As a gardener, you work hard to create a beautiful landscape. So it only seems natural to carve out a few areas where you can pull up a chair and admire your achievements. You might be surprised to find that you can use your gardening skills to create outdoor living areas that rival the best rooms in your house. You’ll soon find out that attractive furnishings enhance an outdoor setting as much as eye-catching flowers.
Survey the surroundings. Just as you consider the light, soil, and water conditions of a site before choosing a plant, so you’ll want to size up the location when you start designing an outdoor space. Is the spot burdened with unsightly views, noisy streets, prevailing winds, or too much sun? By noticing and solving these potential problems, you’ll enjoy a more livable location.
Consider quick-growing hedges, vine-covered pergolas, and trellises or lattice panels to create screening that makes an area more intimate and private. Gazebos, arbors, awnings, and fences further define a space, block unsightly views, and offer shade and wind protection.
Follow the leader. When choosing chairs, tables, trellises, and accessories for fresh-air spaces, let your home’s architecture be the guide. Look for furnishings that complement its style, whether that’s colonial, cottage, or contemporary. For instance, just as roses suggest a casual cottage look, so does outdoor wicker furniture. If you’re using clipped boxwoods to communicate formality, consider battery benches. With their wooden slats supported by cast-iron legs and arms, they work well in formal settings. Blousy ferns work with an ornate cast-iron table to convey Victorian charm.
Even the colors and patterns of cushions and pillows can reflect your home’s décor. Chintz patterns say cottage, solids support a traditional look, and highly patterned fabrics create a Victorian mood.
Find color cues. A garden’s color theme is an important part of its design, and the same is true in outdoor furnishings. Take note of the colors in the immediate surroundings. For instance, if you have a brick patio, select furniture in colors that go well with brick-red, such as rich brown, taupe, and green. Enliven concrete surfaces with blue, pink, and purple, all of which complement gray. Remember that cool colors such as blue visually enlarge a space, while warm colors such as red and yellow make an area seem smaller.
Accessorize with interior elements. The more comfortable the setting, the longer you’ll stay. Pile on the pillows, add cushions to chairs and benches, and dress tables with colorful fabrics. When you’re outside, the eye has more things competing for its attention, so bolder patterns and colors get more notice. On the other hand, if you want your garden to take center stage, fabrics in a neutral palette play a supporting role.
Lamps, rugs, and candelabras are now made in outdoor materials to weather the elements. You’ll find outdoor wall sconces, decorative lanterns, mirrors, and more. Make the setting uniquely yours by adding things that have meaning to you, like souvenirs from trips or gifts from friends. And bring the garden even closer with planted containers and cut flower arrangements.
Make quality a priority. Value-conscious gardeners know that investing in healthy trees, shrubs, and perennials pays off. The same is true with outdoor furnishings. Some are designed to last longer than others.
If you want outdoor fabrics that won’t fade, look for those that are solution-dyed rather than yarn-dyed. Solution-dyed fabric has color through to its core, while yarn-dyed fabric has a layer of color over a white core. Furniture longevity also varies. Wicker furniture designed for outdoor use has been both fully submerged in and sprayed with acrylic-based outdoor resins like those in premium outdoor paints.
P. Allen Smith (www.pallensmith.com) is a garden designer, host of two national TV programs, a regular guest on the “Today” show, and author of P. Allen Smith’s Living in the Garden Home (Clarkson Potter, 2007) and other books in the Garden Home series.