Brian Minter: The garden as a place of comfort

We have a need to be outside enjoying fresh air and nature, while doing the things we would normally do indoors.

Suddenly, it’s a new reality in our world, our country and our neighbourhoods.

We need to rethink how we do almost everything due to the COVID-19 virus. The key is to be thoughtful and respectful of others by following ever-changing guidelines set out by our health-care officials and professionals.

Social distancing, keeping ourselves and our families healthy, washing our hands frequently, shopping selflessly and being considerate of those who serve us in retail and professional environments are all things we must do. As Canadians, we have values as a nation, and by working together, we can minimize the infection rate to assist each other and our medical experts who deserve so much credit for their dedication and their courage to help all members of our society.

During this challenging time, we all need some personal comfort, especially if we are staying home, either voluntarily or by order of quarantine. For many folks, a garden, indoors or out, a small balcony or a big backyard can provide a zone of relaxation and solace.

Little escapes may be closer than you think — maybe even just outside your door. We need a special place to “get away” from a very busy, and sometimes scary, world and to experience serenity. The concept of an outdoor “room” has been around for some time now, often paralleling our living rooms.

In an increasingly pressurized world, we have a need to be outside enjoying fresh air and nature, while doing the things we would normally do indoors. Leading-edge home designs feature outdoor kitchens, bars, entertainment centres and relaxation areas — in short, complete outdoor living all year long.

 An outdoor ‘bed?’ We need a special place to ‘get away’ from a very busy, and sometimes scary, world and to experience serenity.

Despite what you’ve heard, size does not matter. There are some amazing small, outdoor rooms that are very intimate, private and spectacular. By applying some amazing design techniques, even tiny rooms can seem very spacious. Well-placed plants, mirrors and water features can transform small outdoor spaces into cozy corners. Because we don’t all have perfect backyards, sometimes the front yard is the ideal spot. If you live on a quiet street with some good design elements, it may be the best location for an outdoor room.

Many folks are concerned about the year-round use of outdoor rooms, particularly in the cool, damp West Coast weather. By covering outdoor rooms with solid, complementary, innovative roofing, such as tempered glass, you can create an almost year-round comfort zone. Well-designed skylights can offer quite a delightful effect, and lighting can play a very important role in outdoor living rooms.

To combat cool, damp temperatures, strategically placed heaters can solve this problem nicely. It’s also more common now for outdoor rooms to have an exterior wall designed as a fireplace. I must say on a cold October night the juxtaposition of the outdoor fireplace and warm, comfy chairs creates an ambience hard to match.

Water can be another key element of an outdoor room.  It creates atmosphere. Whether it’s an elegant fountain or a stream gurgling over stones, water is calming and serene while at the same time adding an element of interest and magic to an outdoor room that can seldom be duplicated indoors.

Plants, as always, put the finishing touches on an outdoor room. Fabulous vines, which can add perfume, privacy and colour are absolutely essential. Tall, narrow vertical trees can add delightful screening, as well as frames for lighting at night.

The pièces de resistance, however, are containers. Not ordinary containers, but extraordinary ones with great design elements.

 There are some amazing small, outdoor rooms that are very intimate, private and spectacular.

Even on a small-space apartment balcony or existing patio, colourful containers bring it to life. Today’s containers are far different from those in the past. They must contain five elements in order to provide that much-needed serenity:

First the colours. Use your favourites, of course, but any colours you choose should not only blend in with your patio but must also be analogous colours — those tints and hues that are next to each other on the colour wheel. These combinations are powerful.

Second, what do you have that actually moves in your container when a breeze comes up? Soft, supple grasses, like Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima), gently sway with the slightest air movement.

What about perfume? Of all our senses, it is one that moves us the most. From the winter sarcococca, scented jasmine, “eternal fragrance” daphne to heliotrope and the new compact sterile butterfly bushes, the list of garden plants that bring fragrance into the garden seems almost endless. A subtle, lingering perfume can be the antidote for a great deal of stress.

Pollinators, like bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, should all be welcome to visit our containers. By providing plants with both nectar and perfume, you will be sharing your patio pots and the tranquility of your outdoor room with some of nature’s best friends.

Finally, when it gets dark outside, do you have LED mini-lights wound around twigs and branches to create that touch of magic that makes your special place a relaxing escape?

It’s a difficult time for all of us right now, but even in small spaces we can create an outdoor area that is a refuge.  It will make a big difference in your life.


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