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Living Outside: Garden Rooms Offer a Place to Relax Outdoors

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RISMEDIA, March 26, 2008-(MCT)-For years, the side yard of Jay and Sylvia Gonzalez’s Reedley, Calif., home was left bare and empty. When the couple went outside, it was usually to use the pool and covered patio in the backyard. Last year, though, they decided it was time to do something with the unfinished piece of property.

With the help of Fresno, Calif., landscape designer Mariette Olsen, the Gonzalezes turned the area into a garden room with outdoor wicker seating, wood arbors and potted plants.

“I wanted a little getaway place,” says Sylvia Gonzalez, an accounting technician. “If someone wanted to have a private conversation, they could. Or it could be a place just for us.”

While “you can sit there by the pool, over here, it’s cozy,” she says. “It’s really nice.”

No matter the size of your backyard, you, too, can create your own private retreat with garden rooms. You just have to do some planning before you start moving pots and chairs around.

Garden rooms can mean different things to many people.

Generally, “garden rooms are enclosed spaces in your yard,” says Fresno County Master Gardener Brenda Ratzlaff.

While garden rooms usually don’t have four walls and a ceiling, they are “spaces that give a sense of enclosure, so it feels kind of like a room.”

A number of structures-such as the sides of a house, fences along the perimeter of the property, hedges, shrubs and trees-can act like walls. Arbors and pergolas also can give dimension to these areas. Floors can be grass, concrete, flagstone or “whatever you want to use,” Ratzlaff says.

The garden rooms also typically have a function or purpose. For example, the gardens can be for sitting, eating or reading. Each room often includes a focal point, such as a water feature, or seating, such as a bench.

Betty Aller of Fresno, Calif., has two garden rooms in her backyard that she designed with Fresno landscape architect Bob Boro.

One garden room has two patio chairs in front of an aviary created by local ceramic artist Pat Hopper.

She likes to have her morning coffee while enjoying the soft morning light.

The other garden room includes a pergola with hanging planters, a wall fountain with a lion’s head, seating and many plants in containers.

“This weekend, my family was here,” Aller says. “We visited and had a glass of wine.”

In Madera, Jill Cholewa is out everyday enjoying her six garden rooms. Some areas have soft and calming colors, while others are filled with vibrant hues.

“During different times of your days or life, you have different moods,” says Cholewa, a Madera County, Calif., Master Gardener. “Either you need to be woken up or you need to be relaxed with a glass of wine.”

Among her garden rooms is the “sitting and relaxing” one, with chairs and a water feature. Another is designed for contemplating. This room has two arches covered with white roses and ivy and three-person rattan seating.

She also has her “North Dakota swinging area,” with a lavender wood swing that reminds her of a similar one from her childhood growing up in that state.

While Cholewa lives on half an acre, garden rooms don’t need that much yard space. Aller’s backyard is about 30 by 30 feet, while the Gonzalezes’ side yard is about 20 by 12 feet.

No matter what size yard you have, you need to plan out your garden rooms, say those who design them.

“I think it’s a good idea to plan the whole yard in advance, even if you might not plant or do the whole yard right now,” Olsen says. That way, you can put in the necessary irrigation, lighting or features that can be costly to do later.

Also, as you begin to gather ideas for your garden rooms, picture them on paper, Cholewa says.

“Draw it out to scale on graph paper before you even start,” she says. When you do, “you’d be surprised by how much or little room you have.”

Part of planning is having a budget, and you can spend as much or as little as you want. The Gonzalezes spent about $4,000 on theirs.

If you’re on a tighter budget, you can still have garden rooms by being creative with your buys, Ratzlaff says.

“For instance, I happen to like Japanese boxwood and privet hedges as `walls,’” she writes in an e-mail.

“Since they both grow fast, especially if fertilized, I will sometimes get rooted cuttings at the nursery in a flat. … Instead of a few one-gallon plants, I can have 36 for the same price.”

The Gonzalezes decided to seek Olsen’s guidance on what to do with their backyard after they met her last spring at the Fresno Home and Garden Show.

“We didn’t want to slap it together,” Jay Gonzalez says. “We didn’t want it to be a party area. We wanted to go back there and disconnect from the world.”

Except for a fountain, which they still are searching for, the garden room was completed in September, and they have been enjoying it since.

“Every chance we can, we go out there-even if it’s just for a few minutes-and relax,” he says.

© 2008, The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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