When someone first says "garden
room" to you, what comes to mind? If youre like me, its an English garden
where hedges surround a patio and often obscure the view. But thats simple American
prejudice talking: a variety of garden rooms readily find their place in our gardens from
coast to coast.
Garden room: an area defined by plants or hardscape separated
from the house and other parts of the garden but connected to it in some way. This last is
most important: if the "room" stands alone, its something else.
The effect of a garden room is dynamic: when a small back yard
includes a secluded nook, the whole place seems larger. To take a large space and plant a
series of rooms brings intimacy to the landscape. Irony or magic, both are true.
Great designs, pictures, and plans can help you create garden
rooms, but they all come down to three basic ideas: the enclosed space, the walls around
it, and the way back to the house. You can begin with any of the three elements, but stay
aware of the view to be concealed or revealed and adjust them to please your eye. Follow
the natural path that flows from your backdoor out to the area where the kids swingset
used to be. Stand there and look back at the house, then lay out a circular flowerbed with
a three foot gap on one side as an entrance. Plant the bed like a border that faces the
inside of the circle: tall evergreen plants fronted by perennials and a strip of short
annuals. Add a bench, sit down, and relax.
Say the neighbors build a nice, big addition, and the solid wall
makes a lousy view. Use that wall as the bottom of a U-shaped completed by lattice
trellises or bamboo baffles. Then, finish the room with an arch flanked by short shrubs. A
blank wall becomes an intimate garden room framed by its walls and arch.
Some of the nicest garden rooms happen by serendipity: a grove of
trees in the sideyard becomes hard to mow, so you plant beds all around beneath them. Or
the shady place behind the garage is the coolest in summer, so the glider goes there, and
the path to the clothesline is nearby, so you make a bed alongside it. Soon a garden room
evolves from the space already nearly enclosed by happenstance.
If nothing in your garden inspires you to say, "That's where
the garden room goes," dont fret. Draw a line in the grass and build around it.
A good place to begin is one-third the distance from your back door to the rear property
line and one-third its length. Plant an oval hedgerow and put a gate in the center facing
the house. Choose plants that can tolerate annual pruning to keep them thick, and buy the
largest specimens you can. As you plant the room, its concealed view becomes a destination
reached through the gate.
Like potato chips, a single garden room often leads to another.
Your garden rooms can empty into one another, or open onto a path that winds throughout
the property. Use hedges, walls, baffles, even tree alleys to separate the lawn into
places to sit, eat, swing, entertain, or grow theme gardens. Imagine rounding the corner
of a hedgerow at dusk to see a collection of plants with white flowers glowing. Or
stepping through a low gate into a cutting garden, its summer flowers begging for a vase.
If laying out the whole yard seems too large a project, start
small by adapting the existing space. To a patio or deck, add an overhead arbor that
creates intimately shaded space all summer. Where a blank wall dominates, build a pergola
in front of it surrounded by evergreens. Add a seating area and enjoy the quiet oasis
within the dense branches.
Garden rooms enhance the indoor-outdoor relationship that flows
between your house and garden. The view from the window looking out is as important as the
framed view you see from the glider looking in.
By dividing that view into garden rooms, you make more to look
at, more places to garden, and more reason to go out and see whats behind the garden