The spring reclamation of patios and decks has begun across the Mid-Atlantic and New England. And, unlike our brother gardeners in sunnier climes, this will involve something more extensive than changing the cushions to reflect a seasonal change from warm to warmer.
Our outside rooms – be they patio, deck, balcony or front porch stoop – are more than just a place to temporarily set the trash or dry children’s sneakers. They are a natural extension of the living and entertaining spaces inside our homes, and thinking of them as such can significantly increase our enjoyment of the months ahead.
If you’ve been averting your eyes from shabby corners piled high with leaves, half-filled pots, faded furniture and (like me) forty-two pairs of children’s dirty socks, the time to re-claim your space is now. Once you’ve put the socks in a pile and set a match to them, here’s a five-step battle plan to help your summer entertaining dreams come true:
An unfortunate, but extremely necessary first step in the process. Beg, borrow or steal a pressure washer and commit yourself to an afternoon of wet tee-shirts and immense satisfaction (and not just for onlookers). I have started the season only to find that the soap pump on mine has croaked – but it’s amazing what a high-powered jet of water can do to a year’s worth of dirt and algae growth.
When you’ve finished the patio, porch or deck, pull out the furniture and keep spraying. And when you’ve finished that, don’t forget the cobwebs, spider-poop and general nastiness coating your home’s siding. But be careful here – as much as I like to put my children on most cleaning jobs, the last thing I need is water seeping through window casings or flooding my foundation through the efforts of an over-zealous teenager. This is one job I do myself.
Is a board coming loose on the deck? Does the water no longer bead on the expensive teak table? Did you hold your breath the last time your grandmother sat on that rickety chair you haven’t repaired? Maintenance is a tedious job, but this is the time to do it. Assess your tasks, make a list and you’ll be surprised how quickly you can breeze through it once you’ve got all the tools in one place. This year I needed to waterproof most of the wooden furniture, re-spray the iron table and replace a couple flame guards on the BBQ. Seeing these jobs done then inspired my husband to replace three rotted boards on the deck, which will no doubt make my homeowner’s insurance agent jump for joy.
Now we start to have fun. With a clean playing surface and safer furniture, the job of arranging everything will start to bring the season into focus. This step is critical – but particularly so if you are on a budget. We all buy things on impulse, but if you know what you have, where something is going, or what you definitely don’t have room for, you are more likely to be prudent when faced with thousands of gut-bending temptations at the nursery.
Set up your seating area and allow a bit of room around the furniture for movement. If there isn’t any, cut down on something. Put your pots in place, and for Heaven’s sake don’t put them in straight lines – think in terms of triangles instead. Only have small pots? Put them in groups and use some bricks or overturned pots to create more levels. Jot down a couple notes on what type of plants you’ll need (sun or shade), and consider bringing out some of those hardworking houseplants to flesh things out, save you money, and give them a vacation in the fresh air.
Nothing says summer like lights twinkling away on a warm evening. Strung lights can get expensive, but a cheap and beautiful solution is to raid the Christmas boxes in the attic for white lights. Use them to illuminate a large plant, wrap deck railings, or create a magical, quiet spot in the corner of the garden. Alternatively, sell one of your children and buy several strings of the gorgeous industrial-look lights so popular at the moment. If surly teenagers fetched any kind of real money, I’d win awards for the lighting schemes I’d like to implement out there.
The best part – and it doesn’t mean you have to max out the credit cards. With surfaces cleaned, furniture and lighting arranged, and pots ready to be filled, the job of decorating is pure joy. Trust yourself here, but if you’re still unsure of your container planting prowess, ask for help at a locally owned nursery where they love their plants and want you to be thrilled with your choices. Remember to access your light situation and plant accordingly, and perhaps think about a few beautiful herbs and vegetables to add a bit of useful whimsy to your pots.
Once you’ve got your plants sorted, you can have fun with a few accessories such as lanterns, old crates, a small fountain or ironwork trellises. And don’t pay top dollar – visit a yard sale or two and re-purpose a two-dollar find instead.
Spending this time now will pay off handsomely in the months ahead, and give you piece of mind when it comes to stewardship of the space and accessories you already own. There’s nothing like relaxing at the end of the day in your own private Eden – so get out there and take it back before the season gets away from you.