Home & Garden

How garden rooms can create the perfect backyard oasis

Bring on a neatly trimmed hedge

Garden rooms can create a backyard oasis of your dreams Credit: Getty Images / KatarzynaBialasiewicz

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Rethinking your annual family beach vacation? Postponing a writers’ workshop or yoga retreat that’s been on your bucket list forever? Summer is fast approaching and after months of sheltering in place, we are chomping at the bit to go somewhere else. Anywhere else!

The reality is that 2020 won’t be the year of international or even domestic travel. So, instead, let’s look in our own backyard—literally.

“Overnight, outdoor space has become a commodity hotter than ever before,” writes ADPro editor Katy Olson. “Thanks to widespread stay-at-home orders, gardens, backyards, and patios replace the now canceled summer getaway plans made pre-pandemic.”

No matter where you live and regardless of how much outdoor space you have, with a little planning you can have the backyard oasis of your dreams. Best of all, building a garden room doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

So, what is a garden room?

The term 'garden room' is used as a way of identifying a segmented area in an outdoor space. For example, you may have a large outdoor patio or backyard. Breaking up that space into differentiated nooks for dining, lounging, or, say, quiet reading, using planters, hedges, or furniture, means you've created garden rooms.

How are you going to use your space?

“Even if the space is small, we ask our clients questions like, ‘Do you entertain? If so, how often? Just family, or others?’,” says Dustin Wolfe, owner of Artistic Grounds in Marstons Mills, Massachusetts, who has designed landscapes ranging from a simple patio to million-dollar projects with bells and whistles like a pool and an outdoor kitchen.

Ask yourself these same questions and the rooms you come up with—a play area, a place for contemplation, an edible garden—will most likely align with a particular function. Don’t be swayed by trends; let your own lifestyle be your guide.

Marry indoor and outdoor design in your garden rooms

sofa with pillows
Credit: Getty Images / KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Glam up an outdoor sofa with pillows to give an indoor look to your outdoor garden room

For years now, interior designers and residential architects have been on the bring-the-outdoors-in bandwagon. The opposite is true, too.

“Plan outdoor rooms as natural extensions to your home’s interiors,” advises interior designer Laura Urban, who lives in an antique sea captain’s home on Cape Cod. In collaboration with Wolfe, she chose to continue the traditional look inside her home by using mainly brick, bluestone, and boxwoods to carve out a pair of outside rooms: one for sitting with friends or clients, and the other for dining. The surrounding yard is planted with flowers in an English-garden (read exuberant, free-flowing) style.

If your aesthetic is modern, Wolfe suggests a more structured look to your garden using fewer varieties of flowers and more low-maintenance plantings like decorative grasses. Indoor color schemes mimicked outdoors—by plant material and lounge chair fabric, for example—further blur the line between house and yard.

Pick a focal point for your backyard oasis

Fire pit focal point
Credit: Getty Images / TimAbramowitz

Make a fire pit the focal point of your garden room

If you’re redecorating your living room, you might start with a favorite rug and coordinate the rest of the room around it. Apply this logic to the outdoors.

For Urban, it was the renovation of a tiny fish pond that started the ball rolling. A pondless waterfall that recirculates water via an underground pump is a simple feature and a soothing sound that not only encourages relaxing, it also drowns out street noise.

Likewise, a fire pit, which provides warmth and visual interest, is a feature around which you can organize an outdoor room, be it with Adirondack chairs for a rustic look or bench seating in concrete or granite for a modern vibe.

How do you build walls for your garden rooms?

hedge dining table
Credit: Getty Images / compuinfoto

A trimmed hedge cordons off this outdoor dining area

Small trees, shrubs, hedges and vines all give a sense of separation without compromising the overall panorama of your yard. Look beyond the obvious.

A neatly trimmed hedge smacks of formality while a row of forsythia, stands of feathery fountain grass or clematis trained on a trellis give a more casual, soft-edge style of division.

Alternatively, vary the type and patterns of hardscaping materials to indicate where one garden room starts and another begins. Urban repurposed old brick, adding interest and delineation with a bluestone detail.

When Connecticut-based professional gardeners Andrew Pighills and Michelle Becker built a pizza oven outside, they also set up a French bistro-style table and chairs on a space paved with pea stone. String lights dangling from branches overhead complete the perfect no-fuss outdoor dining room.

Don’t forget lighting

patio lights at night
Credit: Getty Images / mseidelch

Adding lights to your garden room is both useful and atmospheric

As with other aspects of an outdoor garden room, lighting options run the gamut from simple to sophisticated, especially given today’s advanced LED technology.

Regardless of how low- or high-end you go, solar-powered or electric, it’s important to appreciate that lighting will increase the time you can spend enjoying your outdoor rooms.

And isn’t that what it’s all about?

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