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Outdoor Rooms

Let Function be Your Guide

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Lattice Screens

Lattice can provide almost instant "walls" for outdoor rooms.

David Beaulieu

As stated on Page 1, you need only look to the intended function of outdoor rooms to determine the "building blocks" needed to compose them. Keep both aesthetics and function in mind when setting up such spaces. But in areas dedicated to physical activity, if you have to choose between the two, focus on function. Never compromise on safety. You can make up for compromises in aesthetics later, when you accessorize your newly-created space.

Below are examples of outdoor rooms and how to put them together.

Outdoor Rooms: Pool Areas

Let's begin with outdoor rooms whose main function is to house a swimming pool. Landscaping around swimming pools presents specific challenges regarding safety, maintenance and privacy. You don't want people slipping on anything, you don't want to spend all your time cleaning up debris, and you don't want the neighbors peering in at you. In selecting a "wall" to enclose the area, all of these considerations come into play.

A strong argument can be made, then, for having a fence serve as the "wall" around a pool, rather than a hedge or a lattice screen. A tightly constructed fence will do the best job of screening out prying eyes. And because it has no leaves or needles to shed, there's nothing to slip on, nothing to clean up.

"Floors" in pool areas must be slip-resistant. "Ceilings" usually aren't necessary: you're going to get wet anyway, and sunbathing and swimming go hand-in-hand.

Outdoor Rooms: Meditation Areas

For meditation gardens, some of the concerns are the same, some different. Privacy is still very much an issue (since secluded settings are more relaxing than open settings), as is maintenance. But safety goes on a back burner. Here, reflection, not physical activity, takes center stage. Aesthetic considerations, consequently, will carry greater weight.

Most people find plants more relaxing than hardscape, so consider planting hedges to form the walls of such outdoor rooms. If you don't want to wait for hedges to get tall enough to afford privacy, install lattice screens, instead. To satisfy your requirement for plants and provide further privacy, train vine plants to grow up the lattice. Climbing hydrangeas are perennial vines and an excellent choice for shady areas. You have more choices in the sun, including that ever-popular annual, the morning glory.

For a floor, consider a combination of natural materials. You want something interesting into which to gaze, something with distinct textures. For instance, a rustic flagstone patio, with scotch moss planted in the cracks between the stones -- or creeping thyme, if you enjoy landscaping with fragrant plants.

In meditation gardens, a ceiling may come in quite handy. Here, you'll have to choose between aesthetics and functionality. A vine-covered arbor may be more inspiring to gaze up at than a lawn umbrella, but the latter will keep you -- and the books you may be reading -- dry. If you'd like something more solid than an umbrella, consider installing a pergola and covering it with fiberglass.

But water shouldn't be banned entirely from contemplative outdoor rooms. If there's any place in our yards for accessories such as garden fountains and waterfalls, surely it's here! There's nothing like the soothing sound of bubbling water to put us into a reflective mood.

Outdoor Rooms: Play Areas

If you have kids who enjoy baseball, football, soccer, or just plain running around, set aside a special outdoor room just for them. You can't beat a grass floor for these activities. While a ceiling won't be necessary, walls are a must. You don't want errant tosses rolling into the street or wiping out those flowers you just planted in another portion of the yard. A solid fence will probably best serve the role of wall here, something that will easily stop a ball. Hedges are less effective, because balls either get through them or get lodged within them. By having to repeatedly dislodge balls stuck in a hedge, kids may end up wrecking the hedge.

For information on accessories for outdoor rooms, please see Page 3....
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