Bare Nakid Deck Syndrome

Bare Nakid Deck1 300x225 Bare Nakid Deck Syndrome
Deck courtesy Shmoomeema

It can happen to anyone. You walk outside, onto your deck, take a few steps, and suddenly realize you’re standing in the middle of a vast, barren space, where nothing is happening – or about to. The wind whistles forlornly through your hair as you turn a 360 degree circle, staring out over a wasteland of wood. Are those the deck rails, way over there, miles away? Is that Lady Godiva, riding her steed bare-assed across the deck floor?

You could land a jumbo jet out here!

Decks (and Patios) – Perfect Outdoor Space Additions

Decks are wonderful additions to a home, but sometimes it can be lonely out there, amidst all that space. You could hold ball room dances on some decks without fear of couples running into each other.

That’s the irony of Bare Nakid Deck Syndrome. You have a great deck, but all you’re doing with it is storing air.

So how do you cure Bare Nakid Deck Syndrome (and its insidious counterpart, Pallid Patio Syndrome)? Easy. Put those suckers to work earning their keep.

What are some of the things you can do with a bare nakid deck or a pallid patio? Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Create real living space. Add festive tables and chairs for seating, eating and entertaining (make sure to allow about 4′ of space behind chairs for guests to circulate).
  • Snuggle nooks. Create intimate spaces suitable for more private get-togethers by subdividing your deck space with container gardens and potted plants.
  • Jungleize. Soften all that empty space with container-grown dwarf trees or standards, window boxes hung from the deck rails, and vertical gardens grown against your home’s walls.
  • Turn up the music!. Wire your deck for sound using hidden speakers suitable for outdoor use.
  • Light it up! Put in soft outdoor lighting to create the right ambiance.
  • Don’t forget the eats. Install an outdoor kitchen close to the kitchen door, outfitted for cooking, food prep, and serving.
  • Veggies are good for you. Grow herb and vegetable gardens right on the deck in containers or tubs, where fresh edibles are only a step away.
  • Accessorize. Add and display garden art, wicker furniture, bird feeders, even small water features – and sun-loving tropical plants vibrant with color.
Patio Plants 224x300 Bare Nakid Deck Syndrome
Patio Plants

If you’ve figured out by now that plants should be an integral part of your deck and patio living space, you’re right! A deck or patio without plants is only half dressed (or less). Plants change the entire character of your outdoor living space, from barren plain to fragrant, shaded oasis.

Plants Make the Space on Your Deck or Patio

Where are a few places to use plants on and around your deck or patio?

  • Step it up. Place pots of annuals on either side of steps leading up to the upper deck or to a terraced patio (make sure steps are wide enough to navigate without danger of tripping).
  • Show your artistic bent. Create a visually appealing container garden grouping staged against a bare wall. Place taller pots and plants in the rear or to the sides, with smaller pots in front. Mix and match color combos and textures for a lively display.
  • Window boxes aren’t just for windows. Hang a few from your deck railings to add space-saving life and color.
  • Go vertical. Planted frames attached to walls can hold a variety of plants.
  • Don’t forget the climbers. Use trellises or wire supports to divide space and grow tall or climbing plants right on the deck, or above the rails.
  • Head for the tropics. Pots of tropicals and perennials are great for defining space. Place them around seating areas for instant intimacy.
  • Incredible edibles. Growing edible plants in matching plastic pots placed side by side before a deck rail can make a surprisingly bountiful kitchen garden.
  • Basket case. Strategically placed baskets hung from metal shepherd’s crooks bring beauty to a new level.
  • Overhead structure. Design for shade with pergolas extending from your walls out over the deck, and planted with vines.

If this sounds like a lot of work, it need not be. You can design many of these features into your deck or patio before you build them. Then it’s only a matter of adding plants – the fun part!

The Tao of Low-Maintenance

You can make things a little easier by planning for low-maintenance.

  • place larger pots on wheeled pot caddies so you can easily move them if needed.
  • make sure you use plants that play well together and have the same cultural requirements (amounts of sun and water, etc.) within the same containers.
  • consider placing your containers on a zoned drip irrigation system for maximum watering efficiency.

Once you get your creative juices flowing, it’s easy to get carried away. Of course, you should show some restraint. Too much of a good thing is just as bad as nothing. You don’t want your deck to appear over-dressed.

Also, keep pedestrian circulation in mind as your planning your spatial divisions, and make sure there are clear pathways from one user area to the others. And don’t forget safety. Know the weight load your deck is rated for. Use lighter plastic or fiberglass pots with soil-less mixes to keep total weight down. If in doubt, consult a structural engineer.

There now. That wasn’t so hard. You’ve overcome Bare Nakid Deck Syndrome, and dressed your deck for any occasion. Now all you have to do is call up family and friends and start the party!


Terrariums – Life Under Glass

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Terrarium – Live Under Glass
courtesy a2gemma, flickr

Terrariums have been around for a long time. Indeed, they were quite popular in the psychedelic ’70s. Those containers were kind of hokey, however. Many were made from plastic.

Nowadays, most terrariums are made using glass containers. They make great additions to any room, and are perfect gifts for folks who work in an office without windows, or anyone else who loves to keep green life in close proximity, without all the hassle of caring for houseplants.

A terrarium is an enclosed little world, and glass makes the perfect enclosure. It’s clearer then plastic, has less of a tendency to fog, is less likely to harbor fungi, and lends a certain elegance to terrarium creations.

Terrariums are the perfect project for the craft – or gardening – challenged. They’re small contained worlds, very easy to work with.

Terrarium Terra-forming

Start with a container. It can be anything. Fish bowls, vases, apothecary jars, cloches, even light bulbs and perfume bottles – all are candidates for harboring living plants. Find them in box stores like Wal-mart and Target, craft stores like Michaels, antique stores, even garage and yard sales.

Since terrariums don’t have drainage holes, you’ll want to start by laying down a drainage layer. An inch or so of river rock, glass beads, sea shells, or other hard material can accomplish this. Don’t use bark or other organic, porous materials. They tend to attract molds and fungi, which could devastate your little world.

After installing your drainage layer, insert a layer of dried sphagnum moss. This serves as a filter barrier, keeping your potting mix from infiltrating into and clogging your drainage stones. You can sprinkle a little charcoal (get it from an aquarium store) over the sphagnum moss to help control odors if you like, but it’s optional – a well-regulated terrarium generally won’t need it.

Of course, you’ll need some type of growing medium. Potting mix works best. It’s light and airy, and you can get mixtures formulated for various plant types and growing conditions. One thing your mix should not include is fertilizer. You want to keep your plant’s growth under control in the tiny environment of a terrarium, and fertilizer defeats this purpose.

Use a funnel to carefully pour in your mix, arranging it how you want it. Be creative! Build tiny hills and valleys. Add a few rocks, shells or pieces of petrified wood for textural interest, depending on what look you’re going for. Tamp the planting mix down with the butt end of a wooden spoon or dowel until it’s slightly firm.

Planting Time!

Now’s the time to add plants. Some terrariums utilize several varieties of moss. These little worlds are easily maintained and can even be entirely self-regulating once you achieve the proper moisture levels. Moss terrariums don’t need a lot of light, but should have a lid or cover to control humidity.

Other plants you can use include miniature ferns, house plants, and orchids. These need a more open container, and most will need a little more water. You can even create terrariums filled with succulents.

You can press moss directly on to the mix. With other plants, you’ll need to dig tiny holes and plant them as you would a regular plant outdoors or in a container. You may need to separate or root prune even small nursery plants before placing them in a terrarium. There’s not a lot of room in there.

Top off your creation with additional items like trinkets, tiny doll-house figurines, sea glass, and the like. Once finished, use a spritzer to lightly dampen moss, or a funnel to gently water other plants.

Then place your terrarium in a spot where it gets indirect sunlight or artificial light. Don’t sit it in a window that receives hot afternoon sun, or on a radiator or other heat source. Your terrarium plants could quickly cook.

Now step back and enjoy the tiny green world you’ve created!

Fall Container Gardens – Plan Now for Spectacular Autumn Color

Fall Container Garden1 150x150 Fall Container Gardens – Plan Now for Spectacular Autumn Color
Fall Container Garden

Cool autumn days means it’s time for fall container gardens. Pots planted in the spring and summer are starting to look a bit tired, and a gardener’s thoughts turn to planning containers filled with spectacular autumn color.

What are you looking for in fall container gardens?

Vibrant Autumn Shades for Spectacular Autumn Color

Colors need not be muted in the fall. Look for plant and pot combos of reds, oranges, yellows, browns, bronzes and purples. These shades are in context with the surrounding fall landscape.

Ornamental kale and cabbage are wonderful additions to fall container gardens, adorned with color that only get richer as the temperature drops. Other good bets are the Heucheras, Sedums and Sedges, as well as ornamental grasses like Red Fountain Grass. Compliment your arrangements with a sprinkling of gourds, pumpkins, fruits, corn stalks and/or berry-laden branches.

It’s going to turn colder sooner or later, so think cold-tolerant annuals and perennials planted in containers that aren’t damaged by unexpected freezes.

Cold Loving Annuals for Fall Container Gardens

Can annuals like – even thrive – in cold weather? Here are a few that stand up to the challenge.

  • ornamental cabbage
  • flowering kale
  • sage
  • flax
  • annual grasses
  • pansies
  • creeping wire grass

Hardy Perennials for Autumn Pots

Hardy perennials come in a variety of vibrant colors, from deep reds and crimsons to burnt oranges and mellow browns, to bright greens and lovely purple shades.

  • Heuchera (Coral Bells) – come in a variety of colors and textures suitable for fall arrangements
  • Sedum – low forms are perfect for the center of medium-width pot
  • Ornamental Grasses – many dry into a rich, royal gold or tan, and last into the winter
  • Lambs Ears – soft velvety texture contrasts well with grasses and spiky kales
  • Ivys – great trailing plants
  • Creeping Jenny – another spiller that transitions well into the fall

To ensure that your perennials thrive in the cold months, consider using varieties that survive 2 zones north of your area.

Containers that Weather the Weather Well

If you want to leave your fall containers outdoors into the winter months, make sure you have a container that can stand up to the big freeze. Natural terra-cotta will wick moisture and is prone to cracking when the temperature drops below freezing. Even glazed terra-cotta may not be able to survive. So use materials impervious to the deep freeze, such as plastic, foam, metal, wood, concrete, fiberglass or stone.

There is one terra-cotta pot you can use in cold weather – one made from Italian terra-cotta, considered the elite of terra-cotta pots. They’re pricy, but withstand temps down to -20 degrees.

So don’t let a little nip in the air keep you from planting and enjoying fall container garden creations. They’re plenty of great plant and pot choices out there for you to use in putting together your showcase fall container gardens.


Creating Functional Outdoor Spaces

Thinking of redesigning your garden this year? Or creating a new one? Don’t forget to include functional outdoor spaces.

That’s right. Plants aren’t everything (the passions of my plant fanatic friends notwithstanding). Gardens are at their best when they contain spaces designed specifically for quality outdoor living.

What kind of spaces are we talking about?

Utility Spaces

These are your working spaces. A utility space may be an area where you pot your plants. You might have a garden shed here, cold frames, or a small greenhouse. A composting station is another utility space.  Even a  vegetable garden may be considered a utility space. Also, your parking bays (vehicle storage spaces), and the area that holds your garbage and recycle bins.

These spaces need to be close to the areas they serve, so think out the access well. Using quick sketches or blob diagrams on paper help visualize where to site utility areas. Parking bays should be near the most convenient family entrance to the house, as well as close to the front walkway for visitor convenience. A space dedicated to composting could be situated close to where the lawn mower is stored (for ease in emptying grass clippings), as well as near the kitchen door (for disposing of organic garbage).

As these are working areas, they may need to be screened from other spaces with hedges, fences or walls, which can help to further define these spaces.

Privacy Spaces

These spaces are dedicated to relaxing, meditation or contemplation. A nook with a bench under an arbor covered with a flowering clematis might be the perfect place for a homeowner to get away for a bit with a good book and a glass of wine. Or a space at the edge of the woods where a hammock can be strung between two shade trees. Maybe a secret corner of the garden accessible via a winding pavestone path, where a hidden Adirondack chair awaits beside a bubbling koi pond. Spaces of intimacy, fit for one person to relax and wind down, or for a couple to share quiet time together.

Just think of the outhouse – the ultimate outdoor private space!

Interactive Spaces

Outdoor rooms suitable for entertainment or other activities, these spaces allow family interaction with each other and/or outsiders. Examples of outdoor rooms might include

  • A pool with a surrounding bluestone deck, for swimming, sunbathing and water play
  • A wooden deck adjacent to the house
  • A stone terrace with outdoor fireplace and a firepit
  • An outdoor kitchen and cooking area
  • A children’s play area
  • An open lawn for free play

Transition Spaces

A transition space could be a paved walkway leading from the driveway to the front door; a mulched garden path from the lawn to a hidden garden nook; stone steps leading down from a patio to a sunken terrace; a vine-covered trellis marking the boundary between the patio and back garden; even the few short steps from the back door to the deck, through a space defined by potted plants.

Transition spaces are a means to an end, a way from one point in the garden to another. But they need not be boring or static. Enliven them with interesting plants that change with the seasons, textured materials, moving water, fragrance, and/or accents in appropriate places.

With a little forethought, you can design and build your garden to compliment your family’s needs with wonderful, usable outdoor spaces. The possibilities are endless.

How Landscape Plants Appeal to the Senses

Daphne courtesy x Flickr 150x150 How Landscape Plants Appeal to the Senses
Sweet Scemted Daphne

Using Quality Flora to Design Gardens of Sensory Delight

A visitor’s first impression of your garden comes through the sense of sight. But well-designed landscapes often offer more than eye candy – they engage all the senses.

When folks talk about gardens, one of the first things mentioned is how beautiful they are. Visual elements are important, but gardens that leave lasting impressions appeal to all the senses – sight, smell, hearing, touch, and even taste.

In The Essential Garden Design Workbook, (2004 Timber Press, Inc.), landscape designer Rosemary Alexander says the most important role plants play in a garden is visual, but cautions gardeners not to overlook their other sensory qualities when selecting them.

Visual Appeal of Well-Designed Gardens

Landscapes resonate with people in many ways. The shape and form of plants – and their arrangement – serves to unite and balance garden spaces. When selecting plants for form, think year-round appeal. Make sure your  plant is attractive in its winter silhouette as well as its spring and summer glory.

A plant’s height and width – coupled with dark or light foliage – can induce certain moods. For example, if plants are too large for the site, claustrophobia may ensue.

To create harmony, place landscape plants in balanced, proportional groupings. You can achieve bold, confident effects by repeating groups of balanced plantings. Groups of odd-numbered plants (3, 5, or more) seem to work better than even numbered groupings.

Introduce varying textures within plantings. A plant’s leaves are its dominant textural feature, defined by the leaf’s margin (from smooth to fine to course toothed or lobed) and surface finish (rough or smooth). Contrast textures to create visual delight.

Color, especially seasonal color, is one of the most important elements for visual appeal. Color palettes should complement or contrast with the building architecture and the background, depending on the overall desired effect.

Think about color in conjunction with seasonal succession when choosing plants, and not just in flowers. Bark, fruit and leaf color should contribute and work with flower color for a year-long visual treat.

Scent and Fragrance in the Landscape

Walk through a garden after a rain. The air is filled with the heady aroma of growing things. “Green” seems to have its own smell; the scent of moist earth is ambrosia.

Mention fragrance in the garden and most gardeners think of roses, but many other plants contribute delightful scents to the experience. Gardenias planted next to a stoop can be a wonderful sensory experience in early summer. Summersweet and magnolia are other fragrant plants. Daphne is intensely fragrant and used next to a doorway can be heavenly. Various herbs contribute their scents to mix.

Watch out for stinky plants, however. Don’t plant a female ginkgo – the fruit is messy and smells awful. Some gardeners consider the herb Salvia sclarea (Clary Sage) to be a plant with questionable odor – according to Ms. Alexander, it has the fragrance of “smelly socks”.

Garden Sounds

Sound influences mood. The soft sigh of a breeze through forest leaves is relaxing. Storm winds raging through those same trees can be frightening. A gentle breeze through reeds creates a rattling sound, entirely different from the sound made as it blows through adjacent ornamental grasses. Some plants, like the Golden Rain tree, produce seed pods that make distinctive sounds when stirred by the breeze.

Use plants that attract birds. The soft twitter of bird song is one of nature’s most delightful choruses.

And don’t forget the soothing sounds of moving water. You can introduce liquid sound effects into your landscapeby building fountains or waterfalls, or installing a tinkling rain chain.

Like fragrance, some sounds can be intrusive. Use vegetative buffers like Leyland Cypress to create sound barriers to mute noise pollution.

Design Gardens for Tactile Appeal

Who doesn’t like to run their fingers over soft ornamental grass plumes? Or caress the silky leaves of Lamb’s Ear? Touching can be a sensuous experience, and every garden should introduce plants that provide tactile pleasure. Leaves can be smooth or rough to the touch, as can bark.

Use plants with prickly spines, like Yucca, to deter unwanted guests, both animal and human. Garden flora with spikes and thorns used as boundary plantings say “stay away!” in unmistakable terms.

You should learn all they can about the plants you want to feature in your garden. Watch out for poisonous plants like Hellebores (including Lenten Rose) which are toxic and cause skin irritation. Handle skin irritants with care. Use gloves, especially with plants used for cut flowers or where there’s a danger of sap contacting skin.

Tasty Garden Delights

Gardens designed for sensory delight should also include food plants like herbs, nut-bearing trees, berry canes, fruit trees and vegetables. Plant a grape vine trained to a trellis, or blackberry bushes in a back corner.

Or plant a Redbud tree – gardener Felder Rushing, in his book Tough Plants for Southern Gardens, (2003 Cool Springs Press), says the flowers taste just like raw peanuts, and suggests gardeners “…imagine them on a crisp, homegrown salad”.

Starving for space? Many plants, like strawberries, can be grown in containers. Or construct a raised bed in a sunny place for a compact kitchen garden replete with herbs, tomatoes, and greens.

There’s a trade-off when growing food plants – wildlife like them, too. Recognize the higher maintenance requirements and plan accordingly.

Some plants, like the Daphne mentioned above, are toxic if ingested. Daphne, Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) and other poisonous plants are acceptable, but you need to be aware – and educate everyone using your garden – of inherent dangers.

Think twice about using toxic plants where young children may come in contact with them.

With a little planning, you can create landscape masterpieces that appeal to all the senses – gardens that provide wonderful retreats for friends, families, and neighbors for years to come.

* Photo by briweldon, Flickr