Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Best (Outdoor) Room in the House!

We've been enjoying our deck with it's sun-filtering canopy and wind softening side curtains, bubbling fountain, and raised beds and pots.

When we added a few pots and raised beds last year, it was the beginning of a transformation that converted a rarely used, unattractive deck into a warm and welcoming haven that has become one of our favorite "rooms".

Prior to last year,  we primarily used our deck for cooking on the barbecue grill.  The color of the floor boards and style of the railings were uninspiring.

Although we had comfortable furniture, the deck was a vision in gray and tan, totally lacking in aesthetic appeal.  It was not a place we enjoyed spending time.  The umbrella over the table provided little relief from the broiling sun that bakes the deck for most of the day and the settee, although comfortable, wasn't at all inviting when temperature and humidity soared into the 90's.  As far as we were concerned, it was wasted space.

We tried to dress it up with some potted annuals - mostly petunias and fuchsias - but we spent more time tending them than we did relaxing on the deck.  I also grew the climbing rose, "New Dawn" in a pot, hoping it would grow along the rails and posts on the upper section of the deck immediately off the kitchen (the area in the above photograph).

I was hoping for the same lush growth we have on the fence behind the herb garden.  That was not the best idea - it's a very thorny rose and that made it very unpleasant if you were seated next to it and it was hard to move to a more protected area for the winter.

Growing a rose this size in a pot did not yield the same results that we see with the New Dawns we have growing in the garden.  The canes barely extended to reach along one six foot section.  Since it's growth was definitely restricted by the pot, we didn't get the effect  we were hoping for.

Late last summer I transplanted it into the garden where it is much happier and this spring, I planted some hollyhocks along the rails.  We have not given up on potted roses on the deck, but I am finding that miniatures make a much better option for containers and work well with the lavender we have growing there as well.

Frustrated because the rabbits and dogs had eaten most of our tomatoes the previous two summers and impressed with the success some friends of ours had growing them on their patio in large buckets, I decided to give container gardening a serious try.

We found huge, inexpensive, decorative planters on sale at K-mart and there were window boxes to match.  I grabbed a couple of the long window boxes, thinking I would set them along the railing with some herbs.

Then I spotted some inexpensive kits for raised beds made from a composite material.  There were only two left and since the boxes were damaged, they were heavily discounted.  An idea was born and in the space of a morning, a deck garden had begun to take shape.

Two raised bed kits gave us a bed that was 4 feet wide by 12 feet long for vegetables.
We planted sun worshipers like basil and colorful petunias in window boxes along the railing behind the table.
Even the dogs began to spend more time on the deck, especially when the early evening shade gave a respite from the sun.
We added hanging pots of annuals for bright color.  I wanted to create the feeling of a conservatory and so over the course of the summer we watched for sales and markdowns and soon a hydrangea tree and some lilac shrubs took up residence on the deck.

This spring, we added both a lemon tree and a fig tree and we'll be enjoying our favorite recipes this fall as both trees are weighted down with ripening fruit.

Our first year with raised beds was successful beyond our expectations but it was also a learning experience.  I learned that four foot wide raised beds might be great in the garden, but against the side of the deck, they were impossible to maintain.  Reaching the plants in the back meant I had to step into them, and very quickly the dogs decided they wanted to play in them too.

The first beds we planted weren't deep enough and it was difficult to keep them from drying out. Add to that a 2 month drought and it was a daily struggle to sustain our vegetables and herbs.  And they took up so much space it was difficult to arrange the furniture in a way that maximized our ability to entertain and enjoy the space.

This year we rebuilt all of the raised beds to make them narrower but deeper and easier to tend, and to make better use of the living space on the deck.

By making the raised beds only half as wide but twice as long (which required the addition of several boards from additional kits), we were able to extend them along the entire length of both the upper and lower levels of the deck, replacing the window boxes which had provided precious little actual gardening space.

We kept roughly the same amount of total planting area but with the beds and open space laid out in a more user friendly arrangement, the deck is much better suited to gardening and entertaining.

And instead of just flowers on the upper deck and vegetables in the raised beds, this year we planted a true kitchen garden that includes an eclectic mix of annuals, perennials, herbs, vegetables, and even some house plants in all of the pots and beds.

I love the fact that salad greens, vegetables, and the herbs that I cook with the most are a few steps from my cutting board.

Perhaps the most dramatic and important change we made last year was the addition of a canopy.

Near the end of the season, we found a simple to erect "pop-up" canopy that we added over the upper section to shade the table.

 It took one brief thunderstorm to realize that bolting it to the deck was critical.  The canopy top is held on with Velcro and when high winds or rain are expected, we simply lift the corners and undo the Velcro and let the cover sag between the struts to prevent damage from wind and a heavy collection of water.

We also found some heavily discounted cushions in an attractive blue and green print that matched the color of the house. The new cushions completely changed the color palette to one that was more to our liking.

This spring, on a whim, I added swagged scarves to the canopy and the effect was amazing.

I used 22 foot  nylon window scarves that I draped loosely and secured with plastic cable ties. They are easy to install in spring and come down with a snip of the tie in fall.

Casual dining has a luxurious feel under the draped canopy and a paper and bamboo lantern fitted with an electric bulb attachment adds just enough light for dining after dark.

A lantern is suspended from the center of the canopy. The white cord is secured to the struts with white cable ties and is relatively unnoticeable.  The on/off switch is tucked in the draped curtains that cascade along theh poles for easy access.
The area lends itself to both fancy teas with china and casual cook-outs with paper plates.
The beds provide zinnias and cosmos for cutting, herbs such as basil and rosemary, and an assortment of vegetables that changes with the seasons. Hollyhocks are planted along the back and are just beginning to mature and set buds.
The Meyer lemon is full of buds and small lemons.
Squash, cucumbers, peppers, and lettuce share the space with  marigolds and petunias, geraniums, and some house plants. Earlier in the season we had sugar snap peas.
The hydrangea, Meyer lemon, and a lilac create a verdant corner.
The wider beds have a much greater visual impact than the narrow window boxes and we were able to plant more herbs and vegetables for a true kitchen garden.
We've added annuals to most of the large pots for extra color as well.
These lilacs bloomed later than the shrubs in the garden and added dramatic color to the deck in June.
The hollyhocks in the background have had a major growth spurt over the past couple of weeks and are now towering over the zinnias. I hope they will bloom this year and next year as well. The goal was to have them form a tall, thick border in front of the railing.
Our first year with a fig tree promises to be a tasty one!

We've added hanging pots in every nook and cranny. Here, they form a lovely backdrop for the cherub fountain.
Early in the season we had an enthusiastic crop of sugar snap peas that climbed over and through the deck railing.
The narrower raised beds allow the furniture to be placed in an arrangement that promotes socializing and conversation, with ample room to walk by. And yes, that is a second grill. The grill on the upper level is used for most meals and foods that everyone in the family can enjoy. This grill is used for fish and mushrooms so a family member with severe allergies to both can avoid contamination of her food with things that cause life threatening reactions.

Our Katie enjoys an afternoon nap on the settee.


  1. It's always inspiring to read your blog. What a great transformation. I love the blue curtain sheers. And I agree with you about the umbrella not providing adequate shade from the sun. Great work!

  2. This all looks wonderful. The canopy looks great. Love how you did your vegetable garden. Great ideas. Katie is adorable.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  3. What a wonderful idea! I have places like that where we never stop to enjoy, either. I think I may steal this idea! :)

  4. How wonderful and it is such a welcoming deck now.I can see why you would want to spend a lot of time out there. I love the idea of the raised bed on the deck. Fool those little critters. LOL! I have to grow tomatoes and cucumbers in pots near the house also to keep the deer and racoons from them. I love the canopy and the curtains. Such a comfortable looking spot to spend some time.

  5. You have done an amazing job in making your deck a lovely retreat. And having the garden so close is so convenient. I particularly like the corner with the beautiful!

  6. What a beautiful outdoor room you have created!

  7. Your designs grew like a plant. Such a nice outcome. You could become a professional deck decorator!

  8. I really like your deck/kitchen garden! The plants are so pretty and the seating looks great too! I have thought of adding a canopy to our patio, which is in full sun. The table umbrella, as you say, doesn't add nearly enough shade!

  9. I love your decking area, we did a similar thing with ours a few years ago. Our canopy was constructed to add a little more warmth to the area.

  10. How marvellous to have a deck - it looks just wonderful. Most impressed with the china, can I come to tea please?

  11. I would spend a lot of time out there too. It is so pretty what you have done. The rabbits eating tomatoes, I did not realize. The other day I saw a squirrel make off with one of mine. I thought maybe he did it for spite since I stopped feeding the birds...hence him.

  12. What a great space! You did a wonderful job transforming the space. Container gardening definitely has its advantages. I like your lemon and fig trees.

  13. What a great transformation of your deck. It looks so inviting. A lot of work went into it, but it really paid off in a "room" you can enjoy.

  14. Amazing transformation, love what you have done to your terrace, can imagine you spending all your time there.

  15. You have inspired me to try to make our terrace more intimate. A really inspring and interesting post. The raised beds were 4 ft because this is the "ideal" when you can get to them from both sides, so cutting them in half makes perfect sense. It is so great that you've been able to utilize this great new space. Christina

  16. You have done wonders! I love your deck and what you have done with the plants and flowers. Alot of work I know, but now you can enjoy all of it.

  17. your outdoor room looks wonderful and it's interesting how we find what's best only by doing it, I love what you have done but as I am reading post Irene I am wondering if it is still as beautiful, on the quilt list I've heard of some terrible things happening in Massachusetts due to flooding, I hope your silence is just due to power outage which is bad enough in it's self,
    take care, Frances

  18. Your deck looks great. I love the canopy, it makes the area so welcoming. The raised beds look very impressive, I am glad container gardening is working so well for you now. You have lovely china.

  19. Thanks, everyone, for the comments. In preparation for Hurricane Irene, we took the canopy and curtains down for the season, and we surely do miss them!

    Frances, I'm touched by your concern. We experineced minor flooding - by that I mean that it did little damage to us and our gardens. Because of the trees down, we lost electricity very briefly but lost cable, Internet, and phone service for a much longer period of time. We lost our service for a day and a half and then had spotty service for another week. All is back to normal now, and honestly, we breezed through (pun intended) relatively unscathed compared to what had been expected!


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