Nothing creates comfort and interest in a garden more than landscape structures, especially a seating area or shelter.
Architectural touches make your garden a comfortable place to be close to your favorite plants, just like a client who called in the spring to talk about her fascination with her cross-vine (Bignonia capreolata). She was enthralled by the pink flowers on the rapidly growing vine, which scaled two concrete pillars in her garden.
The summer is a good time to launch such landscape projects. The route of a paved pathway is easier to envision with plants growing around it.
Keep the right balance between plants and architectural structures. Walkways, tables and other outdoor structures shouldn’t take up more than half of your space.
Boulders can be used to create a beautiful design. Large rocks can be strategically placed as seating, while a central flat boulder can serve as a dining or game table.
There aren’t many objects that are more structural in appearance than stone, whether it is a huge weathered rock outcropping or quarried stone. My favorites are large fieldstones that have been weathered for decades and are covered with moss and lichens.
Garden shelters can also enhance a landscape design and serve as the central focus of a garden. There are many types, and each offers different advantages.
Arbors, pergolas and shade trellises have open roofs. The roofs of arbors are typically covered with open rafters or lattice that can support plants. Pergolas have a more formal style and more intricate design work, and they might include side walls or pillars to support beams on top. Shade trellises are sometimes designed with one wall that serves as wind protection or attaches the structure to a house.
Structures with solid roofs for protection against the elements are often referred to as belvederes, gazebos, loggias and porticos. Their sides are usually open so the wind can blow through. The term belvedere is applicable to any garden shelter with an outstanding vista. Gazebos, a derivation of English and Latin words meaning “I shall gaze,” are also relaxing retreats with a view. Loggias are open-sided balconies overlooking a courtyard, while porticos are covered promenades, generally attached to a home.
Bowers, casinos and screened-in porches are enclosed garden structures that can also function as summerhouses or guest lodgings. A bower is a rustic structure often covered with branches and vines laced together. Screened-in porches make eating and spending time outdoors relaxing and pleasant without annoying insects and inclement weather. Casinos generally are infused with Italianate style, very ornate, and provide the formal entry onto an estate. From the casino, visitors can enter the garden.
Choose a design and continue the theme around your garden. A licensed or landscape architect can also help realize your vision.
The proper placement of your garden structure depends upon how you plan to use it. I like to place outdoor structures near a house to create a smooth indoor-outdoor flow. Garden structures are often nicely situated on a slightly elevated southeastern slope, away from the lowest point of your property. In freezing temperatures, low areas develop frost pockets and collect the coldest air on the property.
Garden shelters should meet certain size requirements to ensure comfort. The total area should include 64 square feet per person, and the doorway should be at least 32 inches wide. If you want to train large plants, you will need strong supports such as steel pipe and heavy lumber.
There are also many prefabricated and custom-built garden shelters available. You can visit garden and home-improvement centers for information or browse the Internet for garden structures.
Think about building a shelter or accent structure; it will allow you to be surrounded by your plants and enjoy them throughout the growing season.
Joel M. Lerner is president of Environmental Design in Capitol View Park, Md.