Outdoor rooms make the most of Southern space
by Jacqueline A Soule, Ph.D.
Living in the Southwest has its advantages, including the relative ease at which you can expand your living space by adding outdoor rooms to your home. These spaces can be used for entertaining, contemplation, recreation, dining, cooking, play, study, rest and relaxation — all in your own yard and enhanced by a well-planned landscape.
For this type of project, it makes sense to hire a trained and experienced landscape design professional to create the design. "It helps me as the designer when clients have, at the very least, some goals," says Michal Glines of Glines Design in Tucson, Ariz. "Ideas are even better. The more the client brings to the table, the more likely they are to be happy with the results."
Before you call a designer, determine what you want. Make a list. You can shorten the list later, so think of everything you might like from an arbor, barbecue, butterflies, conversation area, dining area, fire pit, fish pond, fountain, gazebo, herbs, hummingbirds, iris collection, Jacuzzi, lawn, lights, meditation area, mist system, natural area, play equipment, pool, porch swing, putting green, ramada, sand box, sculpture, terraces, tennis court, vegetable garden, views, waterfall, wind chimes or a place to enjoy the west winds.
The next item to consider is the who, what, when and how of using the space. Do you have dogs that need a place to gambol and relieve themselves? Will the kids throw rocks in the fish pond? Do you often entertain in the evening? If so, perhaps lighted paths and gathering areas are called for.
Here in the Southwest, keeping cool is important. Even if you already have a shady patio, consider adding a ramada that will draw people out into the yard and create an additional outdoor room. Special outdoor ceiling fans can help cool the area, too.
In areas of low relative humidity, such as Phoenix and Denver, consider a cooling mist system. There are a number of low-cost, highly durable products available. In some cases, the mist is almost like smoke - so fine that the spray hardly reaches the ground, and thus, it cools without soaking.
Don't forget to consider the layout. Will an expensive barbecue be used if it's around the corner and through the sandbox? It makes most sense to place the food related areas close to the kitchen door.
Utilize the styles and colors you like. If you like graceful flowing lines, curves and natural looking spaces, this can be easily incorporated into your new rooms. If your preference is for straight lines, tidiness and formality, this, too, is a landscape style that can be part of your living space. Consider if you like bright colors or muted ones, and which hues. This will be important for selecting both plants and garden decor.
The entire job doesn't have to be completed in a single season. You can take it a step at a time over a period of years, if necessary. You will no doubt notice that each step adds beauty and increasing pleasure in the outdoor rooms of your home.
Jacqueline A. Soule has been gardening in the Southwest since an early age, and writing about gardening for almost three decades, with weekly and monthly columns in a number of Southwestern publications. She has degrees in plant sciences, ecology & environmental biology and botany, obtaining her Ph.D. from the University of Texas. She currently resides and gardens in Tucson, Ariz.