As early as the robin returns and magnolia trees begin their awe-inspiring flower display, Wisconsinites are transitioning to their summer wardrobes and planning outdoor activities. From April to October, the backyard can provide enchanting spaces for entertaining, playing, and relaxing. Outdoor living spaces vary widely in size, from bistro tables tucked away in a garden to a patio situated within an expansive landscape. The key to successful outdoor spaces is not found purely in aesthetics, but also in spaces that are inviting, comfortable, and supportive of your interests.
The first step in creating outdoor living space is to determine what inspires you to get outside and what space qualities keep you there. Begin by thinking of your favorite place. Perhaps it’s a local park where you sit underneath a shade tree and meditate to the sounds of birds, or possibly it’s the patio of a café where you chat with friends and people watch. What activities would you like to carry into your space? Deciding how you will use the space will subsequently make design choices much easier.
For example, if you decide you want to read your morning paper outside with a cup of coffee, a space large enough to accommodate a bistro table in a location with morning sunlight will best suit your needs. Comparatively, if you want to invite the neighborhood over for evening lawn games, you will need a level, open space—one that doesn’t let balls roll into the street.
Even when the allocation of space is designed to meet your needs, the space may end up not being used. Then the question is what else is the space missing? What are the qualities of your favorite spaces that keep you outside?
A successful outdoor living space showcases amenities and inspires exploration. A glimpse of something interesting at the entrance, perhaps a blossoming flower or the embers of a fire pit, create a sense of mystery that draws you in.
Comfortable seating, clear pathways, and safe steps ensure accessibility is not an issue. Carefully select furnishings so that they are appropriately scaled to the space, and situate them out of the way of traffic. Are you looking for a swing in a cozy garden nook or a communal dining table at the center of social action? Location is critical.
Everyone has at some point been seated at a table in a restaurant next to the swinging kitchen door and boisterous neighbors. The privacy and protection lacking at that table makes it uncomfortable. It’s also important to consider these principles when designing your outdoor space. To feel comfortable you need protection from the elements, separation from the neighbors, and a nice view to look out upon. Enclosures may be needed to keep your children, pets, and plants safe. These can be made with trellises, fences, trees, and shrubs.
Apart from serving as functional enclosures, plants are an essential aesthetic feature in outdoor living spaces. Backyards are an opportunity to emulate fascinating wild elements in a tamed setting. Flowers, trees, and grasses diversify a space and contrast hard elements, like bricks and concrete. Their brilliant colors and ability to change with the seasons stimulate your senses and evoke feelings of well-being.
Creating the perfect atmosphere, the true essence of the outdoor living space, is a challenge, but one that can be accomplished by planning for it. Partnering function with aesthetic elements creates a personalized space that conveys beauty, privacy, and protection in spaces that are loved and used.
Joan W. Ziegler is a horticulturist and garden designer and winner of the 2015 Perennial Plant Association Merit Award for Residential Landscape Design, and Lily Mank is an intern landscape architect for ZDA, Inc. Landscape Architecture, 4797 Capitol View Road, Middleton. Call (608) 831-5098 or visit zdainc.com .