Your Backyard Resort

While it's true that most of us don't have too much in common with the Crawley family of Downton Abbey, we share with them the desire to enjoy the luxuries of home, even in the garden.

Like the denizens of Downton, whose servants transported half the drawing room along with the fine china and silver for their picnic excursions, we love to feel comfortable when we're outdoors. Happily, today's outdoor lover gets to enjoy comfort in the garden on a more permanent basis, with no butler necessary.

Adrian Bartels of Cedar Springs Landscaping calls the new design of outdoor rooms the “backyard resort” and it's one of the most important landscaping trends of the past decade.

These outdoor rooms with an indoor feel will lure us all out to the garden, to stay longer into the evening and to visit longer during the season. The trend has enlarged our living space and given us more reasons to stay outdoors. Even Sir Robert would approve.

Richard Kuizenga of Shademaster Landscaping took a classic, formal approach to the design of this outdoor room.

The property is in wine country, the private home of a winemaker, and is classical in style so Kuizenga's design carried that style outside.

The garden terrace overlooks the vineyards and provides gorgeous views of Lake Ontario. The stone used for the terrace and balustrade is square cut Wiarton flagstone that matches the house. A covered seating area with pale columns is the perfect place to take in the views or enjoy the pool, a formal rectangular with roman shaped edges, with a replica of a French water feature.

There is a complete outdoor kitchen that is capable of entertaining large numbers of guests. It includes a big grill, searing unit, warming drawers, garbage chute, large countertop, and generous space that flows into the pool area. There's a screened area, with automatic screens that can be completely opened up, and a fireplace.

“In addition to boxwood plantings there are many perennials, ornamental grasses, a locust surrounded by dwarf catmint. As you get farther from the house, the garden becomes less formal and more natural to blend in with the vineyards and the surrounding countryside.”

The whole outdoor area is softly lit for evenings.

“It is a comfortable backyard,” says Kuiz”“nga. “The garden blends in so well with the surrounding landscape that despite its large scale, it feels intimate. There are separate places that offer personal space.”

“The terrace faces north and the light is incredibly beautiful. This is a place you want to linger in.”


The backyard resort that Adrian Bartels of Cedar Springs Landscaping designed for a local family is another example of an outdoor space that functions almost as an extra room.

There's a complete kitchen with a bar and fridge and a state of the art Twin Eagles grill from California.

The attention-getting feature in this garden is the pavilion, with generous and comfortable seating arranged around a raised fire pit. There's a large drop down screen and projector TV where the family can watch movies in the evening.
“Audio visuals in the garden are becoming very popular,” Bartels says. “Certainly good quality speakers are virtually standard now, but clients are also looking for televisions that will operate in an outdoor room, so on summer evenings, they can sit outside and watch the programs they like, while still enjoying the evening in natural surroundings.”

This was a mature garden with lots of trees. Cedar Springs redid the plantings, removing overgrown shrubs and adding some new trees.

“Lighting was a key component in this garden space. It supports the idea of living in your backyard in the dark, by illuminating the different corners of the garden. We have lit up the features so the garden is beautiful at night, but also accessible as a space you can move through safely.”

“A synthetic thatch roof on the pavilion suggests the tropics and lends an exotic element to the garden, emphasizing the concept of the backyard resort.”

Outdoor rooms such as this mean we can spend longer days and a longer season outside.

The backyard that Gelderman Landscaping created for a Burlington client is a perfect example.  It is a space that invites you to move outdoors and stay there.

“There are two major highlights of this garden,” Harry Gelderman tells me. “One is the outdoor kitchen, just steps from the house. It incorporates everything you need to cook a meal: fridge, sink, oven and a Lynx grill. This is a kitchen that gets used all of the time, even in winter, for family meals and for entertaining. There's also a large dining area.”

The second feature is the “spool”, a hot tub pool, or spa pool that has jets like a hot tub and is five feet deep. There are three water weirs that add interest to the pool, an attractive feature, especially at night with different lighting effects. The primary stone used here is an interlocking paving stone called Celtic stone.

The flowerbeds are generously planted to give a sense of fullness, and the plantings are constantly being changed or added to according to the season. Boxwood adds form to the gardens, while up-sized cedar hedging provides privacy, as do ornamental pear trees and grasses. Birch trees set against the stone walls add contrast, while bulbs, perennials and annuals add seasonal colour.

The overall effect creates a formal but inviting space. The hedges and hostas add formality, but are softened with informal plantings.

In one area is a gas fireplace, with comfortable seating grouped around it.

“We built the fireplace at eye level so when you are seated in the chairs you can see the fire easily,” Gelderman explains. “This is a relatively small garden space that has been totally planned and utilized. The pool equipment is just behind a wall, easy to get at but out of sight.”

“Designing this garden was a group effort,” Gelderman tells me, “and I was merely the primary designer. We are very happy with how it has turned out. I really love the general layout and the use of space.”

Because the garden is south facing it is full of light, providing a welcoming space for family and guests to move right outdoors.

Stonework and planting make a Burlington garden designed by David Lammers of Garden Grove Landscaping seem cozy and inviting. With mature trees providing protective privacy, the garden is a calm oasis.

The outdoor fireplace would look equally at home in an indoor living room, while soft thick cushions on the lounge furniture make the circular patio feel very much like an inside living room.

The award winning design that Lammers created for this Burlington family was a conscious move to bring the indoors outdoors.

“This was an intimate backyard, small in scale, and the intent was to make this into highly useable space that would be a haven for the owners.  Humans have a natural affinity with nature. The outdoors is a natural draw ““ we are not meant to be stuck in boxes. So the enhancement of the backyard as a place to spend time is a very understandable trend.”

The small and square-ish backyard was softened and made more compelling by the fireplace installation. “It is intended as a lounge area and focal point for the garden. The actual fireplace is very traditional and looks much like one you might find inside,” explains Lammers, “but the stone used makes it seem natural. We used both natural stone and manufactured stone in this custom designed fireplace, with natural stone as surround and as capping and trim and man made stones to build the structure. The fireplace itself is gas but has the appearance of a wood burning unit.”

“We surrounded the fireplace area with a circular boundary of natural flagstone, which acts as almost an area rug to define but not cut off the area from the rest of the garden. It also softens the space.”

“To landscape the rest of the garden, we used plantings to soften and create the surround of nature to achieve a relaxing atmosphere. We established privacy with a wood screen, and used naturalized plantings, a carefully chosen mix of nursery stock that is traditional, warm and inviting.”

The new plantings, like the hemlock and Japanese maple, so vibrant with its burgundy leaves, added colour and texture. “The owners are bird lovers so we selected plants that would attract the birds, like the Canadian serviceberry clumps, a native species that flowers gorgeously in the spring and then produces berries that birds love.”