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.

Woman could face jail time over garden

Published: Tuesday, June 27, 2017 @ 9:55 AM

Atlanta City Code Enforcement told Lexa King that her flowers are overgrown. (Photo via WSB-TV)
Atlanta City Code Enforcement told Lexa King that her flowers are overgrown. (Photo via WSB-TV)

A Georgia woman could face jail time and a large fine over her garden.

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Atlanta city code enforcement officers told Lexa King that her flower garden is overgrown.

King told WSB-TV’s Rikki Klaus that she’s been growing her garden for about 30 years. She beams when she talks about the azaleas in her yard.

"And since I pay the taxes and since I pay the mortgage and since I pay the insurance, I figure I'm the one that gets to say," King said.

Code enforcement officers see the situation, and her garden, differently.

"They said it was messy, said it was overgrown,” King said. "I said, ‘Well, this is a matter of your interpretation.’”

>> Related: Man plants 2,000 tulips for 45th wedding anniversary

In December, King said, an anonymous complaint led to an arrest citation. It details "overgrowth" in her yard and said she's violating a city code that prohibits "excessive growth."

"We asked him for a definition of excessive, which he could not provide," King said.

Klaus asked King whether she plans to cut the shrubs back.

"Not unless I'm absolutely forced to," King said.

King said she's fighting a bigger battle to protect the quirkiness of Atlanta’s Candler Park neighborhood.

"This is not about me. It's not about those azaleas. This is about our neighborhood and the way of life that we have here," King said.

Neighbors said they've been writing to City Council members on King's behalf.

"We're hoping for dismissal of these charges before Lexa King appears in front of the Municipal Court of Atlanta to be sentenced for her crime of azaleas," neighbor Scott Jacobs said.

Klaus researched the penalties of a court citation. King could face up to 60 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Her hearing will take place in August.

Klaus contacted code enforcement for reaction to this story. She’s still waiting to get a response. 

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
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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