Unless you’re a natural green thumb, you probably feel a bit daunted by what to do with your backyard. If you’ve moved into a new housing development, chances are you have a patch of lawn, a tree or two, and a few shrubs. If you just purchased an older home with an established garden, you may be faced with plants you can’t identify, garden spaces that make no sense to you, and landscape materials that don’t fit your style and aesthetics.
What can you do?
Think of your garden as an outdoor room.
That’s right. Your garden should not be treated as leftover space on your property. It should be considered and planned as an extension of your home. This is an easy concept, but one that is often forgotten, and it results in gardens that are a chaotic, mishmash of styles.
Just as you would choose carpet, tile, or wood flooring in your home, your choices are similar when you start working outside in your garden. What flooring material goes with the rest of your house? Let’s say your house has grey siding, white trim, and river stone accents. Which paving choice would complement your home? Would you choose red brick, concrete, or Pennsylvania bluestone? If you’re on a budget, go with the concrete. If you have more to spend, choose the stone.
In the garden, there are many things that can act as walls to your garden space. You might want to build an actual wall. These can be full-height walls, retaining walls, or low seat walls. If you have a retaining wall in your garden, figure out how to incorporate it into a garden room. Use it to your advantage. If you entertain large crowds, low seat walls are a great way to define the edges of a space while providing places for guests to sit.
Plants make great garden walls. Some plants, like Thuja occidentalis “Smaragd,” not only act as privacy screens, but also provide solid walls to an outdoor room. When benches or chairs are placed in front of evergreen trees and shrubs, they provide protection by creating a wall and a feeling of refuge.
What’s your garden ceiling? Maybe it’s the clouds above, but what if you want to make a space feel more intimate? Bring the ceiling height down. You can do this with built structures like pergolas and gazebos, but large shade trees can provide the same effect. Choose your garden ceiling based on how you want the space to feel, how much light you want to let in, and whether or not you need protection from the weather during certain times of the year.
Doors and Windows
Just as each room in your house has a way in which to enter, so will your outdoor room. How do you want that entrance to feel? Should it be open and wide or narrow? Should it have an actual “door”? It can simply be an opening, or you may want to build a gate.
Windows are ways in which to see into and out of the space. This effect can be created again with built structures or by simply varying the heights and spacing of the surrounding shrubs and trees.
If you apply the same thinking in your garden that you do when you are decorating the inside of your home, you will be surprised how easy it becomes to make choices about everything from landscape materials and plants to planter colors and furniture.