Does Your Yard Need a ‘Garden Room’? A Guide to This Growing Outdoor Trend


IF GLEN GARDNER, a landscape architect in Charleston, SC, bought his home in town, its exterior measuring just 30 feet by 60 feet, much of it paved with concrete. He rejected the idea of ​​an open lawn and transformed it into four interconnected garden spaces – a patio space, a parterre, a dining area and a pool.

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Mr. Gardner defined a rectangular lawn area with three foot high Japanese yew hedges, ideal for dinner parties. He built a brick wall, now veiled with fig vines, to accentuate box hedges in a traditional parterre. For more privacy, he hid a neighbor’s house with a towering holly hedge. “You feel like you’re in a non-urban environment,” he said.

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The chambers work like rooms in a house – for reading, resting, entertaining. Better yet, they visually “enlarge” its outdoor space and add intrigue. “If it was just an open lawn, you’d be like, ‘Gosh, there’s not much room here,'” he said. “But now there is a mysterious element. You don’t know what’s behind that patio or behind that holly hedge.’

In a Charleston, SC garden designed by local landscape architect Glen Gardner, plantings suggest a separation between a pool, seating area, and dining area.


Photo:

Teresa Sanders

Though Charleston has a long tradition of outdoor garden rooms, Mr. Gardner says he handles more client requests for them than ever before. “People want privacy and crave definition,” he said.

In these green hideaways, “we can reconnect to our roots in a safe, stable, and controlled way.”

The motivation: the extraordinary stressors of our time. “When we’re feeling vulnerable, we seek smaller, tighter spaces,” said Dak Kopec, a professor of design at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, with a Ph.D. in environmental psychology. “Being outdoors makes us feel vulnerable.” And plant walls give us double comfort. We immerse ourselves in the natural world, a practice known as “natural bathing,” which Dr. Kopec can relieve stress and even improve concentration. In these green hideaways, “we can reconnect to our roots in a safe, stable, and controlled way.”

Theresa Sanders is amazed by the green decompression chamber that Mr. Gardner created for her and her husband in Charleston. She has five enclosures to choose from, but is often drawn to the smallest, whose sofa is tucked among large, sweet-scented gardenias. “The scent makes me feel like I’m floating away, but I’m also enveloped in the space,” she said.

At Paul Neundorfer, too, requests for lavishly designed outdoor garden rooms are increasing. “Landscape used to be something you could look at through a window or a place to throw a ball,” said the landscape architect and director of the Aristotle Design Group in Cleveland. Some customers even want to be informed about their new rooms. One requested signage with QR codes linking to botanical information. Another wanted a giant chess board. Mr. Neundorfer is asked about playrooms, kitchens, living rooms and spas.

Its outdoor spaces are decidedly architectural: 18-inch jelly bean-shaped boxwood trees define a dining area; Luckily, 20-foot walls of Green Giant Arborvitae block the world. In his reimagining of once-ordinary courtyards, a pair of magnolia trees can become a door. Fences and masonry walls come alive with colorful clematis or glossy ivy. Climbers in the sunny south include long-lasting bougainvillea blooms and the endearing heart-shaped foliage of the kiwi vine.

Bamboo is a very popular “living fence,” although you must take precautions against its invasiveness. Getty Images
In warmer climates, bougainvillea fills fences with greenery and rich colors. Getty Images
Climbing hydrangeas offer lacy mop tops and graceful foliage in summer and an earthy tapestry of stems in winter. Getty Images

From left: Bamboo is a very popular “living fence” although you must take precautions against its invasiveness. In warmer climates, bougainvillea fills fences with greenery and rich colors. Climbing hydrangeas offer lacy mop tops and graceful foliage in summer and an earthy tapestry of stems in winter. Getty Images

Mr. Gardner notes that the green also deadens sounds from outside the yard. “The noise reduction is remarkable,” he said. Now he’s more likely to hear a bird chirping than a car radio blaring. Bonus: Additional vegetation attracts critters. Ms. Sanders noticed many drop-ins – a hawk, crows, woodpeckers, lizards. “After the rain, the frogs come and sing like the Charleston choir.”

The rooms change with the seasons. Leafless creepers display tapestries of woven stems. A hornbeam hedge loses its green, but its branch structure cradles snow. “It’s a beautiful scene,” said Mr. Neundorfer.

Garden Rooms come with a cost, both in the form of coins and effort. “It’s an obligation. If you don’t keep going, it’s going to look awful,” Mr. Gardner said. take sunlight into account. You can’t have symmetrical plants in a room that gets lots of sun on the left and no sun on the right. “Find plants that work in the space and feel balanced,” he said.

And if you’re drawn to the whispering screen that Bamboo has to offer, watch what you unleash, said Herr Neundorfer. “Bamboo is popular but very invasive. We install underground concrete walls to prevent roots from spreading.”

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