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If these walls could talk

Creating Outdoor Living Spaces

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06/01/2007 - In the children's book "The Secret Garden" a young man is healed from his pale and sickly invalid state through healthy contact with nature. This nourishing environment was found within a hidden walled garden.

There is a certain romance about courtyards and walled gardens. They represent both sanctuary and nature. They have the safety and seclusion of delineated area--- silently declaring themselves as private retreats, while at the same time being open to the wind and sun and sky. Like the garden of Eden, brambles and thorns, death and destruction seem forbidden to enter. Joy and peace, harmony and life are welcomed.

We can create this same sense of sanctuary within whatever outdoor space our homes have. Whereas our "front yard" is the face we offer our community, the classic "backyard" is the opportune place for our own secret garden. Even an apartment's patio or balcony can be made into a miniature outdoor living space.

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One absolutely necessary element for such a space is privacy. We need a shield from the view of others. We also need a barrier from the unpleasant sight and sound of traffic. It's rare to have the luxury of mossy old stone walls. Some substitute is usually needed. A natural growth of trees and other vegetation is ideal. It is cooling, sheltering from wind, sound muffling, and provides a welcoming habitat for wildlife. Unfortunately, this lush growth is sometimes slow to establish in our harsh Wyoming climate. Privacy fencing can be a quick fix, but at best it lacks character, and at worst can have the emotional impact of prison walls. This blank expanse can be broken up through strategic placement of outdoor furnishings and accessories. Multi-level decks create vertical dimensional interest. Lattice screens with rapid-growing vines can be placed at various angles. Baskets of pre-planted flowers can be hung for instant "landscaping". One fun option for the fencing is to treat it as one would a home's walls. Hang ornaments, paint murals--- decorate the "walls".

The floor of our outdoor space can be made of flagstone, brick, or decking. There are also several new products on the market that mimic the look of natural wood and stone, while being easier to install and maintain. Synthetic decking materials are nearly impervious to the effects of water and sun. Decorative concrete overlays can be made to look like any kind of stone or tile. They are a good choice for covering damaged or stained concrete. They can also be applied to other surfaces, even Styrofoam. With these products we actually can create the look of old stone walls, arches, and fountains, without needing the sturdy foundations required by the weight of real stone.

Another nice innovation is photovoltaic garden lights and fountain pumps. The lights collect energy from the sun during daylight hours, then automatically light up at dusk. The fountains use solar collectors for energy and therefore need no remote wiring.

Fountains are an excellent garden addition. The sound of falling water disguises unpleasant sounds. This sound is also one of the best attractions for wildlife. Wildlife can also be invited into your space with feeders and birdhouses. Playhouses, garden sheds and tree-houses are other inviting architectural elements.

Cool, private, quiet, a place to rest from the heat of the day, and walk in the moonlight--- we all need our secret garden.

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