Landscaping Around the Patio
The patio is an area where family members gather with each other, with friends, or by themselves after a long day at work. The patio or porch should be as restful and serene as possible. There are several elements that contribute to patio landscaping conducive to relaxing enjoyment:
• Plant selection
Each of these components works together to provide a comfortable place to unwind. Because the overall “landscape” includes all elements contained within, and patios are generally small spaces, each element must work with the other.
Photo courtesy of Clean Air Gardening.
There are an almost infinite number of possibilities for patio furniture. You can buy it at hardware stores, from high-end garden centers, and at big-box retailers that sell everything. You can spend as little as $150 for a set of four chairs and a table, or thousands of dollars on a teak or cast-aluminum set. Regardless of your budget, patio furniture should have the following characteristics:
• Easy to clean: removable slipcovers, can be cleaned with a scrub brush and a hose.
• Easy to re-finish: can be painted or re-covered with minimal effort.
• Comfortable: this practically goes without saying, but some people buy furniture without ever sitting in it first! You want the cushions to be comfortable, the chair backs to be angled just so, and all of the furniture pieces to encourage lingering and sitting.
• Matches your landscape and architectural style: If your house has a contemporary feel, you don’t want to buy country-style, pine furniture with lots of scroll-work and flourishes. The patio should be an extension of your house, not an afterthought.
A patio is not a patio without some kind of paving surface. The surface could be brick, paving stones, concrete, or a combination of the three. If you are building a new patio, the planning phase is a good time to think about how you will maintain the patio and how much work you are willing to do. Bricks are great pavers, but weeds will grow through the cracks. Concrete is much less personal, though you can get stamped concrete that looks like bricks and other surfaces. It is a little bit more expensive. Pavers with sand or gravel in between are pretty, especially if you plant the spaces between the pavers or stones with creeping thyme or other fragrant, low-growing plants that stand up well to foot traffic. Select a paving material that you can easily care for, and that matches the aesthetics of the house. Again, do not pair brick pavers with a stone house, unless you include some stone details in and around the patio.
Though plant selection is just one part of the patio landscape, it can play a large role in determining whether your patio is a comfortable place to relax or a slightly depressing collection of half-price, half-dead shrubs stuck in the ground as an afterthought bought on sale at the grocery store. A little bit of planning goes a long way.
Plants around the patio should accomplish the following:
• Provide privacy where needed
• Allow for viewing children’s play areas in the yard, if needed
• Create shade, if the patio is in the sun
• Showcase beauty and color
• Establish a calm environment
Like the pavers and the furniture, plant selection should take a cue from the building and surrounding garden. You can decide if you want to continue the overall look, or contrast with it.
Here are some examples of plant selection:
This combination grows outside of the Milking Parlor at Trader’s Point Creamery near Indianapolis, Indiana. The Parlor is in a restored barn painted gray:
The green complements the building, and adds interest, without taking away from it.
The picture, above, shows an ornamental grass with a bluish tinge next to a brick-red wall. This plant/building combination is built on contrast. Both are equally successful.
In addition to coordinating the plant colors and textures with the building, paving materials and furniture, plants used around a patio must contribute to the overall feeling of activities for which the patio is used.
• If children play in the yard, parents might want to include low-growing plants and containers so that they can still see the children.
• If the patio is used as a private reading or dining nook, screening plants such as clumping bamboo, evergreen shrubs, and small trees like serviceberries will be used.
• Unless family members have allergies to fragrance plants, scented plants are a nice touch. Lilies, heirloom roses, phlox, sweetshrub, and Korean spice viburnum are all good scent-plants for the patio.
• Poisonous plants should be avoided whenever possible. Never plant oleander, yew, monkshood, snakeroot, castor bean, daphne, or sago palm around the patio. They are highly poisonous and also attractive to children, in particular.
• Leave room in the patio landscape for pops of color. Petunias in the summer, mums in the fall, pansies and kale in the winter, and sweet William in the spring will add a bit of interest and change to the patio.
• Plant kitchen herbs and patio vegetables like cherry tomatoes and miniature eggplants near the patio to make them easy to pick before dinner.
• Mixed borders make great patio plantings, as well, because their sense of symmetry provides a calming effect.
If you plan to use your patio in the evening, soothing lighting makes a big difference in your enjoyment. Try to direct lights away from the center of the patio. Uplight plants, or shine light against the pavers or wall nearest the patio. You can install taller spotlights that point down and are focused near furniture—tables or chaise lounges—for people who want to read.
Photo courtesy of Clean Air Gardening.
Bird baths, bird feeders, gazing balls, fountains and other accessories can add to the ambience of the patio, as long as they are not too numerous to induce a feeling of claustrophobia.
Landscaping the patio is a fun part of landscaping the back yard. Choose plants, lighting, furniture and accessories wisely, and you will enjoy your patio for years to come.
Katie Elzer-Peters is a freelance writer living in Wilmington, NC. Her writing and PR business, The Garden of Words, L.L.C. serves clients all over the world. In her free time, Katie bicycles, surfs, reads books, and, of course, gardens.