Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
May, 2011
Regional Report

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This is MY chair. Note how the cushions match my eyes.

Outdoor Seating

I visited many delightful gardens this spring whose owners have filled their spaces with eclectic outdoor furniture. I have been impressed with their imagination, whimsy, and confident color sense employed to devise arrangements for sitting, eating, and even napping. Some had fashioned such secluded spots, in small yards, that I would have been happy to plunk down to spend the day surrounded by fragrant plants and cheeping birds. But, alas, my schedule dictated that I had to continue on to the next garden on my list.

When designing your new landscape or revamping an existing one, contemplate how to encourage your family and visitors to venture outdoors and enjoy our weather.

Shade is Essential
If your trees have not reached the stature to offer a canopy, provide a substitute. Shade umbrellas are easy, relatively inexpensive, and portable. As the sun angle changes with the seasons, move them as needed. And who says you need just one? Group several or create multiple seating areas around the yard. All sorts of colors and fabrics are available and some have embedded solar lights that are bright enough for dining and conversation, although a bit weak for reading.

Ramadas are traditional in the Southwest and they meld nicely with our architecture. Because they are more permanent structures than umbrellas, consider multiple ways to use its shade and position it carefully (just as you would a tree). Will the ramada create grapevine-topped al fresco dining adjacent to the house? Top a crafting table where kids' creative juices can flow without worrying about making a mess? I love the exotic look of ramadas draped in billowing fabric, shielding an outdoor lounge, or hammock for napping. Ramada structures alone provide shade, but consider adding climbing vines for added drama, color, fragrance, and fruit.

Shade sails lend a contemporary resort-like feel to outdoor living areas. Because of their design and the Southwest's extreme wind, they have to be securely attached to strong supports. If you prefer something other than the utilitarian look of typical pillar supports, put your head together with a local artisan. I visited a metal worker's home and was delighted to see the scrolled metal bars that he had attached to his stucco walls to support a shade sail over the narrow side yard.

Create a Unique Space
Outdoor furniture runs the gamut from elegant pieces that could be used indoors to bargain plastics, with wide variety in between. Spruce up your existing furniture with a fresh coat of paint and bright cushions, or allow older metal or wooden pieces to continue weathering as if they've been standing in your garden for decades.

A favorite one-of-a-kind garden I visited was full of chairs and tables and all sorts of other garden objects (pots, candle holders, plant stands) collected over the years. The owner arranged themed seating and dining spots around the yard, each looking like it was the best possible place to spend an afternoon. Let your imagination loose to create your own one-of-a-kind outdoor living space.

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