Architectural Gardening -
 Adding a Room Outdoors

Kay Hinkle
Adams County Master Gardener

Autumn is my favorite time of year, when a crisp breeze replaces summer's heavy humidity and the sun's rays warm your face without burning your nose. If you, too, treasure autumn days you may want to think about the possibility of expanding your living space by adding a room in your back yard.

Architectural gardening is a buzzword for taking the inside out. To quote a local nurseryman, "Decks and lawns are becoming the family's den without walls." Of course, the landscape changes that you make and the lawn ornaments that you accumulate can be enjoyed throughout the year. Your temporary room can evolve throughout the summer months and by season's end, you will never look at your backyard in the same way again.

As you plan the landscape for this new addition to your home, you may want to use a planting of shrubs to create the effect of a wall. A wooded backdrop can provide a natural wall as well. Then again, you may wish to forego the walls, an option that you don't have when decorating indoors!

Think about gathering potted plants from around the garden to create a living screen. Experiment with tall ornamental grasses and flowering plants in the same or adjacent pots. The result will be privacy, shelter from wind and beautiful blooms and foliage around you.

And how about this little trick - in designing your exterior decor, you can plant your accessories. If you want some color here or there, just plant it and watch it grow. Enhance the natural elements of your garden to provide a focal point. For example, use a natural outcropping of rocks as a pedestal for a sculpture or garden statue. A tree stump may serve as an endtable, or better yet, short logs that stand on end can be positioned at will to serve the same purpose.

Since a favorite pastime for most of us is eating, it really makes sense to utilize your new outdoor living space as a place to dine. Whether planning a weekend house party or a romantic dinner for two, consider making your new room portable so that you always have a room with a view. Depending on which part of your backyard is looking best and which shrubs and flowers are in bloom, you can relocate your dining area to take advantage of the landscape.

Plastic and paper plates are lightweight and make cleanup a breeze - then again, they may fly away when a breeze stirs. An outdoor table set with real china is both practical and sophisticated. A pile of flea market finds with a few cracks and chips can be charming for casual outdoor dining.

A hollow door atop a pair of sawhorses makes a table that is inexpensive and portable. Folding chairs are a natural choice to pair with a movable table because they are easy to carry. Picnic tables are heavier to carry but no less portable, of course. Lawn furniture can be positioned for casual dining as well.

While the ideas outlined so far sound good on paper, you say, there is the issue of storing away in bad weather or when the grass needs to be cut? Assembling and dismantling an outdoor room can be easy if you stash pillows, candles, and other necessities in an old trunk or footlocker. Once outside, it can double as a coffee table or a place to prop your feet.

A homemade canopy can help to define your outdoor room. It is practical, too, as it offers shade during the day. White muslin provides a romantic ambience, but one could also try draping floral fabrics to keep breezes at bay. To support this canopy, bamboo poles set in plastic umbrella stands are inexpensive and portable as well.

Water has a calming effect and you can set up a simple water garden in a few minutes. Fill a metal pail with floating candles or low-maintenance aquatic plants such as water lettuce. An obsolete bathtub can become a lily pond or with electricity, a fountain.

Even better, choose a spot for your new room near a fishpond that serves as focal point for the whole room. Fill it with fish that can be trained to feed from one's hand, and you have entertainment, too! The fish pond idea is a bit more expensive and certainly more permanent than portable, but worth the time and money if you are so inclined.

If you want to go all out, think about an old rug for the "floor" as well as a way to light up the night. With an electrical outlet nearby, lighting is easy. With a little ingenuity, you can come up with lanterns that are practical and inexpensive. Use old canning jars with shoulders to make outdoor lanterns. Twist together two lengths of baling wire and coil it around the inside of the jar, then wind around a tree branch. Add votive candles and you have simple, yet quaint, lighting.

Time spent outdoors is one of life's simple pleasures. Start planning now for a new portable living space to be "constructed" when winter melts into spring. There are few mistakes you can make when choosing accessories for your new outdoor room. Make a trip to your local flea markets on cold winter days to bring thoughts of warmer weather as you furnish your backyard room. Next autumn, when fall breezes are still warmed by the fading rays of Indian Summer, you can lounge in a room surrounded by the changing colors of your landscape.

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