come into the garden Maud

acj7000February 3, 2004

Using any method you like and whatever assistance inspires you whether it be Hegel. Neitzche, Milton, Pliny or Mr Spock let's talk about the concept of the 'outdoor room'. Did Tommy Church invent it or is there an earlier precedent. Will talking about this help us when we come to make one? What do you understand an outdoor room to be?

Don't worry this is not a test and no marks will be awarded it is continuation of my other thread for Perry.

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John_D(USDA 8b WA)

Didn't Greek [and Roman?] gardens start out as outdoor rooms, to which plants were only added later? In any case, at its "peak of perfection", the Roman peristyle is quite definitely an outdoor garden room.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2004 at 12:39PM
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ginger_nh(z4 NH)

My guess is that it harkens back to the use of the garden as sanctuary - in the earlier Mesopotamian-Greek-Roman civilizations.. A walled garden space(outdoor room) was designed to create a sense of safety, of contemplation, of being set apart from the World. This has been bastardized today to the point that people think they need to set about creating a "living room," "dining room," "play room," even a "bathroom", with hottub or outdoor shower. Can be nice, but taken too literally it falls away from the original, deeper meaner and becomes too utilitarian (and that from me - usually pragmatic and utilitarian!)

I am a little tired of reading garden magazine articles referring to garden rooms.


    Bookmark   February 3, 2004 at 1:20PM
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Cady(6b/Sunset34 MA)

Last year's New England Spring Flower Show had some annoying exhibits of "garden rooms" that essentially were free advertisements for expensive teak furniture and high-tech gas BBQ grills, and other "outdoor living" tschotchkes. I had a hard time seeing where the "garden" part came in.

It's another thing altogether, though, to create a home that melds into the outdoors in such a way that there almost seems to be no dividing line or boundary between where one begins and the other leaves off. The Japanese are - or were, at least - masters of creating that kind of garden. Not sure I would equate the Japanese garden as "room," but certainly there are different kinds of Japanese gardens - tsuboniwa (courtyard/small gardens), tea gardens, etc. - that fit the "room" category in their own ways.

Also, the Moors (Moorish Arab culture), with their tiled, planted, fountained courtyards at the center of their walled home compounds, could be said to have gardens that were authentic outdoor, gardened living spaces that were an integral part of the house. Hence, rooms.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2004 at 2:44PM
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The garden room can be traced far back into histroy thru many ages in time and responded to the ills and thrills of that certain period and the climatic environment.

Contemporary living in an outdoor environment that beckons people to enjoy their gardens year round has further added to development of the outdoor room here on the left coast with new updated modern amenities.

For instance one of my favorite outdoor rooms belongs to John who cleverly created an outdoor excercise room under the canopy of fragrant vines but this niche/ room can hardly be seen from the main outdoor living room.
And why would he want his work out room out front and center in the main areas of his garden ?

There is something to say about the segregated garden room.
When breaking up the space in a landscape thus creating rooms one has the opportunity to bring in mystery and allure into the garden.

How incredibly boring it would be to walk into a landscape and have the whole enchilada laid out infront of you ? Where's the interaction in that?
Garden rooms beckon the viewers into the garden to further investigate , explore and uncover visual treats such as the hidden excercise room or a secret garden , or relaxing spa area.... ect.....

Why shouldn't modern amenities be introduced into the year round garden room ?
We cook year round outside so why not have a built in bbq area or fully loaded kitchen ?
We entertain outside so why not have a comfortable outdoor furniture to enjoy with our friends ?
Children are children and don't always pick up after one another so why not give them a garden play room where they can leave their bikes and toys out without being in the main viewing corridor of Mom and Dad who are entertaining the Jones ?

Below is a preliminary design concept plan that is currently being worked on .
The landscape is broken up into garden rooms.
There are different levels of terracing and different rooms that create and cultivate different emotions as well as serve different utilitarian uses.
There is the main outdoor great room where everyone can mingle, dine and cook together .
A simple fountain utilizing an old Tuscan urn divides the great room from the smaller more intimate cocktail parlor/ terrace. This intimate room is 2 steps above the great room and has an outdoor fireplace to take the chill off on cool summer evenings.
Both rooms have views of the hillside above across the lawn and rose garden but the view into the childrens play room is screened behind a low boxwood hedge.
If the gentlemen want to smoke their stinky cigars they only have to meander up the stone staircase to the upper segregated garden room where they have a spectacular view of Mt. Tamalpias beyond.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2004 at 3:32PM
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John_D(USDA 8b WA)

Ginger and Cady:
Excellent points. One other thing about those Romans: they also painted some indoor rooms with plants and garden scenes to make them look like gardens to deliberately blur the borders between inside and outside living spaces.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2004 at 3:33PM
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John_D(USDA 8b WA)

Thanks for the compliment.

"And why would he want his work out room out front and center in the main areas of his garden ?"

Because you can't see it when the trees and vines are in leaf, even when you're standing right in front to it. This spring it will be fragrant with the scent of wild roses.

I'm currently planning a "bamboo room" in one of my bamboo groves where I can set up a table and chair and take my laptop outside to work in the cool shade of the leafy culms (ah! the joys of Wi-Fi!).

(I think this goes back to when I was a kid and tried to run away from home --which happened a lot. I got very good at building secret rooms in the woods by using fallen wood and by tying together living branches to create an "invisible" private space. My dad never found any of them, no matter how hard he looked, but the deer and other animals did and moved in, forcing me to build new ones.)

    Bookmark   February 3, 2004 at 3:46PM
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ginger_nh(z4 NH)

Calling all of the various areas of the gardens by house "room " names just sounds too tame, too much like the house. I go to the garden to get AWAY from and outside of the house.

Maybe "areas", or "sections" - or developing new names. Patio, deck, porch are not called "covered living room", "stone-floored dining room", and so on. May be semantics, but calling parts of the garden after rooms in a house just isn't very creative, language-wise.

Great design, Michelle, and I agree with your points about enjoying the yard/landscape.


    Bookmark   February 3, 2004 at 3:54PM
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John, you're welcome.
I have one regret though... that I did not copy the image of your outdoor room into my 'images of inspiration ' file that sits on my computer desk top. Perhaps when the roses are in bloom you can indulge me / us.

It may not be creative but why not call a spade a spade ?
When describing how a room will be used it makes sense to use commonly associated recognizable words.

Sometimes I call my art studio the work shop , other times the atelier and when directing friends or clients to this location who have never been to my property I often just call it the garage.... it's an easily recognizable title to the location.

Or I could get creative and say : From the motor court enter thru the right hand side porte-cochere then meander down the path bordered by the succulent parterre until you reach the wisteria covered pergola , at which point enter thru another portico and the atelier will be infront of you.
Park in the driveway, enter thru the right hand gate, go down the path borders by the succulents til you reach the arbor covered by wisteria and enter thru the garage door and you will find my messy art studio.

.... actually I kinda like the first description.... makes it sound so much better than an old garage.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2004 at 4:34PM
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John_D(USDA 8b WA)


I do have one question about California "garden" rooms.

As you know, the CA climate lends itself nicely to outdoor living, which is why in the past, many kitchen facilities (starting with the native population, Spanish padres, Mexican rancheros) have been outside, often shaded by a ramada. But I'm not sure these outside spaces always qualify as garden rooms, even if they have some limited plantings of, say olive trees, pepper trees, or tunas.

So my question is: When can an outdoor space be called a garden room and when is it a courtyard? Is the ubiquitous covered patio of CA subdivision homes part of the garden or part of the house?

Just quibbling.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2004 at 5:15PM
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ginger_nh(z4 NH)

Me, too. I like words that indicate that something special, foreign, exotic, wild, different is going on in the garden - not just the everyday rooms that make up the house. Your first description meets my criteria - but couldn't you just see friends' faces as you directed them ala the first rather than the 2nd set of directions?? Pretty weird . . . we have no doubt gone too far in the direction of utilitarian names for garden areas to change now!

I still think of a garden as something apart from the landscaped areas for barbequeing or playing badminton(or grilling and bocce!). Don't think of a garden as foundation beds and borders of shrubs and perennials. Those I call "plantings. " I like the notion of the garden as a place set apart; could be a sanctuary, a wildlife refuge, a butterfly garden, an arbor with a seat, terraced plantings to the sea - just not outdoor "rooms" mimicing indoor rooms. Anyway, that's my private nomenclature.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2004 at 5:21PM
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It would appear that the difference between indoors and outdoors occured when it was decided to put a roof on part of it. In other words what we are calling an 'outdoor room' existed before the 'indoor room' which kind of puts a weird slant on it don't you think?

    Bookmark   February 3, 2004 at 5:58PM
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I will try to eek out an comprehendible answer John, but it is just after the dinner hour and I enjoyed a glass or two of Buena Vista Merlot. : ~ )

I think that the ubiquitous covered patio of the CA subdivision home is a transitional room, an extension of the home if you will.
This commonly found covered patio is part house yet part landscape.
It has a roof of sorts, an open floor plan and it seamlessly bridges the outside with the inside.

How people go about accessorizing this room is a personal choice that often reflects their personal style, the native climate, and or it may happily indulge the homeowners fantasies of a long lost tropical vacation revitalized in their own back yard, ( as in my case... viva la pina colada ala al fresco Hawaii ! )

I think that an outdoor room differs from a courtyard garden in the way the boundaries and framework is set up.
Of course the lines between the two can be blurred, just as the various definitions of the word 'garden room ' can be massaged.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2004 at 9:46PM
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John_D(USDA 8b WA)

I just love this ambiguity of boundaries.

To me, one of the most beautiful of the indoor/outdoor integrations is in a residence occupied by writer Lafcadio Hearn in Japan. It seems little changed since the time he lived in (and wrote about) it in the late nineteenth century.

Here is a link that might be useful: Lafcadio Hearn's residence

    Bookmark   February 3, 2004 at 10:12PM
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I saw a bird in my garden today.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2004 at 11:23AM
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An ambiguity of boundaries...
I love this phrase, what do you call a pluralism?
Michelle made a nice insight into the idea of the garden room. For me and I'm sure for other too, the Garden Room has become a bit too much of a cute term probably used and over used by garden decorators. I love/hate listening to HGTV to hear the language that they use ... they'd never say and ambiguity of boundaries ... though perhaps a garden room has become a bordered ambiguity.
The idea of the boundaries and the use of them is indeed interesting. Also the idea of the kinds of gardens/landscapes is interesting. I.e., strolling garden, entrance garden etc. a Graden room is one with strong boundaries, howlever it seems to lack or have lost the call for volumetric space that a room requires. Boundaries do not make space, space makes boundaries...ii.e. a garden is a boundary space itself is a tangible quality laden emptiness.
So I find it occasionally a useful term in dressing up my presentation to a client, but in terms of actually employing the idea, I find it only useful occasionally. Garden rooms that Michelle describes can be useful, but this does not describe the more central connecting them that draws you from room to room... i.e. a room is defined by its boundaries but made visitable, i.e. interesting by its passages. So, in a gardens where I have very specific rooms of differing types it is rare that the passageways are not the defining detail ... thus suggesting not only the room, but also the context, i.e., where you are coming from and why you might go further. So design wise I'd tend to focus more on the reason of the existence (reson'det)of the entrances/exits. So sometimes a room only makes sense (or gains interest) because you can see other rooms from it...
on and on...

    Bookmark   February 4, 2004 at 12:29PM
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I agree with Cady. Seems like garden rooms are all the rage just to sell more stuff and for people to show off more. It's not enought to have a gas grill, it has to be a whole kitchen. You can't throw a cot out under the stars, it has to be a complete bed with lots and lots of linens and pillows. Gardens have alwasy been divided into different use spaces, no matter what they are called.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2004 at 1:14PM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

When we talk about garden rooms, for some reason, I see some kind of bordered space that is square. Outdoor rooms don't necessarily have to be square of course, but the word association seems to make it so. I realize that property border restraints have some say in the matter as does the burden of tradition, but a room can be a small meadow or even a hidey-hole as that man from Calloway gardens used to say.
The tricky part in designing a garden with multiple spaces is to maintain nice allees and still have that surprise around the corner. For me, it's more important to pay attention to scale, proportion and line than dividing the garden up in square rooms and fracturing the unity of design.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2004 at 1:34PM
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If I can add my two cents.... The term garden room as it has been used historically does not necessarily mean an outdoor living space. It can mean that, of course. But traditionally it has meant a separately defined garden space, enclosed partially or totally with hedges, walls, fence etc. This allowed (and still does!) the division of space into separate "rooms", each featuring a different garden interest. Examples of the latter might include a spring bulb garden, a garden featuring a particular color scheme such as the famous red borders at Hidcote, a water garden or any of a thousand possibilities. Such garden rooms typically led one into another to offer a changing garden experience within the same overall garden but without the visual cacophany that would result without the separately enclosed "rooms". Hope this helps.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2004 at 1:39PM
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Most ideas materialize because there is a need for them. Why was there a 'need' for garden rooms? During the early days of civilization humans left the wandering hunter and gathering stage to collect together in city and town complexes. These were over crowded situations with dusty roads that became running sewers. Crime was a problem. This situation led to the construction of dwellings enclosed by high walls. Within these walls lived an extended family and its slaves/servants/eunuchs. The need for privacy led to the development of private space within the walls which we now call a garden room. Archeological records show that the earliest enclosed houses planted foodstuffs first. There was little interest in horticulture. The early Greeks did cultivate roses but not many ornamental plants. These private out-of-door spaces were not originally planned as decorative gardens. Each race of people, through the generations, utilized and developed private outdoor spaces as needed; tea gardens, flower gardens, water gardens, atriums, etc. But, the original idea of enclosed private space came about because of a need for quiet privacy and not as garden space overflowing with abundant flowering ornamentals.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2004 at 4:07PM
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Nandina you are wonderful, did I say that before? "the original idea of enclosed private space came about because of a need for quiet privacy and not as garden space" is the kind of statement an intelligent person can make after sifting through other people's opinions to get to the pith.
What this means is that when we are making what has become known as a 'garden' or 'outdoor' room we should be guided by the "need for privacy" intention and not four walls with plants inside.
Bo Tann talks about a hidey hole as possibly providing this intimate place which is the same as Abelard's notion of private space whereas Christopher Alexander suggests that sitting under a tree might provide the same feeling.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2004 at 4:37PM
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John_D(USDA 8b WA)

There's lots of good food for thought here.

I like Asha's comment that "Boundaries do not make space, space makes boundaries," because that's how I feel about my garden and it's "rooms".

Right now, my garden has eight (perhaps nine) areas that could be described as "rooms." None of these were part of my original design (I did not know enough about gardening design when I started to plan them in) but just "happened" as shrubs and trees matured and set off different garden spaces. They do not include landscaped areas outside the fence line, which could also be given descriptive names (cherry-viewing drive; magnolia-viewing parking strip; rhododendron glen). None take their names from rooms inside the house, but derive them from plantings or sculptures which set them off from other sections of the garden.

The first of these, my "workout" room created itself when the weeping katsura tree encloses a flat space that just called for setting up an exercise machine, so I could work out while smelling the flowers and listening to the birds. Augmented by ferns, climbing roses, and hop vines, it has become totally private. Next to it is the "nursery", which is part seasonal swamp and part brush pile, and has several bird houses. It is here that most of the fledgling birds gather in spring, hence its name. In summer, it is shaded by evergreens and by a ten-foot-tall Gunnera manicata. (In winter it becomes the "snow viewing room", because it has a sheltered seat from which I can contemplate a large "snow-viewing" lantern.)

The other side of the front walkway also has two "rooms": the hummingbird viewing room (which borders the pond), and the orchard. I love sitting here on a stone bench on warm summer afternoons and watch the hummers feed on the flowers.

South of this, on the east side of the house, is my "tropical garden" room. This is the warmest part of the garden and all sorts of semi-hardy exotics thrive and bloom here: banana, canna, eucryphia, hedychium, et al. (In season, I could also call it the "peony room" or "camellia room").

Next to it, is a low wooden deck, where my potted tropicals (orange, lemon, grapefruit, tree fern, prince's flower, et al. live in summer). It is enclosed by camellias on two sides and partially shaded by a tall oyama magnolia. It serves as our outdoor dining room (and as an occasional work space) because it has a table and chairs and can be shaded by a market umbrella on hot days. At night (and on quiet days) it becomes a raccoon playpen.

The southeast corner of the garden, shaded by my neighbor's tall redcedar and by my bamboos, dove tree, plum and almond tree, purple plum, and 'Elizabeth' magnolia, is called the "hydrangea room" for the different varieties of this shrub which form its "walls". I keep a steamer chair in this quiet place for relaxing with a glass of wine after a hard day's work.

Unlike the walls of my house, the boundaries of these garden rooms are flexible. Even as I am typing this, I am noticing changes that will slowly alter the configuration of these rooms and transform them into different spaces.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2004 at 5:05PM
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saypoint(6b CT)

John, what you describe is just what I envision when thinking about garden 'rooms'.
I don't know why the term should be objectionable. I think we hear it a lot because more and more amateur home gardeners are interested in created more intimate, inviting, and interesting landscapes. This can only be a good thing if it encourages creativity and more use of mixed plantings and less reliance on the large open lawn.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2004 at 5:28PM
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I just saw another bird........gone.....

    Bookmark   February 4, 2004 at 5:57PM
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John_D(USDA 8b WA)

I just saw a sharp-shinned hawk kill and eat a house sparrow.

(A small price to pay for a natural-looking garden.)

    Bookmark   February 4, 2004 at 6:04PM
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You got me there John I can't match that.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2004 at 6:20PM
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Speaking of birds....this afternoon I was in the garden and happened to glance out toward the lake. A grouping of 25 or more Hooded Meganzers were quietly bobbing on the surface in a very tight group. A shadow flew over my head and I watch with amazement as a Bald Eagle dropped feet first into the group of ducks, plucked up a a large mullet while fighting to take flight again. When airborne the Eagle flew into the pine above my head and dined on his catch, screeching between every bite. A piercing sound and sight that sent chills down my spine!

    Bookmark   February 4, 2004 at 6:40PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

Nandina--way cool. Every birder's dream!


    Bookmark   February 7, 2004 at 2:13PM
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Cady(6b/Sunset34 MA)

Yeah! Zowie.

The closest I can come to that, is to report that earlier today I looked out the sunroom window, and saw a huge Bourbon Red turkey head bob up at the window, staring back at me. But that's because she knows I'm her meal ticket and the sunroom door is where the treats are distributed from. She doesn't screech between bites of stale bread; instead she makes a funny "Poink!" call.

Sorry, that's the best I can do. heh heh

    Bookmark   February 7, 2004 at 4:05PM
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