Skip to main content

What's Up Magazine

Lingering in Your Garden

May 01, 2018 12:00AM ● By Brian Saucedo
By Janice F. Booth

You’ve done it; your garden glows and billows with fresh growth and new life. Those shrubs you planted last October survived the winter. Your azaleas are bursting with blossoms after your careful pruning in November. Bulbs you planted—tulips, daffodils, and lilies spill their lush colors across your flowerbeds; those days on your hands and knees have certainly paid off.

Are you dazzled and beguiled by all this beauty and the promise of still more? Do you linger outdoors, watching the sun set and the fireflies twinkle? Wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy your morning yogurt amongst your dewy flowers and dawn’s glow, or rest in the warmth of the midday sunshine? Yes, you can grab that porch chaise and drag it out into the garden. You can spread a blanket on the lawn for a little picnic. 

However, it may be time to consider something a bit more permanent, more finished and comfy. Perhaps you can extend your time in the garden without adding more effort to your busy life. For example, there may be a way to better utilize that dusty porch. You know, the one where the kids leave their basketballs and muddy boots, the porch where the odd patio chair sits, unused. Why not transform that back porch into a comfy place to enjoy the garden and the fresh air? No back porch to rescue? Well, a pergola or gazebo might be a pretty solution to your personal garden space. With a bit of planning, your garden could be the backdrop for parties, or a place of refuge from the world’s demands. 

Okay, sure. Maybe I’m getting a bit carried away, but why not? You’ve put so much planning and effort and, yes, money into creating your slice of Eden, why not enjoy that garden as much as possible? Your desire to comfortably linger out of doors was shared by ancient civilizations—the Chinese, Persian, and Turkish, all built graceful architectural additions to enhance their experiences of their gardens. American colonial gardens still grace our city, including the Paca Garden with its elegant summerhouse where William Paca and his guests could seek privacy for cool breezes and conversation. 

Are you taking full advantage of the sunlight, shade, and breezes in your garden, Nature’s own stress-reduction therapy? You may not be prepared to build a summerhouse like that of William Paca, but a pavilion, pergola, gazebo, grotto, or arbor might be just the project you may want to undertake next. Socrates, the great philosopher and teacher, contemplated the proper utilization of indoor and outdoor space. In her article, “Solar Cities of Ancient Greece,” April Holloway says that Socrates introduced the concept of solar house design, which emphasized the placement of rooms to take advantage of shade and sunlight, and capture the flow of prevailing breezes. 

If you already have a porch or deck attached to your house, transforming it into a sunroom is a logical way to expand your opportunities to enjoy your garden. Your improvements may be simple—screening in the porch to keep the pesky bugs at bay, adding shades or awnings, electrical outlets for lighting, fans, and electronics. With each improvement, your porch becomes more inviting and comfy. An indoor-outdoor area rug, a few comfortable chairs for reading and conversation, and you’ll find yourself most mornings in the sunroom, lingering over your morning coffee, watching the goldfinches, which you’d never noticed before, as they make the rounds of your garden.

If you’re not a big do-it-yourselfer, you’ll want to find a builder. Things like permits, roofing, all-weather maintenance, design integrity with your home’s architecture, and grading will have to be discussed and planned for. I would advise that you reach a clear understanding with your builder about the construction process too. Insist on a plan of construction that avoids, as much as possible, damaging flowerbeds, shrubs, paths, and trees, to avoid having the very garden you’re working to enjoy damaged by clumsy construction practices. 
If you think you’ll want to enjoy this new living space year-round, you will want to discuss the plan with your builder. Or, another option is to buy a sunroom or solarium that is partially or fully fabricated, and then installed on your house. A four-season sunroom provides a perfect winter home for your favorite plants. You can create a conservatory; enjoy your garden indoors when winter comes. 

There are advantages to a pre-fabricated sunroom. Much of the construction fuss-and-muss is eliminated. The ready-made additions have tried-and-true designs for weather sealing, ventilation, heating and air conditioning. Some companies offer a wide range of designs, from small to grand. 

But hold on. Maybe you would rather be right there, in the midst of your roses, surrounded by foxgloves, daisies, and begonias. You enjoy wandering along your paths, picking off stray leaves, pinching back leggy stems, watching butterflies alight on your Aster and cone flowers (Echinacea.) Imagine your garden walk reaching a pretty gazebo nestled between the holly tree and your rose bed. A pergola or gazebo would offer a bit of shade and an inviting place to sit and observe—a hidden sanctuary among the flowers. 

A pergola is a covered arbor, usually arched, upon which you’ll train ivy and wisteria to grow. One caution I might add about a pergola, little bugs and spiders enjoy such leafy hideaways as much as we do. So, you’ll have to tackle the occasional spider’s web and wasp’s nest. 

A gazebo offers a more user-friendly garden bower. Your gazebo could be as simple as a tubular frame, covered with a white canopy, draped with light, nylon panels that shade you from the direct sun or prying eyes and catch the breeze at sunset, fluttering invitingly. Fabric structures, while vulnerable to falling branches and storms, are easy to repair or replace. Birds and insects are put off by the movements of the fabric and tend to keep their distance. Inexpensive and easy to construct, a fabric gazebo is a quick and easy means to comfortably spend more time in your garden.

pergola or gazebo would offer a bit of shade and an inviting place to sit and observe—a hidden sanctuary among the flowers.”

Or, for something a bit more substantial, build a gazebo of redwood or cedar. It may be only big enough for two to sit and watch the garden. Or, it might be large enough for a small garden table and a few chairs, a place to bring your friend for tea or settle down with your computer to finish a project for work, al fresco. Some of the features you could add to a permanent gazebo are a trellis on which you can train climbing roses, clematis, or honeysuckle. A wind chime, birdbath, or bird feeder could be situated for easy viewing from your gazebo. 

Just a reminder: Be sure to get any necessary permits and check your property lines and any covenants that may apply to adding a permanent structure to your property. Of course, if you hire a builder, she or he will handle those issues. 

If you’re lucky enough to have both a pretty garden and an inviting pool in your yard, a pool-side cabana might be a useful addition. Traditionally, a cabana has a seating area for entertaining, a few, small changing rooms, and a bathroom with shower. While you’ll need an experienced builder, there are considerations you’ll want to bring up in the planning stage. First, placement of the cabana to accommodate both the garden and the pool. Like Socrates, you’ll want to consider where the sun and shade will be and from which direction the prevailing breezes will arrive.
Second, ease of maintenance. You want to spend your time enjoying the pool and your friends; you don’t want to be cautioning your family and guests to avoid this and don’t sit on that. Choose design features that will accommodate clean and dirty towels, wet feet and damp bodies. Finally, how will the cabana fit in with your garden’s design? Once your builder has addressed those issues to your satisfaction, you’ll know that your cabana will enhance your enjoyment of your garden and pool.

Finally, I’ve run across a few handy hints that can enhance your day-to-day pleasure in your garden structure:
To dissuade pesky insects, plant marigolds and calendula around the porch or gazebo. They’ll repel some of those annoying flies and mosquitoes.
Those ever-popular citronella torches and candles are reliable aids for deterring bugs; the only disadvantages are safety concerns if children are around and keeping a few dry matches or lighting stick available.
Once a month, or so, mix up a batch of hydrogen peroxide and water—1 part to 3 parts. Spray the diluted mixture around the edges of the gazebo floor and roof to repel insects. Don’t use this mix in a pergola. The hydrogen peroxide would kill your vines and plants.
An interesting alternative is to use natural oil of anise, witch hazel, eucalyptus or lavender. If you enjoy the lingering fragrance of one of these plants, dilute the oil and spray oil-water mix around the gazebo to repel spiders and flies.
Some garden authorities suggest spraying diluted, alcohol-based mouthwash as an insect repellent. (I’m not sure that’s the scent I want in my garden. But you can try it if all else fails.)
Dryer sheets (Bounce is a common brand) will keep away no-see-ums. The only problem seems to be how do you keep dryer sheets in your pergola or gazebo? Would you clothespin them to the rafters or sit on them? Not sure.

Now, I could offer recommendations on which type of cookies to take with you when you sneak off for 30 minutes in the welcoming solace of your gazebo. Or, I could suggest a novel that will enhance your hour, feet up, in your beautiful sunroom. But I suspect you can make those choices for yourself. So, I’ll just wish you many happy, relaxing hours in whatever garden room you choose to create.