Ryan's Eye: Backyard Retreat
by Will Ryan
In this article I will address issues that I have mentioned at various times in other articles, but as I will be discussing ‘garden retreats’ these come into play.
I will discuss garden size, water features, lighting and furniture hoping this article will be of help, if that is what you are planning for the coming season.
First of all, size doesn’t matter when it comes to a private outdoor space. If you have a ground level outdoor space that is small it is wise to forget about grass and flower beds. If you “hardscape” the area and have plantings in pots, the space feels intimate and welcoming. If you have high walls or fences, you can plant interesting vines to climb the walls. A visual trick to make the area seem larger is to attach a trellis to the wall with a mirror behind it. This helps if your walls are high and your sunlight is limited. It can be used on an apartment deck as well.
If you are fortunate to have a large garden it is still advisable to have your “living” space with wooden decking or with a hard surface as it delineates the area from the rest of the garden and means that the furniture doesn’t have to be moved when the grass is cut. Unless the view is breathtaking, screening the space in some manner makes this more intimate. This can be done with a trellis, trees and/or shrubs, planters or flower-beds. If planting trees, be mindful of when and where the sun hits the area. Also, the types of trees are an important consideration. Try to avoid ones with large leaves that create too dense a shade.
Even the smallest space can have a water feature, which can be as modest as a bird bath, or a small pump in a container that will bubble. Water features, particularly one that has a pump for some water movement, creates a calming effect, often attracting birds and screening out traffic noise.
If you are fortunate enough to have a swimming pool, then your seating area is likely beside the pool. The same considerations can apply even though the area is poolside rather than a patio space. However, one has to take into account that the furniture should be heavy enough that it doesn’t blow into the pool in bad weather with high winds.
We are spoiled for choice for lighting these days. There are many LED lighting options that are placed in the garden or in containers. However, consider mounting some lights on the fences or walls, so that the lighting isn’t coming from below. Hurricane lamps, lanterns and good old-fashioned candles in containers are hard to beat when setting the mood. If you are using garden umbrellas it is charming to attach LED rope lights or strings of lights to the perimeter or up inside the umbrella, particularly if you have the dining space below.
Garden furniture is a topic I have covered before. Once again, if you are limited for space, then you have to decide whether your outdoor space will be an eating or sitting area. If it is primarily going to be an eating area, then I would recommend investing in good quality comfortable seating with well made seat and back cushions in water resistant fabric. If the chairs are comfortable and table height then they can also be used as regular seating. If they are stackable then you are really on a home run. If you have the room, think about a bench with a lift up seat that can store the furniture cushions. If a bench is not going to work for you, many high end furniture manufacturers have a matching box, or, in some cases they have low square boxes with lids that can be used as coffee tables.