Adding Outdoor Living Spaces
The backyard, front yard, side yard, porch or patio can be more than just a garden to maintain—with a little bit of creative landscaping, these areas can be an extension of the comfort of your home—outdoor rooms.
To create a comfortable outdoor room, define the primary function for the room. Then, look at galleries of online images for inspiration. You can search “outdoor rooms” on Google Images and find lots of gorgeous designs. While you won’t be able to replicate everything you see online, you will get ideas that you can try in your own yard or outdoor room.
Each type of outdoor living space requires different types of plants, utilities and structures. Here are some basics to think about for the most popular outdoor rooms.
Creating an outdoor kitchen is part of landscaping. Each of the elements needed for an outdoor kitchen—lighting, power, fuel, an outdoor range or cooking station, and a flooring surface—are parts of landscaping other areas of the lawn. Here’s what to consider when deciding upon the elements for your outdoor kitchen.
• Do you want to be able to use the cooking year-round, and regardless of weather? If so, you will want a type of cover and ventilation.
• Are you planning to grill and serve directly to an outdoor dining set from your outdoor kitchen?
• Are you going to carry pots, pans and serving dishes in and out each time you use your outdoor kitchen, or do you need secure, dry storage for these outside?
• Do you need a sink, warming oven and/or a refrigerator?
The accessories and equipment that you choose to install will influence landscaping plant choice. You might need to screen a fuel tank with some evergreen shrubs, or have easy access to utility boxes our outlets. The type of fireplace, grill or cooking apparatus will determine, to some extent, what you can plant in the area, because you won’t want plants with much dry debris that will break off and float into the fire.
If you like to cook with fresh herbs, planting an herb garden in a raised bed, patio bed, or in containers near the outdoor kitchen puts herbs within easy reach, for use at their peak of freshness.
Outdoor Dining Room
If you are building a large outdoor kitchen, you will also want an outdoor dining room. Then, you can serve your gourmet burgers and seared salmon directly from the grill. Outdoor dining areas are much more comfortable with an awning, umbrella, or pergola.
There’s a reason that restaurants with outdoor dining have elaborate overhead coverings—it is just more comfortable to eat in the shade. If you want to incorporate a more garden-like feel to the outdoor dining room, cover the eating area with a pergola and grow a non-flowering vine like winter creeper or boston ivy. (Be SURE to check your local list of invasive plants so that you do not plant a vine that will escape and take over the neighborhood, or region. Remember Kudzu?)
Why no flowers? Some vines flower for a short period during the spring or fall and could, potentially be planted over a dining area. Others bloom all season, and where there are flowers, there are insect pollinators. These may or may not bother you. That’s an entirely personal preference.
In addition to outfitting the pergola with “leaves,” you will want to consider more foliage-oriented plants for the landscape surrounding the outdoor dining area. Ornamental grasses, camellias, coleus, heuchera, hosta, and evergreen conifers are good choices for this area, and can provide color without flowers.
Outdoor Living Room
Just like the indoor living room or family room, this room will likely see the most use by the family. It will also be used in a wide variety of ways. An outdoor living room can also incorporate a dining area, or furniture to facilitate easy dining outside by including a dining set, or several small end tables and coffee tables for resting food and drinks. Lighting, paving and comfortable furniture set the stage. Select pieces that appeal to the entire family: swings, lounge chairs with foot-stools and large, comfortable items. This will increase the chance of your outdoor room seeing lots of use. Think about adding a fireplace, fire pit or fire chimney for roasting s’mores and enjoying the outdoor living room on chillier days and nights.
Plants surrounding an outdoor living room should take into consideration the surrounding growing conditions, and contribute to the overall experience. When possible, add plants will a pleasant fragrance, if not right next to the seating area, than close enough for the fragrance to waft over to it. Plant small trees that will cast shade on the seating area, and cool it naturally. Avoid messy plants like magnolias, oaks, and other plants that drop lots of debris, to cut down on the frequency of necessary sweeping and cleaning. To add a pop of color without spending a fortune each year, plant container gardens around the perimeter and near some of the seating. You can inexpensively change the plants in these throughout the year.
Outdoor living areas can closely mimic their indoor counterparts, or have an entirely different feel to them. The sky is, literally, the limit when designing and landscaping these places for family enjoyment. Just remember to select comfortable furniture, and you are halfway to creating a favorite place where the family can relax and unwind.