My Great Outdoors: Randolph's Outdoor "Rooms"

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Name: Randolph

Location: Salt Lake City

Type of space: Backyard Garden

Tell us about your outdoor project and how you enjoy it:
My backyard garden is the result of a multi-year project to bring life to a small, barren and long-neglected urban plot. It required overcoming extreme sun exposure, exhausted “soil” and shabby structures on a scant budget. Measuring only about 950 square feet, the backyard now boasts...

...a number of “rooms” that can be used either for disparate functions or collectively for entertaining. For about four months of the year, I spend far more time in the garden than in the house, making it a true extension of the living space. When I work from home, I even set up my laptop in a cool nook of the garden I call the “gardenette.” Another cool corner of the yard with a vintage iron chair is an ideal spot to become one with a book.

My small city space is enjoyed from spring through fall for reading, writing, daydreaming, napping, eating and entertaining. I absolutely love the character and style of my old, urban house, but it is the garden that truly makes it a home.

How did you create it?:

When my partner and I bought our 100-year-old Salt Lake City home, the small backyard was little more than thoroughly compressed clay, a splintery deck and the frame of a never-completed greenhouse. Largely exposed to the merciless summer sun, nothing grew in this desolate space -- not even weeds. We wanted to create an outdoor space that was beautiful and distinct, yet easy to maintain, environmentally efficient, and adaptable to evolving uses and tastes.

Our solution was to cover most of the ground with reclaimed brick, revive the deck, and wrap the greenhouse frame in cedar fence planks (stained green) and fiberglass panels to create a serviceable potting shed. We worked generous amounts of organic material and fine aggregate into small areas to create a few healthy beds and to sustain a very small patch of lawn. Dividing the space into smaller zones to take advantage of natural “microclimates,” we also strategically placed market umbrellas to improve shade for entertaining.

We then filled it all in with copious pots of various sizes and styles, filled to overflowing with all manner of plant life. This makes it easy to grow plants with diverse soil, water and exposure requirements. Some pots are left out year-round, some over-winter in the potting shed or garage, and some are refreshed each year with new, colorful annuals.

Finally, we rigged an elaborate drip-irrigation system which supplies an exact amount of water to every growing thing in the yard (except the lawn). It takes all of 15 minutes to water it all, which is a perfect amount of time to tend to dead-heading and weeding.

The whole transformation was very inexpensive, required no experience, and has been utterly satisfying. We also make our own compost behind the garage, so the yard has, to a certain degree, a low environmental impact.

Recommended store, site, product or resource?

Utelite E-Soil is an amazing product to help revive compressed clay soil.

Ikea sells excellent earthenware pots that are frost resistant and very affordable. Their outdoor furniture and lighting are also budget friendly and surprisingly durable.

If you wait until late summer, pillows and accessories can be picked up at Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware and Pier 1 at bargain basement prices.

Yard sales are an excellent source for unique garden art. My favorites are things that were designed for indoor display but can withstand the elements.

I've found spray paint to be indispensible for creating visual harmony on a budget.

Look for demolition sites of in your area and ask someone if you can salvage materials. When the dilapidated brick garage on my property collapsed under its own weight, I used the bricks to surface my yard. Several neighbors asked if they could take some of the bricks and I was more than happy to let them haul them away!

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