfort. The term “nesting” has been embraced by the landscape industry as they strive to help homeowners achieve their outdoor dreams.
If the budget allows it, a landscape designer and contractor may just what you need. If your project will be DIY, have no fear.
Outdoor rooms are often created over a period of years and the journey will be an experience the entire family will enjoy and remember for a lifetime.
Keep your home’s architectural style in mind when creating an outdoor room – ideally, outdoor spaces should accentuate the indoor spaces. Notice the plural form, you may have the space and the need for more than one outdoor room.
It seems that many homeowners planning outdoor rooms are inspired by (or faced with) three situations. One is the need to improve a landscape someone else started. Usually this is the easiest, that being said, I know full well that sometimes what we inherit comes with huge issues.
The other two are “blank slates” – either wooded lots or acreage, which to me is the most enjoyable. Here we can allow nature to ultimately guide us by virtue of native trees, shrubs, animal trails, streams and if lucky, changes in elevation. Then there is the dreaded blank slate, where everything was bulldozed and, more than likely, a fence was installed, leaving a landscape somewhat reminiscent of a miniature Fort Apache. In this case, you think your first consideration should be where to put the cannons.
The scorched earth, bulldozed scenario dictates beginning by adding a porch, patio, or deck as your first outdoor room, followed by planting trees and shrubs for screening. You might think screens are only for large areas, or those with no fence, but this is not the case. Living screens can make small backyards feel more natural and private.
Before you begin any actual work, jot down a few ideas about how the space will be used and all of its applications. As you contemplate, you may realize that you want more than one “room” – perhaps one that is sunny and colorful, another with cool shade, and/ or even a space where there is fire, food, and maybe even water.
The size of your landscape will dictate how many rooms you can realistically have. The current trend in interior design is the “open concept,” with kitchen, living, and dining spaces all within view. In the landscape, vistas are welcomed, but the secret gardens and private spaces are those that are most often treasured. If your space is small, then a courtyard garden, like those of New Orleans or Savannah, may be just what is needed.
As you develop your outdoor rooms, consider using the “conceal and reveal” approach versus the indoor open concept. The purpose of conceal and reveal is to create a garden of participation. The entire garden can’t be seen from any one point, so walking out the backdoor from your first outdoor room, which is the porch, patio, or deck, you initially see only one portion of the yard. The remaining landscape is a mystery; your paradise is hidden, as is the chicken coop garden or a special reading area concealed by climbing roses.
Once out in the garden, you can catch glimpses, like looking through a window, there appears to be a place of rest and relaxation just down the path, around the corner. You have become an active participant, strolling down the pathway. In the new room or location, the patio, or where you started, is no long visible. Where the garden concludes is up to you.
Garden rooms can include fragrance, enticing you to stoop down to catch some exotic aroma. Around evergreen shrubs might be a water garden, a bench, statuary, or even an herb garden; all features that beckon one to sit and relax, touch or smell, or just visit with family or friends. If space allows, you may incorporate a gazebo or tropical-looking palapa, for an island feel. That is great thing about outdoor rooms – they can be whatever you want.
Planting time is now in full swing, making now a good time to look at your landscape and ask if it conceals and reveals outdoor gardens or rooms. Has it become a garden of participation? Making it into one can be easier than you think.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly, take it in stages. Outdoor rooms are often created over a period of years and the journey will be an experience the entire family will enjoy and remember for a lifetime.