By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Now that the warmer weather is here, take advantage of your outdoor living space--your garden and area just outside your house.
Stumped for ideas on how to enjoy this extension of your home? Then try some of these ideas from Tessa Evelegh's book, Decorating Your Garden. If insects are a bother, you can still enjoy many of these ideas from a screened porch or portable screen structure like a tent, which is relatively inexpensive to buy and easy to erect.
Start with the furniture. If it is plain wood, consider painting it. Although most people just think in terms of one color, why not stripes, polka dots, or designs such as Mexican with its vibrant colors and zigzags.
Want your outdoor space to have a Mediterranean feel but can't grow the tender plants of this climate outdoors in yours? Then pot a few, such as rosemary and bay trees.
Incorporate the pastel yellows and oranges of this region in container colors, furniture, and other accessories. For example, a clay pot, tied with some yellow and blue fabric typical of Provence, and filled with dried yellow tansy and blue lavender makes a striking Mediterranean centerpiece.
Check out craft shows, flower shows, antique and fine garden shops, or catalogs for items for the garden table. Perhaps old sundae glasses could be painted, tiled, or even left as is, and planted with trailing plants such as ivy. Add colored straws for a whimsical touch.
Use wooden baskets or troughs for centerpieces. Put some pots of seasonal flowers in them, cover with moss, and add a bow. Use plants such as small cabbages or herbs, then add a matching leaf to decorate each place setting.
Herbs in a vase, such as a combination of chive and comfrey flowers and rosemary leaves, are a wonderful fragrant addition to meals. Add herbs to glass pitchers of cold beverages, such as the traditional mint in lemonade.
But also harvest some of your garden flowers and herbs (of course, only ones that are edible, non poisonous, and not sprayed with chemicals), freezing them in ice cubes for a unique touch. I like to put a daylily flower (yes, they are quite edible with some of the darker colors sweeter) in an old-fashioned sherbet glass with a scoop of premium ice cream and an herbal sprig on top. Enjoy this treat in your outdoor living area.
Having problem keeping tablecloths from blowing off the table outdoors? Then visit your local fabric store for some flat curtain weights and Velcro dots. Add the weights to the back edges and corners of the tablecloth with the Velcro. They can be easily removed for washing.
Encourage birds and butterflies to spend time in your outdoor space by adding plants and features that they love. Plant red bee balm or other red plants for hummingbirds, or add a hummingbird feeder. Plant butterfly bush, even though it's not hardy and must be grown as an annual, for the butterflies.
Add a small platform feeder for birds such as mourning doves and cardinals, or a string of peanuts and dried fruits for other birds. Bird baths and water features, such as fountains and small pools, help the wildlife, and add pleasing aesthetics and soothing sounds to your space.
Lighting your outdoor space can really make it enjoyable, especially during the shorter days of spring and fall (and when the insects aren't out!). You can find all types and costs of electric lighting systems. But consider outdoor candles and candle holders as well--from metal to glass, from simple to patterned or with themes, and from modern to antique.
Keep your eye open for such finds when visiting garage sales and antique shops. Even clay pots, found in so many shapes and colors, can be used. Or get some gold gilt at a craft shop to transform simple, inexpensive clay pots into works of art. These are just some of the non-plant items to make your outdoor space more livable and enjoyable.
Don't forget the plantings. Hedges, walls, fences, or vines trained on wire fences can all add a sense of privacy. Vine-covered pergolas and trellises can create a ceiling in your outdoor garden room as can small shade trees like crabapples. Use large planters, raised beds, urns, or barrel halves with seasonal flowers or bold tropical ones to define space and create a particular theme or atmosphere.
Keep an eye out for items that can be recycled, then figure how to incorporate them as is, or spruced up, into your space. You also can get some good ideas from books and magazines on interior design.
Don't be afraid to try new ideas in this year's garden. For any outdoor space there is no one right design, rather almost infinite possibilities that will work. Your choices should reflect your own tastes and desires.