Landscaping tips for outdoor shower areas
by C.L. Fornari
Imagine stepping into a shower that's surrounded by fresh, green foliage. As the hot water cascades over your body, you look up and see white clouds sailing across the sky. You smell the fragrance of nearby flowers and you hear the calling of birds.
If that sounds like a relaxing way to bathe once the weather warms up, consider constructing an outdoor shower.
Not only is it refreshing, an outdoor shower has practical applications as well. After activities that leave adults or children especially dirty, bathing outdoors keeps the grime out of the bathroom. Those living near the ocean shower outside to prevent sand from being tracked indoors, and many appreciate keeping the humidity-producing steam out of the house in the summertime.
Whether you're interested in bathing outside for sensual or practical reasons, an outdoor shower can be simple or extremely elaborate. The most minimal way is to run hot and cold water pipes, with winter shutoff valves, out the side of the house. Standard fixtures are attached and you're ready to freshen up.
It's smart to include a system to drain the water away from the foundation of the house, and a place to stand that prevents puddles. A French drain will direct the water into a drainage area, and a raised wooden box with spaces between the boards will allow the water to drop though the slats to gravel below.
Some prefer a poured concrete pad with a traditional drain system, while others are content to bathe standing on a flat stone.
No matter which style of outdoor shower you prefer, the landscaping around your shower can provide privacy, fragrance and sound to enhance the experience.
Before choosing plants, think about when the shower will be used. If you're apt to bathe outside in the early spring or late fall, consider evergreen plants to provide screening and to cover the surfaces. Showers used only in the summer can be planted with deciduous shrubs and perennials.
Be sure to make beds around the shower that are large enough to allow the plants to grow and to keep them away from the draining water so the roots don't rot. If the soil around your shower tends to stay moist, use Northeast native plants such as red-twig dogwood (Cornus sericea), Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) or winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata).
Include plants that have fragrant flowers such as Rhododendron "Lemon Drop," a late-blooming deciduous azalea with pale yellow blossoms; Korean spice Viburnum (V. carlesii), a tall shrub that has white flowers in late spring; summersweet (Clethera alnifolia), a shrub that comes in several sizes and produces white or pink, bottle-brush flowers in August; or black bugbane (Cmicifuga simplex "Brunette"), a perennial with purple foliage and spires of pinkish flowers in September.
Tall grasses such as those in the genus Miscanthus or a clump of Fargesia bamboo will provide motion and sound to the area. Once your bathing garden is finished, the sights, sounds and scents will tempt you to shower alfresco as often as possible.
C.L. Fornari is a writer, gardening expert, professional speaker and radio host who is dedicated to getting you into the garden. The Osterville, Mass., resident is a member of the Perennial Plant Association, American Plant Propagators Society, National Speakers Association and Garden Writers of America.