Design; A Garden Room Beckons

I don’t think she was planning to use a designer. She already had an excellent sense of color and she pretty much knew what she wanted; a new retaining wall and a vine on the fence. But she agreed to meet with me, at the suggestion of her contractor, because she did think she could use some help choosing plants for her small, dark-all-winter, north-facing garden.

Albright Souza A Garden Room Beckons

A beautiful and functional solution for a dark, narrow garden



Before; struggling roses and a tumbly wall

When I saw the narrow space at our first meeting, it was in the middle of winter and the sun was only reaching one small spot in the corner, for a short time during the day. There was an in-your-face fence and a low, un-steady-looking rock wall that held up the only planting space, which was filled with straggly lavenders that were crying out for light. The previous owner had apparently been home-sick for the field-stone walls of New England but the low wall looked so “tumbly” that you had the urge to press your back against the house in an effort to stay as far away from it as possible.

The old fountain had been placed in the corner sunny spot and right outside the door were three leggy roses, which, due to the challenging conditions, looked good for fifteen minutes a year. Like many of us, the gardens new owner needed a refuge that looked great but didn’t require constant attention. One more thing, she wanted to be able to occasionally entertain large groups in her 15 ft wide space.

What we did;

For a re-design, we started with a new, gently curving wall that could double as seating all along the length of the garden. The wall would be made of a sturdy, gravity- block with a comfortable height and an easy-to-sit-on cap. This allows for an impromptu resting place for more than 30 people (and their drinks) without ever storing a spare chair. The curving line softens the linear space and adds a peek-a-boo element of interest.


After; lush plantings and a sturdy, curving wall.

The fence was such a presence that, instead of hiding it, I suggested we treat it like she would an interior wall, as this was, in fact, an added room that just happened to not have a roof. I introduced the idea of finding weather resistant art that would complement the wise choices that she had already made for the inside of her home. We did add vines as well but mostly confined to modular lattice panels at strategic points between the art.


Detail of custom framed weather-resistant decorative panel

Creating a focal point;

Everything really fell together when I pointed out that you could see the one small patch, with the leggy roses, from three different rooms in the house, plus the front door. So, using that spot as the focal point, both for the garden as well as for the inside views, I suggested that we make the most of it by placing an attention-getting object there that would not be subject to seasonal dormancy.



Instead of moving the existing asymmetrical fountain we found a large urn with a glaze that was chosen to complement the decor inside the house, where it would actually be an important presence, even though it was technically outside.  Making the urn a fountain, with a hidden basin, would enhance the ambiance with enticing sound.

AlbrightSouza_GardenRoom_ (2)After

After;  moving the focal point improves the view from every angle


Turning the urn into a bubbling fountain adds a pleasing sound

Finishing it up;

The project was completed by selecting a palette of plants that complimented the glaze on the fountain, worked in the challenging lighting and had textural interest every season of the year. Actually, I suggested the final color combination inspired by the place mats I noticed while we sat at her kitchen table discussing the design. The existing  paving was left intact to become a future project.

AlbrightSouza_GardenRoom_ (2)After_cropPlants

Plant combos chosen to compliment the glazed urn

And finally, the one area with the spot of winter sunshine got a special treatment by adding a step up into the planting bed, with just enough space for a small bistro set to make the most of the seasonal light.


A sunny raised corner with bistro set

Albright-Souza Garden Room Cup of Tea

The small garden provides a spot for a cup of tea – even in winter

So this garden room now provides the perfect spot for a moment of tranquility with a cup of tea and a book at any time of year. The busy owner can enjoy her garden in solitude  as well as have the space to easily entertain a good-sized group – –  all while adding beauty every day, like well-chosen art, to the adjacent rooms in the house.


After; seating, art and a bubbling fountain transform this garden


Before; the view from inside


After; the view from inside


Recently the garden owner told me about a party she threw for her book club. One nice lady showed up a bit early and was encouraged to let herself in the front door and make herself at home. The hostess eventually found the guest happily seated outside next to the fountain, where she had been beckoned by the view and sound of the fountain…all the way from the front door.

Albright Souza A Garden Room Beckons

The view invites a peaceful moment next to the fountain

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Categories: Enjoying the Garden, Landscape Design


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7 Comments on “Design; A Garden Room Beckons”

  1. Susan Duncan
    February 2, 2013 at 1:14 pm #

    Hi Joy…great picture/story of before and after. I have some of these issues…low light for one. Gives me some ideas. Thanks. Susan

    • February 2, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

      Thanks Susan. I’m glad you found this project helpful.

  2. Barbara kahn
    February 4, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

    Wow! You certainly had a vision and transformed the space from ugly ducking to beautiful and usable! Bravo! Pam’s. mother, Barbara

    • February 6, 2013 at 3:25 pm #

      Thank you Barbara. What a great compliment, especially from someone who has seen the before and after in person.

  3. February 7, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

    Kudos! Great solutions. Would love to know what this improvement cost.

  4. July 4, 2013 at 11:05 am #

    This is gorgeous. Love it.

    • July 5, 2013 at 10:32 am #

      Thanks Mary. It’s been such a pleasure to be part of the evolution of this garden.

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