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Make your patio or porch an outdoor oasis

P. Allen Smith offers advice to set the stage for beautiful outside living.

A few years ago I wrote a book about outdoor living called, "P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home: Creating a Garden for Everyday Living." The premise of the book is that you can expand your living space outdoors by blurring the lines between inside and out. A patio or porch becomes an extension of your living or dining rooms and each garden room should be appointed as beautifully as your interior spaces so this year, as you pull out last summer’s lawn furnishings, consider ways to add a touch of panache to your “garden home.” 

Outdoor rugs Many of us are familiar with outdoor rugs — they’ve become a staple at home improvement stores and in catalogues that specialize in outdoor entertaining. If you haven’t purchased one of these for your patio, terrace, balcony, or deck, you might consider an outdoor rug to define the space you are creating. Caring for an outdoor rug is usually quite easy since they are often made of durable natural fibers and/or synthetic materials. You can spray off the rug with a hose or use a brush broom to clean. While many of the outdoor rugs on the market today claim that they won’t mildew after a rain I have found it is still best to either hang the rug over a chair or railing to dry (allowing air under the rug) or, if the rug is under a heavy object, roll back the edges to allow for quicker drying underneath. 

Furnishings Colors and styles go through phases. One friend told me that it starts with fashion, then moves to furnishings and finally to the garden and that’s pretty much the trend I’m seeing. The early part of the new millennium started with a focus on earth tones and now we are moving into bright colors. It’s not quite as dramatic as "The Wizard of Oz," where Dorothy steps out of black and white and into a world of color, but for some of us gardeners who are ready to try something new and bold it is an exciting time. Personally I have strayed from my traditional pallet of blues, purples and pinks and have begun to experiment with oranges, reds and lime greens.

So if our plants are reflecting the move to brighter colors then why shouldn’t our furnishings?  Last year’s natural wicker chairs could be given a new life with a bold shade or red or blue.  First evaluate the material you are working with — is it man made or natural? Then pick an appropriate paint that can withstand the weather. When the paint is dry I often coat it with a water seal to give it a longer life. Metal furnishings can be sandblasted and taken to a powder coating shop where a virtually indestructible coating of paint is applied. Wooden pieces should be given protection during the cold, wet months and may require touch up or repainting from time to time depending on wear and tear. 

Fabrics Fabric stores are stocking more and more indoor-outdoor fabric that’s brighter than ever before. What’s great about using this type of fabric is that it has been tested for years in marine environments and so you know you’re getting a product that can really take the elements. I suggest creating cushion covers that you can slip over the existing lawn furnishing cushions because these are easy to change out from year to year. If you’re not a seamstress but want to try making pillow covers yourself consider cutting out an “envelope” of fabric that can be wrapped around the pillow and using self adhesive Velcro to affix the envelope tabs together. 

For an even simpler approach that allows you to add a splash of color, use fabric to make table cloths. Again, if you aren’t into sewing use pinking sheers to trim the edges of the fabric. 

Pergola or cabana The “must-have” accessory for gardeners with a little space this year seems to be a covered place to create an outdoor space. Fabric cabanas and pergolas are popping up in home improvement and discount stores nationwide as well as upscale lifestyle magazines. I was impressed with the price range — anywhere from $150 to the thousands of dollars — depending on the size and style you choose. An added bonus to many of these structures is the mosquito netting that can be used to block out these little pests. 

Accessories If you go to the trouble of creating an inviting environment in your garden home then by all means, look for ways to get out there and enjoy it. I find that adding accessories to this space lures me from the couch out into the garden.  When thinking of accessories think of the senses: Something to see such as dramatic lighting (and to get around that pesky wind that often blows out my candles I’ve started using battery operated LED lighting that looks very real); you’ll want something to taste like lemonade, wine, cheeses, fruit; favorite fragrances from flowers; enjoy the sound of a water feature, wind chimes or light music; and add something to touch — I enjoying having magazines, books and even tactile plants within arms reach.  

Set the stage As the weather warms and more and more of us are yearning to be outside I hope you’ll rethink the place where you live and look for opportunities to set the stage, if you will, and push the boundaries of your home past the walls of your house and out into the landscape beyond.

P. Allen Smith is the host of two nationally syndicated half hour television programs, numerous magazine columns, a popular website, and a best-selling series of garden-design-lifestyle books. Learn more about Allen and his popular gardening and lifestyle topics at: .