Inside Outside



a cozy moment in a garden that echoes the living room inside. Is this too much?
a cozy moment in a garden that echoes the living room inside. Is this too much?

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.

Until now.

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?


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Ivette Soler


Fasten your seatbelts, Ranters, I hope you like riding rollercoasters! I’m Ivette Soler, a garden designer and writer who lives and works in Los Angeles, California. I have been designing since 1997, working primarily with the subtropical and succulent palette that thrives in my corner of the world. I started my blog, The Germinatrix, in 2004, and I have been enjoying a vibrant dialog with the online garden community ever sine. In 2011, Timber Press published my book “The Edible Front Yard“, in which I make the case for ridding ourselves of thirsty, dull front lawns in favor of beautiful, bountiful gardens that mix food with ornamentals. I am thrilled to be a part of this illustrious and opinionated group, and am looking forward to RANTING with all of you!

Let’s do a little speed-dating so you can get to know me better:

I am a Believer – I know that gardens and gardening can and will make this world a better place.

I am a Maximalist – I believe that more is more and more is better than less!

I am against Horticultural Xenophobia – If you believe that we must eliminate well-chosen exotics from our landscapes in favor of a natives-only palette, we might have words.

I am a Talker – I love to get into it! If you have anything you want to challenge me about, or if you want to dialog about anything I post, please comment away! My love of blogging is rooted in dialoging with a large number of passionate gardeners with diverse opinions. I will rant, and I expect you to RANT BACK

I cast a wide net – This is a big world, and I believe our gardens are more interesting when we open ourselves up to ideas other than those that come to us from the established gardening world. I am inspired by fine art, literature, product design, theatre, fashion … you get the picture. I will often bring in ideas from other areas of culture to our conversations about gardens and the way we garden.

I like exclamation points and sometimes … yes … ALL CAPS – I really talk like this!!!! I can’t help it!!!

I am eager to move the conversation about gardening and the place it has in our lives forward, so hop on, make sure you are strapped in tightly, and LET’S GO!


    • Good ones – that’s why I love Adirondacks, which do both with ONE piece of furniture! (I know I’m repeating myself.)
      Also, speaking from the near-South, a source of shade (and market umbrellas do just fine) or even better – a screened-in porch. To me, they’re the best combination of in/out for this buggy area.

      • I’m so with you Elizabeth – I love a double duty piece of furniture. I designed the seating in the picture so it functioned as couch and table, and I was very happy with how it works. And a screened in porch is my DREAM! We had one in my grandmother’s house in San Antonio Tx, and that is where I spent all my time coloring and listening to the cicadas. I want one!

  1. The outdoor-room excess that gets to me (as a former Angeleno, I know it’s particularly prevalent there) is the outdoor kitchen. I had friends with a terrace that contained not just a full table and chairs for twelve, not just a fire pit nearby, not just a built-in high end barbecue, but an under-counter refrigerator and a cook-top. Oh, and of course a prep sink, can’t do without a prep sink. Their “real” indoor kitchen? About 15 paces away. I kept looking around discreetly for a dishwasher. When I moved away they were contemplating a pizza oven. To their credit, they did use the space all the time.

    • That’s an important thing to note, Chris – that they did use it all. I know people like that too – who fully use all of their outdoor gear. But for everyone of those, I guarantee you there are 2 who rarely use their jacked-up outdoor spaces, but they really like having them for that one time a year crank up all the gizmos. But maybe that’s ok – it just strikes me as very different than a classic garden experience.

  2. I have often felt just as you do when I see the people camping who seem to have brought everything from home with them: TV, music players, the big RV, etc, etc. Why even leave home if you have to bring it all with you?

    • Isn’t that so funny? To go out to nature and bring it all with you? I get the change of scenery thing and all – but sometimes too much is just that – too much!

    • Susan that is SO true! I just saw a report on what people are missing because we are on our phones, etc. so much. Just get outside and enjoy it for what it is. Kids don’t even know how to play outside anymore, or use their imagination for that matter:( Great article!

  3. So in Los Angeles at least there is the hope of using some of these “outdoor rooms” relatively often. Imagine how home shows and landscape design magazines have sold this idea to the whole country! So many places have scorching summer weather, bugs and snowy winters. Up here in the Pacific Northwest, we have at most about two and a half months of warmish dry weather, yet the outdoor kitchen/fireplace/pizza oven and all the associated hardscape uses up most of the increasingly small back yard. It may have something to do with landscape design and installation firms making way more money on hardscape than on plants and lawn.

    • Ding ding ding!!!! Nancy for the win! YES – these extra features mean MONEY for landscape designers and contractors. I know well I’m implicated in this, I’m building a fairly tricked-out space right now. My pricing structure is independent of the projects budget, for the very reason that I didn’t want to be incentivized to build over-the-top gardens just to make an extra few (thousand) dollars. But I do harrumph when I see my colleagues raking it in – and I console myself with the knowledge that my gardens are more streamlined and appropriate. But people really want these things, and it is often very hard to advocate for a simpler garden experience when someone wants the whole kit and caboodle. I struggle with it!

    • Went to the Home Show in Sacramento last weekend to get some ideas for our backyard . (To make it more dog friendly, we removed my rose museum and most everything else.) The majority of the exhibits were big clunky concrete structures with out door kitchens. My kitchen is only a few steps from outdoor and I pass by a large refrig to get there. I want grass and shade.

      • You know Marcia, many fully decked out outdoor kitchens are steps away from the real kitchen, but still have a prep sink and all the doohickeys. Which, if they are really used, I can’t argue with. It is the ones that sit there as sculptures, as totems, rather than useful pieces of a well-lived life, that I have questions about. I tend to roll my eyes a bit more at the chandeliers and the throw pillows and the woven rugs – outside? Really? It isn’t enough that I have to totally decorate my interior so that it looks perfect, now that same standard is to be met outside as well? ENOUGH!!! I give! hahaha…

  4. Here in sweden the outdoor room represents a dream of a warm summer. Most of our garden lives are lived in the head, so when the snow melts out we go out to seek our italian dream… I think simplicity must be maintained in order to experience nature, and not just culture. Nature is disorder and change, concrete paths and firepits are order and constant. Our senses are not stimulated in the the same way, without sound, smell and movement.

    Garden designs do not invite chaos, it is ordered, measured, contained. Never an intruding plant or a tree that will grow too high. Pretty yes, but natureless!

    Although I think there is one major bonus to the outdoor kitchen. Who is the one enjoying the setting sun with a drink in hand, standing by the BBQ? Who is the one prepping sauces, making salad, running back and forth? Yes, the running water and fridge is an emancipation-project! I hate being the one who has to go indoors to start the potatoes, just when you want to enjoy yourself after a hard day of digging.

    • Great thoughts Louise! Yes – there are benefits to having the whole kitchen outside, but I still find too much really fights with a kind of serenity that I try to create. But in those circumstances, it is my challenge as the designer of the space to figure it our and make the kitchen blend into the surroundings with ease and simplicity. I get where you are going! Thanks so much for your input!

    • You are so right. Here in rural upstate NY, even having chairs outside (or tomato plants) represents the dream of a warm summer. And I agree with your points about who benefits from an outdoor kitchen, though I doubt I will ever see one here. We host a neighborhood picnic at our place every fall for all the locals and also the absentee NYC property owners that only appear during hunting season. Big grill event with lots of side dishes. This past fall it was rained out and we had it in the house. Most enjoyable and relaxing picnic for me ever, despite all the extra cleaning and rounding up of chairs. So much less running in and out of the house for ketchup, more coffee, more platters, serving spoons, coffee milk, dessert plates, more coffee, forks …

  5. And I’m wondering who has the time or motivation to clean 2 full kitchens? Because you know both kitchens will be used at the same time anyway, right?

  6. I feel fortunate to be able to enjoy the great outdoors all year round AND be connected with nature. What’s the point when you hook up your television outdoors? Happy mindful nesting indoors and outdoors!

  7. I have a comfortable iron chair in the shade and a short pile of cobblestones next to it, suitable for setting a cup of coffee (Or vodka-infused grapefruit juice). I have been known to bring a book out there, but somehow that book always get set aside. I have a smart phone; maybe I could learn to play movies on it, I could learn to contract my consciousness to a small screen in my palm and a tinny soundtrack in my ears. Or not.

  8. If I lived in L.A. I would happily have cushy lounge chairs to keep my back and butt comfortable while I lived outside every single day. I can do without the outdoor kitchen, but the arbors, chandeliers hanging from trees, cushy seating, and “rooms”? I love them — so long as actual, real-live plants are a big part of them too. Just look at J.J. de Sousa’s garden in Portland and tell me you don’t love her comfortably furnished, plant- and art-filled, garden rooms: . And notice her use of humble, recycled materials to achieve the effect.

    • Hi Pam! Your pics of the space are lovely. I know lots of people like gardens like that, but I must admit – and this is of course totally subjective – outdoor spaces that have so many “things” in them are very distracting to me. I am personally not one for “garden art” – I’d rather let a Euphorbia ingens ‘Ammak’ be my sculpture, or an Aloe bainseii ‘Medusa’. And I, of course, have seating and dining in my garden – but I have been trying to find a way of simplifying the profiles of those essential outdoor living features to make them as unobtrusive as possible, so the plants can shine. I know this sounds weird from someone who has an orange tiled wall in her backyard, but I guess it is all a process of evolution – I am wanting more peace and solidity from my outdoor surroundings rather than a jazzy self-consciousness. I have pillows and blankets inside, outside I want things to be simpler. I want them to function – I need lighting, I need to cook, I need comfortable places for me and my friends to sit – but that function has to blend into my garden in an easier, lighter way than it did before. I guess my eyes are just tired of all the glazed ceramics, all the glass, all the gewgaws. Since I am currently doing a big reno on my garden, I’ll let you know how the finished product turns out. Hopefully it will be that garden I’m imagining – where all the needs are met, but nothing calls attention away from the stars of the attraction – a collection of plants that bring a sense of peace and serenity to a noisy urban neighborhood. That’s what I’m hoping for, anyway! Wish me luck!!!

      • You don’t need luck, Ivette (you’ve got mad skills!), but I wish you luck anyway. I can’t wait to see how your renovated garden turns out, and I hope you’ll post about the process as well as the result.

        Garden taste is, as you say, completely subjective. What tires one person’s eye energizes another’s. From such differences are beautiful, diverse gardens created. Thank heavens we don’t all like the same thing, for the world would be less interesting, as I’m sure you’d agree. 🙂

        • Pam darling you KNOW I agree! Diversity above all! And I think it bears mentioning that when I “critique” gardens it is (hopefully!) understood that gardens are wonderful, and that the impulse to create a space that you love outside, surrounded by living things, is always a positive. Tastes change. I think I am succumbing to the thing I railed against as a baby gardener – the need for peace and quite. How ironic! I love your point about what tires one person’s eye may energize another’s, and that is so true. What we need from gardens changes as we go through life, and that is definitely the lens that I am currently looking through. XOXOXO you wonder woman you!!!!

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