Plan that outdoor living space now to get a jump start next year

By Lloyd Thompson
WSU Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener

WSU Master Gardener Lloyd Thompson and his wife put a lot of planning thought into making their patio into an outdoor living space that is an extension of their home and blends more with their landscape. – Provided photo Lloyd Thompson
Lloyd Thompson
Lloyd Thompson – WSU Extension Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener – Provided photo

Ahhh, the smoke is gone, there’s a crispness to the air, and there’s more than a foot of snow at the summit of Mission Ridge! You know what that means: Fall is finally here. What better way to celebrate the changing of seasons than to tackle a fun and exciting outdoor project: creating an outdoor living space that’s perfect for entertaining!

Now, before you start slinging your pumpkin spice latte at me, let me show you how planning — even if it is six months in advance — can make such a huge difference when looking ahead to lazy summer evenings with family and friends.

When we purchased our current house, the selling point was the connection it had with the outdoors. The glass slider in the dining room leads to a deck with a great view of the Wenatchee mountains and Mission Ridge. It was the perfect place for a morning cup of coffee or an evening enjoying a glass of wine.

The landscape, however, was in need of some major renovation — older plantings that had outgrown their space, trees that now shaded the lawn too much for the grass to grow. The railroad tie retaining wall was rotten and seeped creosote. There was a large southwest-facing concrete patio that would collect the sun’s solar output with amazing efficiency and retain the heat late into the night. Which meant it wasn’t usable for large parts of July and August until the sun went below the horizon.

The landscape soon took shape and, by using more mature transplanted trees and shrubs and new curbing, we quickly moved past the new look of a recently created landscape.

The next problem we tackled was the patio. Somehow the new patio furniture we just bought looked awkward and didn’t flow into the new landscaped areas very well. The sofa and chairs almost appeared as if they might fall off and into the grass lawn. There was no intimacy in the design, more of a sharp division where the patio ended and the yard began. Our other issue was the heat the concrete collected and our inability to enjoy the space until late in the evening during the summer.

Our first effort was converting an existing flower bed, surrounded by the patio and a concrete wall, into a reflection water feature with a basalt basin waterfall for a relaxing sound. The concrete wall was softened by using large format tile with a stone pattern. New, custom-built railings for the upper deck and stairs to the yard helped soften the look of the previous wood balusters and removing multiple 4×4 posts and replacing it with a steel beam opened the view and space on the patio below.

That left the patio’s stark lack of flow into the yard area as the last major issue. We wanted to redirect the traffic flow to a less-open pathway and create “windows” to view the new landscaping and to also create a more usable intimate space. We had two steel tubing walls built for the outer corner of the patio. The design included a way to hang some outdoor curtains that could either be opened to see the full yard or closed to help with the southwest sun’s glare and heat. We also added outdoor curtain lights and string lights to give multiple types of softer lighting for evening events. To help create the idea of a room we added a couple of sections with a trellis for climbing vines in our pots to grow up.

Another fun and affordable addition was some interesting mirrors to break up the space a bit more, as well as adding “texture” and movement to the seating area, as sunlight reflects off of the mirrors. So now we have “open windows” to highlight and see the landscape but still create the sense of separate spaces. Our idea is to make the house flow into the outdoor spaces without any major visual barriers.

We think of our outdoor space as part of our living space, and enjoy the sights and sounds of busy pollinators and birds darting amongst the flowers. We created a defined space for socializing and yet it feels connected to the rest of the yard.

So, while it may seem odd to be thinking about summer outdoor socializing during the cool, crisp days of fall, what better way to get a jumpstart on those future warm, relaxing and fun-filled evenings to come!