Gardens shouldn’t be something you just look at — they should be something you live in. They should be part of your lifestyle, fit with your house and property, and be an extension of your daily life.

Creating outdoor rooms is a major part of the design theory promoted by Brook Klausing, who runs Brook Landscape Inc. in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Rebecca McMackin, garden designer and horticulturist at Brooklyn Bridge Park, during their talk at New England Grows earlier this year.

“The more enclosed a garden is, the more it is an extension of your home,” Klausing said.

Working in an urban environment, the enclosure of the garden might be the building that butts up to your property line. But if you live in a more open environment, it could be created by walls, fences or plants at the edge of the property.

“The purpose of these outdoor rooms,” McMackin said, “is to ease the transition from the indoors to the outdoors.”

In an urban area, where the lines around your property are likely to be straight and hard, you want your landscaping to soften those lines, McMackin said. But in a rural or suburban environment, where the landscape is softer, you want to create some harder definitions — perhaps fences or walls.

Klausing said that while part of the purpose of these rooms is to bring people outside, another part is to bring the outside indoors, and that it helps to have elements inside the house that mirror items outside. It can be paintings inside that include the plants outside, similar materials or similar style furnishings.

In creating these garden rooms, you have to know what you want to do. Sometimes they can be a traditional room — a place to cook, eat, talk or even sleep. But other times, it is just a smaller part of the yard with a different look.

McMackin said that in a suburban environment, the goal usually is to create privacy. You don’t want the neighbors or people driving by to see you out in your yard — even if you are just reading or resting.

You can create this privacy with fences or hedges, whether the hedges are geometrically trimmed or more natural. Even though you probably are not going to have helicopters over your house every day, a canopy of some sort — created with big trees or climbing vines — can create a sense of protection.

If a home is in a wooded area, the goal is to create some open space so the homeowners don’t feel so closed in. But the landscape should blend into its natural surroundings, not be starkly different.

“You want to create a sense of ease in which you have some control,” McMackin said. “But you want to be part of something rather than master of it.”

If your property is large enough, pathways help to create rooms. It helps if the pathways can meander a little and be fairly narrow, Klausing said.

“You don’t want to see that far ahead,” he said. “There is mystery around the next bend. And it is OK if the plant touches you as you pass.”

Sometimes, however, you don’t want the rooms to be completely closed off. If you leave holes in the separation, you can enjoy dappled sunlight in the area where you are sitting. One of the best ways to create that dappled sunlight is to grow plants on trellises.

And one of the most enjoyable parts of any garden could be a hidden-away corner of the garden.

“You want it to be protected, but with a view,” McMackin said. It can be a place where you have the effect of an old-fashioned front porch, perhaps with some vines or shrubbery shielding you from view but not so much that you can’t see the world passing by.

Another thing a garden can do, Klausing said, is make the view even better. Figure out where people will be when they take in the surroundings, then figure out the best vista.

“You can put in plants to frame your view, to highlight what you want people to see,” he said.

A few weeks after I heard Klausing and McMackin speak, I heard a lot of the same ideas mentioned by Kathleen Carr Bailey of Finishing Touches Garden Design in Portland. Her Portland Flower Show talk emphasized the spirituality of gardening, but the places she said she usually likes best are in a corner of the property, as far away from the house as possible.

“Curb appeal may be nice,” she said, “but it is even nicer to have a wonderful space that no one else is going to see.”

Sometimes the space will include just a chair, a table and a few plants. Sometimes it will include a small water feature or an attractive rock or stone feature. And it is a place that you can see — maybe not distinctly — from the house.

“It is nice to have a destination when you go out into the garden,” she said.

Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth, and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

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