Actually, I never needed to be told that a garden could be an extension of one’s living space. Growing up in suburban-feeling Lockport, N.Y.—before this term came into being—late afternoon found the whole family out on the patio and in the yard. There were chairs, tables, plantings, a grill, a treehouse, and various outdoor games. It seems instinctive for domestic American humans to spend more time in their outdoor spaces when the weather permits—and to modify those spaces so that they contain more amenities.
While perusing the gardening media’s seasonal hot lists and seeing “outdoor room” for the past few years, I’m thinking: what’s so new about that? (Well, OK, the trend-predictors have to have something to talk about.)
It is true that the outdoor room concept is being taken to lengths my parents never would have imagined. More and more of the space is paved. There are firepits, fireplaces, chimineas, bars, hot tubs, and lots and lots of ornamental accents. Backyard grills are getting bigger and bigger, and much, much uglier. (The only grills that come close to being attractive are the old-fashioned charcoal-burning Webers.) For some homeowners, even the most gargantuan grill bristling with every possible bell and whistle still isn’t enough, so they’re installing entire kitchens outside instead. (As you see in the illustration above from the Woodburners Two company.)
Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time outside: sitting, eating, drinking, cooking, and socializing. But I have rooms inside. I want the outside to be outside, filled with dirt, plants, bugs, and the sounds of birds and cicadas, not the hum of my appliances. I want to be able to get to my plants without tripping over ten objets d’art. I consider our grill a necessary evil, so we have it hidden around the side of the garage, on a spot where nothing will grow. Sculpture and furniture have their place in a garden, to be sure—and I have both—but there is a fine line.
It is a struggle. Just as I fight clutter inside the house, I have to be careful not to have too many domestic objects or objects of any kind in my outdoor spaces. (Even too many container plantings can become distractions rather than enhancements.) If the otudoors stops looking like the outdoors, than it’s not much of a retreat anymore. Where do you draw the line?