With summer so short-lived in the Northeast, it’s no wonder that we New Englanders make the most of it. A beautiful porch, deck, patio and garden is an extension of your home’s total living space, if only for a season. So why take any less care when planning and designing your outdoor oasis?
The key to an outdoor living space that looks like it naturally belongs there is plenty of careful preparation. Let’s look at it from a few important perspectives.
Safety First for More Enjoyment
- Don’t have a water feature without a filter and pump. You may as well put out a flashing “Mosquito Spa” sign. Standing water is breeding grounds for mosquitos. Whether a simple waterfall fountain or complicated koi pond, get professional advice.
- Don’t know much about biology, and even less about chemistry? If you’re installing a swimming pool, hire a professional to maintain it, at least the first season. Pools can turn into the black lagoon virtually overnight.
- To avoid a truly shocking disaster, work with a licensed electrician when planning outdoor lighting and outlets, especially if they’re anywhere near water features. That goes for pool pumps and filters too. Water and electricity are a deadly combination.
The Birds and the Bees
A common mistake is swooping by the garden center the first warm weekend in April and scooping up dozens of annuals and perennials, then planting them too close together. Plants need room to grow! And in New Hampshire, it really isn’t safe to plant tender annuals and vegetables until middle to late May. Frost and even snow can wreck a garden planted too early.
Keep flowering plants away from picnic tables, bars and barbeques that can attract stinging insects. Plants that attract bumble and honeybees such as bee balm, butterfly bush, black-eyed susans, poppies and lavender are also colorful and fragrant. But put them on the far side or periphery of the patio, so you can barbeque without a side of EpiPen.
Birdwatching is entertaining year-round, but place feeders over plantings or mulched areas, not a paved patio, and certainly away from seating areas. Bird feeders and bears: need we say more? Take them down by April 1 or you’re the April Fool. Do not feed the bears!
A canopy of trees provides shade, but overhanging limbs can be a hazard during storms. They also drop leaves, berries and insects, so, when designing a barbeque or fire pit, or an outdoor kitchen, keep away from trees. “Messy” trees or shrubs that shed dead blossoms should not be near a pool either because they complicate maintenance and cleaning.
But do plan for shade! Consider a pergola, arbor or awning where you need to block the sun.
Don’t plant shrubs with vining roots too close to patio stones or pavers. Mother Nature is powerful and cracks in the pavement can sprout weeds in one season. Speaking of hardscaping, pavement around pools needs to have a nonslip texture.
White tiles or pavers reflect light and will stay cooler than dark-colored tiles. But they get messy and may get stained by insect and bird droppings, or berries.
Not all plants make good neighbors. New Hampshire has dozens of invasive shrubs such as bittersweet and burning bush. These crowd out native species and can, in the case of bittersweet, even strangle trees. See https://extension.unh.edu/Forests-Trees/Invasive-Plants for ones to avoid.
Other unwanted guests are microscopic invaders: bacteria. Outdoor kitchens are great for entertaining but work with a professional to include cold and hot water for cleaning. You don’t want a food prep disaster to make your get-together memorable for the wrong reason.
Prevention is worth many bushels of cure, so work with designers to avoid pricey pitfalls when planning a patio, pool surround or outdoor kitchen and barbeque. Then enjoy your great outdoors for a few months! It won’t be long before the chill air and bright colors of October remind you of the stunning change of seasons here in New England.