7 ways to create a gorgeous outdoor room

Published: Monday, May 13, 2013 @ 11:24 AM
Updated: Monday, May 13, 2013 @ 11:24 AM

It's spring! Long days, sunshine, birds, barbecues, flowers! For the next six months or so, it's outside time (sorry, people in the Northeast; your time will come). Which means, of course, that you should have an outdoor room, a place where you can do all the things you do in winter — entertain, read, eat, relax — under the big, blue sky.

We're not talking a giant pavilion with a built-in fireplace. Although if you can make that happen, please do. We're talking a snug and stylish corner with the comforts of home.

>>View gallery: 7 Ways to Create a Gorgeous Outdoor Room

Depending on where you live, you will have different considerations. Some will have to think about rain; others will need a source of shade or cooling. Some will have to take the bugs into account; others, the neighbors. Where I live on the Northern California coast, our outdoor summer rooms include heaters. 

But whatever the specifics, every room should include a few basics:

  1. Comfy furniture. No one wants to perch on a hard wooden chair all afternoon.
  2. Rugs. They delineate the space and feel good underfoot.
  3. Decoration. Art, potted plants, sculpture, lanterns. This is a room; decorate it.

I also advocate for hammocks, grills, tables, throw blankets, candles and a source of music, but these are optional. Here are a few inspirations to get you going.

12 common house and garden plants that are poisonous to dogs

Published: Thursday, March 30, 2017 @ 2:28 PM

Nothing says spring like blooming flowers and the great outdoors. But if you’ve got a dog at home, there are some flowers in your garden that aren’t safe to snip and bring inside.

Dog trainer Amber Burckhalter tells Our Town magazine that the following plants can be deadly to your pet. While a lot of the entries on this list are outdoor plants, pay special attention to the potted flowers you may have inside your home too!

Read the full list of plants your dog should never eat at Clark.com.

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What’s in a (plant) name?

Published: Friday, January 13, 2017 @ 12:00 AM

Have you ever wondered why plant people need to speak in Latin? Or do you even care?

Well, in fact, it’s very important to use Latin names for plants.

Following is a great example that I borrow from my colleague Jim Chatfield, who is quite good at teaching binomial nomenclature (more on that later).

Let’s say you walk into a garden center and ask the salesperson for a red maple. She takes you over to an ‘October Glory’ red maple. You say, that’s not what I am looking for.

She then takes you to a ‘Crimson King’ Norway maple and of course, that’s also not what you are looking for.

Finally she takes you to a Japanese maple and you are happy because that’s the tree you want.

While all three have something to do with being a red tree, they are all different species of trees.

The first one is a cultivar of a red maple, or Acer rubrum. The second is a cultivar of a Norway maple, or Acer platanoides. The third one is a species of a Japanese maple that has red leaves.

In the plant world, we try to use the Latin name (also known as the scientific name) when it comes to talking about specific plants.

Carolus Linnaeus created the binomial nomenclature system to be used worldwide so that we all would be speaking the same language when it came to identifying plants.

In binomial nomenclature, there are two words used to name a plant. The first is the genus, the second is called the specific epithet and together the two make up the species.

For instance, Acer is the genus for maples. A red maple is Acer rubrum, a silver maple is Acer saccharinum, and a sugar maple is Acer saccharum.

Latin names are always written the same with the genus capitalized and the specific epithet lower-case. They are listed in italics, though some sources will underline them.

Then we have to go and mix things up a little more by adding cultivar names. Notice in the examples above that I had single quotes around ‘October Glory’ or ‘Crimson King’? That’s the style used.

These are cultivars or cultivated varieties of the species. In other words, they were discovered to have characteristics that were similar to the species but maybe were special.

They are propagated and sold by the cultivar name. Cultivar stands for cultivated variety. For instance, Norway maples have green leaves but ‘Crimson King’ was a discovery that had red foliage during the summer.

When green industry professionals are talking about plants, especially if they are ordering specific plants, they will use the Latin names.

Most gardeners don’t worry about Latin names for plants and in the scheme of things, that’s OK. However, there may be a time when you really want to impress at a dinner party and you roll Liquidambar styraciflua off your tongue.

That’s a sweetgum, by the way — but doesn’t it sound lovely!

Resolve to put the right plant in the right place

Published: Friday, January 06, 2017 @ 12:00 AM


            These blue spruces will soon outgrow this house. CONTRIBUTED

I have a suggested New Year’s resolution for gardeners, landscapers, and anyone else who plants trees, shrubs and any other plants: I resolve to plant the right plant in the right place!

So many plant problems can be avoided by following this resolution.

While shopping before the holidays, I went to a store in a new commercial development. The parking lot, trees, shrubs — all were new.

The problem was that the landscape design called for Japanese maples to be planted in two of the parking-lot tree islands.

Japanese maples are not and I repeat, not parking-lot trees — nor are they tough enough to serve as a street tree.

Japanese maples do best in a slightly protected landscape setting with moist, well-drained soil.

If you have ever had the chance to see one of these tree islands being prepared during construction, you know that the soil and planting area alone aren’t that great. In addition, the area is surrounded by blacktop that gets pretty hot during the summer.

The bottom line is that Japanese maples will not thrive in this location and will likely struggle and look pretty awful by mid-summer. I’ll keep you posted.

In real estate, it’s all about location and the same thing applies to plants. Put a plant in a perfect site and you’ll get great performance in the long run.

Another plant that is typically misused in the Miami Valley is the rhododendron. These are really hard to pass up in the spring when they are in full bloom. The flowers are spectacular.

However, enjoy it while it’s blooming the first year, because it doesn’t quite look the same in our landscapes once planted.

Rhododendrons prefer an acidic soil or a soil pH of around 5.5. Our soil pH is typically 7.4 or around there. This is not optimal for these plants to grow.

Gardeners may try to change the soil pH by adding soil sulfur, but it won’t last because of the parent soil material we have around here — limestone. Our soil pH is extremely difficult to change.

You might be able to success with rhododendrons in raised beds or in a container where you have more control over the pH, but this requires a lot more work.

When you purchase a plant or when you are planning your landscape, read about a plant to learn where it will grow best and then try to find that location in your landscape.

Or, if you have a particular problem in your landscape — a wet area, for instance — look for plants that tolerate wet or damp soils.

And remember that plants grow if they are happy. Be sure to learn the mature size of the plant and place it in your landscape where you won’t have to prune to keep it small or in specific area.

It’s a lot easier for everyone when a plant is happy in its home. Remember, right plant right place!

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Thanksgiving thanks

Published: Friday, November 18, 2016 @ 12:00 AM


            Fall color of Bonanza Gold barberry. Photo contributed by Pamela Corle-Bennett

Since Thanksgiving is just a few days away, it’s appropriate to share with you why I am thankful for the opportunity to live and practice my craft (horticulture) in Ohio.

First of all, I am thankful for the changing seasons. I really don’t like cold weather but I don’t think I could live in a part of the country that stayed the same year-round.

I love that we have the array of fall colors like the fiery orange of the sugar maples and the golden yellow of the gingko trees.

And I really like hiking through the woods and the “swish” that the leaves make.

I also like raking leaves and collecting them for my compost pile.

Driving around our township right now makes me crazy when I see all of the leaves laying by the side of the road. However, I am thankful that our township takes them to be composted.

Of course, winter can be quite interesting if you pay attention to trees and shrubs. Some of these can be quite beautiful not only in the color and appearance of the bark but with their shape and form.

Spring and summer are also great seasons with the colorful spring blooms and the summer growth.

I am also thankful for my job. I have the greatest job in the world. I get to teach people about all of these plants and best management practices. My goal is to inspire others to enjoy plants as much as I do.

I am thankful that the growing season is only seven months and not year-round. Think about it — do you want to be weeding and watering all year long?

I realize the benefits of gardening the entire year might be great but the work!

I was in a community in British Columbia in which they can garden clear up until Dec.31. They start in mid-January. I love gardening but this might be a little much.

I am thankful for the seed catalogues that get us through the winter. These give me the opportunity to dream.

I am very thankful for the wide palette of plants in which we can choose for our gardens. We are so fortunate that we can grow an awful lot of plants in our region of the country.

I am also very thankful to those who take the risk in the green industry, growing and maintaining these plants.

I am extremely thankful for the Master Gardener Volunteer program. Ohio State University Extension and our communities in the Miami Valley are very fortunate to have such dedicated volunteers to help us teach others.

Finally, I am thankful to be living in this great country and this great state of Ohio. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.