AUGUST is the month that really pays dividends for gardens with great outdoor living spaces.
Relaxing at home in the sun on an outdoor patio or deck, or under the shade of a big tree is one of the great rewards of building outdoor living spaces in the garden.
Every garden should have at least one outdoor living space that provides some sense of sanctuary and a place to recharge.
I am often asked where outdoor living spaces should be built in a garden. Beyond lifestyle and budget issues, natural features in the garden, such as rock outcrops, sunken areas and shade trees, should be evaluated to see if they can create a sense of place and form the genesis of location selection for outdoor living spaces.
As an example of how to choose a location for an outdoor living space using existing natural features in the garden, let's look at a friend of mine who has an average-sized residential lot. His yard has several mature trees and large hedges, some lawn, a small patio off the house and a sunken area in the middle of the lawn that is about 1.3 metres lower than the rest of the backyard. His backyard actually slopes toward the neighbour's property behind his yard. The sunken area is partly sloped but it is lower than the rest of the yard. For some time he has been asking me to come over and look at his yard with the goal of bringing in topsoil to fill up as he calls it: "The sloped hole of hell." After some discussion about costs of bringing in fill to level out the yard, I suggested that he make a grotto-like outdoor living space for his family to enjoy. After some discussion, lunch and wine, the family
agreed to design a grotto-like patio space. We are still working on the design at this time but so far there are stairs leading to a sunken stone patio, wrap-around planting beds, built-in storage boxes, a fire pit that doubles as a barbecue and night lighting. This is just one example of how natural features can be used to create outdoor living spaces.
When it comes to trees in the yard most people prefer sun, so patios located under trees are usually not popular. However, for some people patios located under trees offer a change of space that suits their desire and lifestyle. This use of existing trees works particularly well if the trees are large, old, majestic in some way or otherwise of nostalgic value to the owner.
A case in point: One of my acquaintances has a home that is full sun everywhere, and is baking hot with full southwest exposure, except for the back portion of the yard, which is stuffed with seven large cedar trees.
The cedar grove is considered a "no man's land" by the owner because of the shade and poor growing conditions for most plants except cedar trees. After some discussion, I suggested that she build a mini-sanctuary, a home away from home, using the cedar grove as the anchor feature.
The space is simple, consisting of a small bistro-sized patio built for three people that was constructed using old bricks from the house's demolished chimney. The re-use of the chimney bricks helped save money for waste disposal and saved on the cost of purchasing new bricks for the patio.
The new space is partially shaded with an octagon-shaped patio that offers her a change of perspective and a new vantage point to view her home. The cedar grove patio also acts as a home-away-from-home outdoor living space.
Not every existing natural feature can be used to create outdoor living spaces. Some features are simply not usable for lifestyle reasons or they are simply not desirable.
On a recent project I removed an old planting bed that was mounded up two metres above the surrounding flat lawn area. Only after the leaning shrubs and overgrown perennials were removed did we realize why the planting bed was mounded up so high. There was a 1.7-metre diameter rock in the middle of the old planting bed.
It would have been easy enough to get rid of with an excavator and dump truck but costly. So we decided to level out the area, reduce the planting bed size to allow for more lawn for the kids to play on, and the big rock was planted partially buried in the middle of the newly designed planting bed.
It's not for everyone, but for this owner it was costeffective and the kids now regularly climb and play on the big rock, much to their mom's dismay.
Todd Major is a journeyman horticulturist, garden designer, consultant and organic advocate. For advice contact him at email@example.com.