NEW MARKET, Va. (AP) Landscape designers are busy these days turning things inside out for many of their clients people interested in spending more leisure time with nature.
EDITOR'S NOTE Dean Fosdick retired in May 2001 after 23 years with The Associated Press, 15 of those as Alaska bureau chief. He has covered the Exxon Valdez oil spill, volcanoes, galloping glaciers and harvesting Alaska-grown 100-pound-plus cabbages. He can be reached at: deanfosdick(at)netscape.net
Outdoor living is in, with garden rooms sprouting up all over the country.
''One of the reasons why they're so popular is people's lifestyles,'' says Emily Nolting, a horticulturist with Kansas State University Research and Extension. ''They want someplace relaxing, comfortable and private. It's a place to become unstressed. People like to be where there are living things. Plants. Fish. Birds.''
Other homeowners are turning to garden rooms as seasonal extensions of their home interiors.
''When they don't have room for large lawns or patios anymore, or they're running out of room for things in the house; by turning a small (outdoor) area into something grandiose, it gives them a feeling of space,'' Nolting says.
The concept is nothing new. The ancient Greeks and Romans often shaped their homes around fountains and statuary and flowering things. So did certain Asian cultures, adding rocks and sculpted sand and wildlife to the process.
Greg and Cindy Barnhill added the garden room a dozen years ago, after a major remodeling job on their home in Leawood, Kansas. ''We wanted something in keeping with the Tudor design of the house,'' Cindy says. ''It grew from there.''
That meant lining the walls with boxwood, laying a path of limestone and bricks and lingering over coffee in the morning or drinks in the afternoon under an arbor covered with Wisteria.
''It's a nice little getaway right off the family room,'' she says. ''It's a nice place to sit and read a book. The kids like to go out there with their headphones on and just chill out.''
A garden room can be any size; from a little-used corner to a middle-of-the-yard focal point. Try varying the sizes if you have multiple rooms, Nolting says. That helps avoid any straight-line monotony.
Nolting advises homeowners planning a garden room or rooms to work around the existing features of their homes. Do you own a log dwelling? Perhaps then garden rooms with the natural look, with plenty of weathered wood placed strategically about. If you live in a classical home fronted by columns, probably a formal garden in the European tradition would be a fit, with a few columns continuing the theme within.
''When determining the site, look at the shape of the house. Whether you have any large trees. The perimeter of the yard. The sunlight it gets. The type of plants growing in the area. Color schemes. Wind currents. Pathways.''
Start by planning the walls. Make it appear you're in a separate room or rooms. Do you need child-high barriers yet some visibility in an outdoor play room? A dramatic entry to frame the garden? A protected corner for working, perhaps networking via laptop with the office?
How should you go about it? Would you like some potted plants to achieve that room-like definition? Flowering trees or vines? The faded side of an old shed?
Which brings us to the point of this exercise: Just what is it that you want from a garden room?
Could you use a formal area for parties, family gatherings or weddings? An expansive place on the lawn for play, say badminton, flag football or croquet? A private reading room or a place for serenity and contemplation deep in the back yard?
How about introducing a fountain or reflecting pond for attracting birds and butterflies? Consider setting aside a place near the kitchen door for cookouts a special little nook laced heavily and aromatically with herbs.
Budget into your landscaping plan a serene green setting for regular afternoon snoozes in a gently swaying hammock. Find room for a potting bench, storage shed and greenhouse.
Whatever your pleasures, let the rooms reflect your personality. Add accessories a trellis, some antique garden tools, benches and tables, birdbaths or feeders, a smoker and a grill. Spot some comfortable outdoor furniture conveniently about. Add a few plaques and a light standard or two. Don't forget something decorative underfoot perhaps a rug or a layer of pine bark mulch that can absorb the weather.
Color plays a major role, of course, as it would when designing interiors. If you choose your plants carefully, a garden room will change with the seasons offering successively blooms, and berries and foliage turning from green to yellow, orange or red.
''You can have multiple rooms, but they should somehow connect,'' Nolting says. ''Add walking paths, little bridges and creek paths.''
''I like to think of multiple garden rooms as coordinated wallpaper,'' she says. ''It doesn't have to be the same, but it should all work together.''
Finally, choose some exclamation points.
''Accessories are to accent and pull your eye into something,'' Nolting says. ''They can be so subtle that they can emerge suddenly as little surprises. Or so large that they suggest a theme.''
Garden rooms are continuing to evolve, she says, and often into larger projects.
''It started with some border plants and furniture, but it's (concept) become much more involved, with pathways and fountains and water features.
''They're going from the very simplistic to the very involved. The more involved they are, the more time people seem to spend in the rooms.''
''At Home in the Garden: Creating Stylish Outdoor Rooms'' by Becke Davis, Friedman/Fairfax Publishers.
On the Net:
Kansas State University Extension about Garden Room Design: http://www.oznet.ksu.edu/news/sty/2002/garden(underscore)room050902. htm
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