Holy Sissinghurst, Batman!!!
There is a way of making gardens that I feel has run its course. It has reached its zenith, its apex, its apotheosis. It can go no further. It has gone far enough. Too far.
I speak of the Outdoor Room.
Let me be clear. I love the original intent of having “outdoor rooms”. It is a smart way to develop space. If you want something more organized than a wild, untamed expanse, having your exterior spaces unfold via a series of paths that mimic corridors and enclosed or semi-enclosed areas that resemble rooms makes good sense. These rooms are usually deployed with restraint and ease, not literally, and they make a welcome addition to the ways one can experience their outdoor living.
It is my opinion that the inside has come outside with such vehemence, with such overly designed force that nature cowers in the distance, wondering where its place is.
I live and design gardens in Los Angeles, California, a city (or an idea) that might be considered ground zero for the outdoor living movement. We do everything outside, all year long. We eat outside, we read outside, we do our office hours outside. On Xmas eve you may find yourself watching Its A Wonderful Life outside on a pull-down screen at your neighbor’s house – the one who hosts “Movie and Wine Night.” We love being outside. ALL. THE. TIME.
But the downside of living in this kind of paradise is that our gardens look less like gardens than they do a room that happens to have bamboo instead of walls and arbors instead of ceilings. There are couches and daybeds, full of pillows and cushions and throws (because it can get a little chilly at night, outside, and god forbid your back or behind touches something hard). There are not just grills but kitchens with sinks and refrigerators and wine chillers and built-in panini presses. There are chandeliers hanging from the trees and speakers disguised as rocks and showers and bathtubs. Shelter magazines love these tricked out garden spaces that are basically just wishing they were interior spaces. At first, it was charming. Now – less so. It seems decadent.
Where do we stop? Is there a point where we say, THIS is good, this is enough, but more than this and we are defeating the purpose of being outside!
I imagine the purpose of spending time outdoors varies, as most things – but isn’t it to connect to something simpler, more straightforward? To step away from the things that surround and trap us in our workaday lives? When we bring all the “things” outside with us, what are we saying about our ability to just BE? Outside. Just us, with our plants, and our pets, and the soil and the sky.
I love finding the edge of that place – where just enough is enough. I wonder if even that is too much sometimes. My heart is wanting the garden that is simple – that has a place to sit, a place to eat with my friends, a place for me to settle in and enjoy a book. No chandelier, no throw over my lap in case of a chill – let the chill come. I want to go outside and feel outside.
Am I crazy?