The ideal landscape contains a balance of both hardscape elements – rocks, fences, patios, walkways, pavers – and softscape elements like trees and plants. Achieving this balance, whether with a nod to aesthetics or practicality, can be challenging.
When you have a spot of hardscape, such as a patio, lying between your house and garage, it’s tempting to use it simply as a pass-through from the car to the house, and many people do just that. It’s not difficult, however, to transform that space into an elegant, whimsical or relaxing outdoor retreat.
Whether you want a quiet, private space to enjoy your morning coffee or an area to entertain, here are some patio ideas to use between your house and detached garage.
Enclosing the Patio
Keep prying eyes out of the area and make it cozier by enclosing the patio on the two open sides. Enclosing it also creates an instant courtyard and a blank slate on which to work your creative magic.
The editors of Better Homes and Garden magazine suggest that the patio enclosure doesn’t have to be a solid fence, but anything that gives the area the feel of being enclosed. They go on to recommend “A vine-covered trellis or a hedge may close in a small space (perhaps less than 10 feet square) without making it feel claustrophobic.”
If you choose to use a fence, be sure to add something to soften the lines and make it less imposing. Plants are ideal for this situation, especially if you use trees and plants with various heights and textures.
An alternative to using plants to soften the hard lines of a fence or wall is to treat them as you do your indoor walls, by painting them. Once the walls are dry, hang waterproof artwork in frames to match your theme, or candle sconces, which will also add a soft glow to dinners on the patio.
Covering the Patio
Many people choose to cover the patio so that they can use it year-round. What you use as a “roof” can be as simple as an umbrella on a small patio, a shade sail or awning, or an elaborate pergola, covered in vines.
Keep in mind that when you block out the sky, the patio will feel much smaller. If you’re already dealing with a small space, you may have to scale back on outdoor furniture and other accessories to maintain an open feeling.
Furnishing the Patio
Creating outdoor rooms that mirror those we find indoors is becoming quite popular, and the sky is the limit when choosing outdoor furniture. In a large space you can divide the patio into rooms, such as using an outdoor sofa, coffee table and chairs to create a “living room,” or designate a kitchen area complete with a brick oven and outdoor refrigerator and sink.
Small patios benefit from furniture as well, even if you can only fit a small bistro table and two chairs.
Take a tip from indoor decorators when considering accessories for the patio. Artwork on the walls or even a mural adds color and character. Wall fountains don’t take up much space and can mask road noise and add ambiance. Hang strings of outdoor lights through the trees.
Other accessories to consider, depending on your space and design, include:
- A fire pit or chimney to keep you warm on chilly evenings
- Misters to cool you off on a warm day
- Sculptures and plaques to add whimsy or texture
- Decorative bird feeders for your feathered friends
Give it a Theme
If you’re having a difficult time deciding which furniture and accessories to use, it might help if you come up with a theme first. Once you have a theme in mind, you can shop for furniture and accessories and even plants that fit the theme. Here are several themes other gardeners use for their patios:
Planting Around the Patio
The softscape components of your patio are just as important as the hardscape. If the patio is edged with planting beds, consider yourself fortunate. If you don’t have beds, you can still add plants to the patio by growing them in containers. Even certain varieties of trees do well in a suitable sized container, so don’t shy away from larger plants.
Your region will naturally dictate the types of plants you can grow on the patio. Native plants are ideal choices, but non-natives can do fine as long as they are adapted to your particular hardiness zone.
Don’t forget the space above you can be utilized as well. Hanging planters are attractive and don’t take up floor space. They typically need to be watered more often than their ground-grown cousins, however, so if you prefer a low-maintenance patio, choose drought-tolerant plants.
If you combine more than one type of plant in a hanging planter, choose plants that have the same water, light and nutrient requirements, cautions Randy Drinkard, with the University of Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture.
In your decorating frenzy, don’t forget that this patio is the egress from the house and the detached garage, so leave room for folks to traverse that route.
Still stuck for ideas for your particular patio? Valerie Rose of Washington State University’s Skagit County Extension program suggests taking a tour of your local public garden for inspiration. Be sure to take your camera and snap photos of items you hope to copy.
Another place to find landscaping ideas is in new home developments. The model homes are typically professionally and tastefully landscaped, and most patios are staged for potential buyers.