Get creative with a small garden room

Jun 3, 2015 | Growing Tips

by Jan Koehler

Downsizing and relocating half-way across the country to pursue a new life adventure brings with it a certain freedom to discover the possibilities for ensuring that life remains fresh and interesting.

Smaller spaces inside and out take less time for the household chores, permitting a creative burst to redefine the living space to satisfy the sense of self.  Frequently, that smaller footprint seems more confining than expected from a visual perspective as well as the emotional challenge of placing the treasures of life’s past that made the trip to the new home.

Fortunately, for the creative gardener, increasing living space is a matter of walking out the doors of the new house and surveying the property to ascertain the location and design of outdoor “rooms.”

The walled garden is a beautifully established space in Rio Rancho as the vast majority of neighborhood proper-ties are already divided by block walls for erosion control, leaving no added expense to define the boundaries of those outdoor rooms.

Watching the sunlight patterns surrounding my house during that first year while redecorating and upgrading my interior space permitted me to record the hours of sunlight and define possible microclimates in the sun-drenched Southwest, which was diametrically opposed to the oak forest property of the upper Midwest, where the walls of my property were the dense undergrowth of that 60-foot tall forest.

Also, I was able to survey the natural vegetation of this area and study plant species that were most conducive to creating a visually appealing landscape for my outside rooms while remaining water-wise, realistic and successful.

The bones of the landscape surrounding my home were executed by a landscape contractor and consist of rock, pavers and multi-level raised beds, complete with a drip irrigation system defining the space for the 12’ x 12’ pergola with an attached covered walkway.

The plant selection and placement, however, belonged to me, as nothing was more satisfying at the time than creating my oasis and watching it develop into the perfect alfresco dining room in which to enjoy my morning coffee or share an evening meal with friends.

The much-needed shade stems from the glorious trumpet vine covering the pergola. Many grand container gardens and a couple of fountains have become colorful additions to this room, along with the wrought-iron trellises now supporting a variety of twining vine species that bloom at different times of the growing season.

Butterflies, other pollinators, humming birds and song birds like the plant species I selected and present me with yet another way to enjoy the beauty of our New Mexico desert.

Certainly, the difference between the 1.3-acre “garden-decorated” oak forest with all its water and shade-loving plants to the comparably postage stamp sized-gardens thriving in the heat of the New Mexico sun that now surround my home is a change that I have embraced with great pleasure.

My garden room is not yet done, as a garden is never static and I look forward to interacting with this increased, and literally, living space for years to come.

This article was previously published in the Rio Rancho Observer.