Written by Catriona Tudor Erler
Define Your Outdoor Spaces with a Green Floor Plan

The idea of dividing a garden into distinct rooms is almost as old as history. It makes sense. By breaking up an open space into defined rooms, you create useful outdoor living areas, encouraging people to extend their indoor activities outside. The room functions can be as diverse as cooking, dining, lounging, playing games, or strolling. And you don’t have to have a sprawling estate to accomplish this. You can fit a lot of functional garden rooms into a surprisingly small space.

As you plan how to divide up the space in your garden to create different rooms, think about your family’s needs. If you have small children, perhaps you want to designate a playroom area complete with a swing set, sandbox, and climbing frame. You might even include a circular paved path to serve as a “highway” for tricycles and other wheeled toys. Ideally the spot should be away from the street and visible from the house so you can keep an eye on the little ones. Avoid fragile plants and those with thorns, so neither the plants or children get injured.

On the Border

There are many different ways to visually define the borders of a garden room. The walls can be literal, or you can provide visual clues that the space is set apart for a particular use. Use the following physical or visual room dividers in your garden room design.

  • Hedges
  • Rows of trees
  • Walls (knee-high or taller)
  • Changes in level
  • Changes in paving or ground cover
  • Trellis screens
  • Shrub or perennial borders
  • Paths

  • Photography provided by (clockwise from top) ©iStockphoto.com/umbrian, ©iStockphoto.com/BrettCharlton, ©iStockphoto.com/Jsheets19.

     For a family room, allow space for an area of open, level lawn where children and grown-ups can kick a ball about, set up hoops for croquet, or mount a net for badminton or volleyball. A keen golfer would appreciate an area to practice putting. Integrate this lawn into the overall design of the garden so there is some attractive dimension.
    For alfresco dining, create a room furnished with a table and chairs. Make sure the space is large enough to comfortably accommodate family or anticipated guests. And for convenience, locate this outdoor room as close to the kitchen as possible, or create a kitchen with an eat-in living space. If the meal you’re most likely to eat outside is breakfast or brunch, try to find an easterly-facing spot to catch the morning sun. If you’re more likely to eat outside in the evening, make the dining room on the south or west side of the house so you can enjoy the late-afternoon sun. In hot climates, shade the area with a vine-covered arbor to create a leafy bower with dappled sunlight. Decorate the paved space with pots and hanging baskets filled with fragrant flowers to add to the pleasure of sitting outside.
    Another garden room option is a formal sitting room. An herb or rose garden laid out in a geometric pattern is ideal for a room like this. Furnish it with a bench, and enjoy sitting amongst the scented plants and meditating on the pleasing order and geometry. Alternatively, take advantage of the modern indoor-outdoor carpets and fabrics to design a living room anchored by a carpet and furnished with comfortable, upholstered chairs.
    Consider creating a small secret garden room where you can retreat with a cup of coffee and a good book or a hidden space for a potting bench. The far end of the garden is ideal for a private retreat or a hidden utility or work area. Another possible place for either function is the narrow space at the side of the house. Use your imagination to transform it into a useful place where you’ll want to go often.
    If you fancy taking walks in the garden, plan the landscape with rooms for strolling, and design the paths so they beckon visitors to move from one space to another. To increase the walking distance in a small garden, allow the paths to loop back on each other. Stop people from cutting corners by installing dense plantings that hide the nearby parallel path, and provide new views or points of interest around each bend and corner.
    In addition to making your garden more livable, dividing up your outdoor space into functional rooms also makes your property feel larger. Invest a little time and effort into creating outdoor rooms, and you’ll find yourself enjoying and using your garden more.