This photo provided by Laneventure shows aluminum outdoor furniture with a tortoise finish. Among the fastest sellers in lawn furnishing this season are larger pieces built from easy-care materials. - (AP Photo/Laneventure)

Now growing in the back yard: Multiple garden rooms with multiple themes

One of the latest trends in garden-room design serves to demonstrate that property owners can't get enough of a good thing. If one room is good, then more are better.

Multiple garden rooms are being developed with different themes to satisfy different members of the family, says Emily Nolting, an ornamental-plant and landscaping specialist with Kansas State University Research and Extension.

Over the last three years, says Nolting, who teaches outdoor-room design and landscaping, “I'm seeing a lot of expansion here, people growing into multiples. The rooms are becoming like coordinated wallpaper. Each is a little different but they all work together.”

Basically, a garden room is a defined outdoor space with a general theme, much like indoor rooms, such as dining room/kitchen, entertainment center, or reading/knitting retreat.

“Garden rooms started by being very basic. They were private sanctuaries for the most part. Now they’re extensions of our indoor living space,” Nolting says. “They’re more sophisticated in the use of accessories and plant varieties. Because they’re so close (to the house) they can be monitored more carefully. People are more interested in trying uncommon plants and finding things that are more difficult to grow.”

It isn’t unusual to see garden rooms set aside specifically as children’s play areas, as outdoor kitchens equipped with stainless-steel barbecue sets running into the thousands of dollars, or as dining and entertainment centers with space for tables large enough to seat 10 or more, Nolting says.

About half of the gardens she’s seeing have multiple rooms now. And it’s a changeable feast, she says, with people planting different colored flowers every year, and opting for more shady garden rooms.

“They give you options. You don’t have to go far to enjoy them. They connect with all sorts of living things outdoors. They’re a good fit for our increasingly complicated lives.”

There was a time when homeowners personalized their garden rooms by planting a few clumps of geraniums around a toy tractor or by placing an old wooden wagon wheel in the middle of a flowerbed. Now, an entire industry has emerged centered around creating just the right garden room accessory.

“You don’t just stick things out there that you have setting in your garage anymore,” she says. “You complement things outdoors as you would indoors. Matching napkins. Bronze statuary. Candles and fountains. They’re all very much in demand.”

Among the fastest sellers in lawn furnishing this season are larger pieces built from easy-care materials, says Sheryl King, a spokeswoman for Laneventure, in Conover, N.C., manufacturers of wicker furniture.

Technology finally is catching up with outdoor finishes and fabrics, she says. “It’s becoming low care and durable, cleaned easily with soap and water. That means you don’t have to worry about bringing the newer varieties of porch furniture inside in the wintertime.”

Indoor furniture is now often adaptable for use outdoors, fueling the popularity of garden rooms, said Jeff Dillon, outdoor-furniture buyer for Plow and Hearth, a national direct-marketing group based in Madison, Va., that sells country-living products via stores, catalogs and a website.

“Nothing is altogether weatherproof, but its resistance is getting to the point where it’s achieving a reasonable life expectancy without disappointments,” he says. “People are willing to spend outdoors what they spend on indoor furniture.”

Garden rooms aren’t developed overnight, rather they’re an ongoing investment, Kansas State’s Nolting says.

“You start with the basic idea to make the areas into rooms. Then you develop the pathways and color movement to transition from one room to another. You add to that every year as your preferences and lifestyles change.”

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