Westbury Garden Rooms, which skillfully builds graceful conservatories and orangeries across the U.K., gives Garden Variety readers advice on planting in around these winter-friendly spaces bathed in natural light.
Glazed additions like sunrooms, conservatories, orangeries and atriums can provide a whole new dimension to your home, adding a spacious, bright living space that people tend to gravitate towards, either for down time or entertaining guests—while acting as the perfect perch enjoy views of the yard, garden and outdoors year-round.
Taking into account the views from both inside and out, there are several key factors to consider when trying to seamlessly blend extensions with your landscape and garden: plant types, focal points, flow and function.
Around the perimeter
Low planting around the garden room is the best approach, since plantings won’t block the view but will soften any harsh lines (like brickwork) along the bottom edge of the extended space and the lawn, patio, deck or garden area. Also, keep in mind that smaller plants tend to have small root systems, so they won’t disturb foundations or brickwork. For sunny areas, plants like euphorbia wulfenii, lavender, nepeta, agapanthus, penstemons and santolinas work well, but in shade it’s best to use plants like ferns, alchemilla mollis, hellebores, hostas, heucheras and geraniums.
If you’re looking to plant something larger, then it’s best to place it further away from the edge of the extension. Although there are many factors which determine the size of a root system, a small tree planted about 15 feet (5m) away from any building should be sufficient, but it’s always best to consult with a professional arborist—such as members of The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA)—to be sure.
It’s inevitable that homes in urban areas will have smaller yards, meaning garden room extensions may end up looking out on to a fence or wall. If this is the case then climbing plants are the answer, since they add greenery to stark property barriers. Thorny varieties also provide an element of security in addition tobeing aesthetically pleasing. Berberis, pyracantha, roses, Hippophae rhamnoides, holly and rubus are all good deterrents.
Creating a focal point
Having a special feature of some kind in the garden draws the eye outside and can help ‘complete’ the view. It’s important to consider where indoor seating is placed so that you can appropriately plan outdoor focal points. Water features work well, as do bold plants—something colorful or unusual—so long as their style fits with the existing planting scheme.
In addition, make the most of the space around the garden room with seating areas that create extra living space while transitioning between the room and the garden itself. For example, a stone terrace or paver patio that runs outward from the doors of the extension softened with some low plantings visually extends the space.
It may also be good to match the flooring inside the garden room with that in the garden to soften the contrast between indoors and outside. In terms of materials, if you’re in the UK, consider Yorkstone, which is extremely hard-wearing, durable and neutral in color, allowing it to fit with traditional or contemporary styles. Elsewhere, sandstone, limestone or slate are good alternatives, providing they are sourced from an ethical supplier. However, the color and style of paving or other material you decide upon will depend on the style of the garden room, and whether you want to blend or create a distinction between the inside spaces and outdoor room.
Bringing the outside in
Houseplants are a great way to bring an element of the garden into the home. Potted citrus trees are traditionally planted inside conservatories and orangeries and marry nicely with clipped Bay trees, which are popular choices for patios outside extension windows. More modern takes on this include Buxus (box) or Yew trees, which look great clipped up. Alternatively, grape vines and large foliage plants all look great both inside and out.
If you’re after something more unusual, Euphorbias is a fantastic option and there are varieties to suit every situation. Most have acid yellow/green flower heads that bloom for long periods, making them suitable across all seasons, even providing good structure during the winter months (always wear gloves when pruning euphorbias as the sap can irritate the skin).
Another often overlooked but fantastic option are ornamental grasses. Stipa gigantea and Calamagrostis (Karl Foerster) are two tall feathered grasses that can be used either as a natural screen or soft focal point.
Beautifully planned and planted garden rooms can have a dramatic impact on the style of the entire living area of a home and the same can be said for the garden. If you don’t already have one, now might just be the perfect time to take a fresh look at your home and garden to see if an extension is right for you, both practically and aesthetically.
For more information
Westbury Garden Rooms, which was founded over 25 years ago by Jonathan Hey, has developed an impressive reputation across the UK for designing high-quality bespoke garden rooms, orangeries, pool houses and roof lanterns.
Special thanks to Paul Baines, garden design adviser to Westbury Garden Rooms’ clients.