Designing a Garden Room


When I bought my country house in 2016, it had been neglected and vacant for more than 2 years but I felt it had promise to become a cozy place to rest while developing the 1.5 acres of land into a mini-farm . At just under just 800 square feet, the house had a good roof and clear well. The cosmetics were in dire need of an update. Working on the house for a summer, I found myself looking out the large living room window and thinking how nice it would be to have a beautiful garden right outside the door- something to draw one's attention to nature and bring the view in to expand the small space.  

It would have been difficult to rototill the ground. Old tree stumps had petrified and were impossible (for me) to trim or get out. Over the years the ground had become so compacted, a shovel barely broke the soil. And rocks- rocks everywhere- made normal gardening practices too much a challenge. I opted for raised beds for the vegetable garden.
French potager gardens have always intrigued me. In a design I call "formal whimsy", a potager would make harvest easy and close at hand for vegetables and herbs and by adding flowers, the garden could provide for all the senses. Because deer roam freely and threaten any planting, I knew it would have to be fenced and that's how the front garden became a garden room in my imaginings. Throughout the winter, I planned how the design could take shape, what garden produce would benefit my family, the daylight hours and shade, the heights and colors of the plants. By spring, my budget was decided, the materials were sourced and I was ready to go!


I first laid out stakes to mark the fence line- approximately 36' out from the house and across the full width- this would be my garden room. Fencing would connect to the house and there would be 2 gates. The raised beds were constructed of 2x10's,  in an irregular shape which fit the space I had available.  A 3' walk way was left between the beds and where the fence would go to make sure the garden was accessible from all sides.
To make the design, some boards had to be cut and were joined by 10"  2x4's overlapping the seam. All joints  and corners were screwed with exterior screws.

While the ground looked level before the raised beds were built, once the main frame was complete, it was obvious that the ground sloped and dipped and at some points I had to dig out ground to level it up and at some points I had to put a stake into the ground which was then screwed to the frame to hold it up. Ready made stakes are available at Lowe's or Home Depot- used I think for holding concrete frames- which are cheap enough and great to have on hand. Having given up on perfection, eye-ball level was good enough. A local excavation company brought in yards of a fortified compost/top soil blend and filled the beds for me. Once the beds were filled, we put up the fence.

My friend Rick and I did the fencing using 6' Blue Hawk wire fence and 6' T-Post stakes like these. Deer are not aggressive and the posts were set about 6' apart. We used a 4 pound sledge hammer which would have been adequate to penetrate the soil, but rock became a problem. I'd be holding the post  up straight, Rick would be pounding it down and we'd hit an impenetrable rock and have to move the post. Some areas were so dense with rock, we had to dig out a hole to put the post into and back fill it with dirt. It was a time consuming and exhausting process, but finally the posts were in (Rick's elbow ached for months after). The wire fence attached into the clips on the posts easily. We had some rough cut 1" lumber and ripped 4"  wide pieces to use to seal the fence to the ground (this was screwed into stakes in the ground) , hoping to keep out small animals (which seemed to work)  AND to make a barrier for the stone I would add later to the garden floor.


We added drip irrigation on a timer because I'm often away for days at a time. Next we figured out the gates.

The T-posts have holes drilled in them which made it easy to add wood to frame out the gates, giving us something to attach pre-made wired gates . At $25/pair, this was a low cost decorative addition to the style of the garden. I'd read that deer will not jump an enclosed portal, so I added a cross piece at the top with screws. One deer did get into the garden, but caused no damage. From then on, we used bungee cords to close the area over the cute gate and had no further problem with deer.

Meanwhile, the garden area closest to the house was worked on. Since this spot gradually shades from 1PM on, most of the planting was designed for perennial, shade tolerant flowers. Preparing the beds was done by hand and I uncovered enough rocks to edge the garden!

The whole, unplanted garden space was covered with landscape fabric to prevent weeds from coming through. Plants were added to the flower beds and vegetable seeds were planted in the raised beds and the ground was covered in pea gravel. While I waited for the plants to grow, I stained and painted the house!

My theme for the garden was inspired by Dale Chihuly, a renown glass artist who frequently displays his glass work in gardens. I added bold color, squiggles and orbs to mimic a Chihuly installation. And I adopted a metal mascot to guard the door.

A seating area is shaded by the beautiful red maple tree in the afternoons.  Being at home in the garden is so precious and friends love to sit and chat. The garden room feels protected and it's great to witness nature in this peaceful setting.

The garden provided a bountiful harvest and  it was inspiring to know this was a first year garden.

It's a riot of color and interest.

I made a raised bed seat to make tending the garden easier, but mostly I love to have the opportunity to sit among the plants!

This was a fairly regular harvest as the summer progressed.

And that's how we came to expand the living space of our small house.  It's hard to walk through the living room and not be drawn to the window to look out to the garden- it's just arresting. Hummingbirds and butterflies, bees and a chipmunk all enjoy the garden as much as I do. From the living room we see beauty, produce and inspiration everyday!

Rick and I set up perma-culture beds last summer so they'd be ready for this year's expansion into flowers, gourds, pop corn, luffahs and herbs. I can't help myself, I just love gardening so much!  Feel welcome to join me at Bringing The Farm Home to follow my garden adventure!
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