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Home & Design: Landscape

Eden On Your Deck

By Anne Halpin - May 22, 2017

Here on the East End we’re all about summer. While all four seasons have their particular beauty, summer is the peak, when the bay and ocean waters are warm and inviting, and we can throw open our windows to the soft summer air. In summer decks and patios become extensions of our homes. We cook there, dine there, relax there. We furnish our outdoor living areas with tables and chairs, lounges, lights and fire pits and heaters for chilly evenings. Plants are welcome, too. Many of us move our houseplants outdoors in summer—mine always thrive there and become rejuvenated after spending the winter indoors.

Just as landscaping adds beauty and value to our properties, plants can enhance our decks and patios. They soften the lines of outdoor structures like railings and stairs, and bring their colors right up close to where you sit. It feels good to sit among plants. Their greenery is soothing—did you know that green is the most restful color to the human eye? Their colorful flowers and heavenly fragrances make your deck feel like a tiny bit of paradise.

You can scatter plants randomly around your deck, of course, but you can also create a real feeling of landscape there, your own little Eden to escape to or entertain in whenever you like. If you really want to make a statement, you can color-coordinate your deckscape with the landscape on your property. Or, you can turn the deck or patio into a little world of its own, perhaps a tropical paradise bursting with bright, hot colors.

First, some basics. One problem with decks is hiding the space underneath them.  You can screen off the bottom of the deck with lattice panels or trelliswork. Shrubs can provide excellent screening around a deck. If the deck is very close to the ground, use spreading junipers, cotoneasters, carpet roses or other sprawling plants. Use upright but relatively low growers such as azaleas, spiraea, hypericum or Knock Out roses around decks not far off the ground. For higher decks plant taller shrubs such as rhododendron, viburnum, upright junipers or hollies, or shrub roses. If you use the deck or patio only in summer, ornamental grasses can provide an easy-care screen for the warm months.

Of course, a deck isn’t complete without some potted plants. You can plant in rectangular planter boxes built right onto the deck that can be reused year after year. You can also group containers of plants, large and small, to create a garden effect. Combine lots of plants in large tubs, bowls, and planter boxes, or group smaller pots together for visual impact. For a lush look, start with tall centerpiece plants, add bushy plants for volume, then add smaller filler and accent flowers, and include cascading and trailing plants to spill over the edges of the planters.

Key the pots and plants to your garden’s color scheme, picking up colors from the house trim and beds and borders. Container plants can produce all sorts of looks. You could create a tropical paradise, or maybe you’d like to pretend you have your own little meadow, with containers of wildflowers and grasses. For a contemporary home, a Zen garden featuring a quiet composition of plants with simple, angular shapes in beautifully glazed pottery, perhaps enhanced by a trickling water spout or fountain, can create a serene feeling. Also consider the growing conditions on your deck or patio, in addition to a color scheme, when selecting plants. Is the deck sunny or shady? Will you be there to water every day in summer, or do you need very drought-tolerant plants in your pots (or someone to come in and water when you’re not there)? Bear in mind that large pots dry out more slowly than smaller ones. Decorating your deck with plants might just unleash your creativity. You get to enjoy the results all summer long, and next year you can refine your design or create a whole different look!

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