May 23, 2010

Perfect patio life, even on the cheap

Just ask Davie; I'm ridonkulously obsessed with outdoor living.  Why?  Two words: Wis. Consin.  Sorry, Blog, that was pretty bad.  But think about it:  We live in one of the most beautiful states in the nation, but have to put up with snow and cold from November to April.  No wonder I have the proverbial Royal Cow when 70s temps arrive.  And no wonder I'm obsessed with our patio.

We found our condo in February of 2003, and even the gray skies and several inches of snow did not prevent me from recognizing how awesome our patio was.  It's not large:  it's a quarter oval of 150-200 square feet.  And it's not like those spaces you see on "The Outdoor Room," with expensive furnishings, a stone floor, and a fish pond.  But it has a couple really great things going for it:  total privacy due to the hedge, and the beauty and shade of an overhanging maple tree canopy.

In my humble opinion, you don't have to be a millionaire to enjoy paradise-like outdoor living.  There are a few key elements to making the most of whatever you have, Blog, and of course I'm here to share.

Thing 1, naturally, is flora.  Like the flora you see above and to the left, which are actually in our perennial bed on the other side of our house.  When I was little, in the summertime we had a family ritual.  My parents called it "touring the estate," and it typically happened when my dad got home from work or after supper.  We would just stroll around our house and check out all the gardens.  You can tour the estate even if all you have is one flowerbed.  I think one flowerbed is about all this inept gardener can handle, but it's fun trying out different perennials to see which will survive the Wondergeddon that is Wisconsin winters.  I'm really pulling for this spiderwort we just put in.  It has such fun yellow leaves and exotic-y blooms.

But we're supposed to be talking patios, Blog.  I say, get yourself a bunch of plant stands and as many patio plants as you can possibly afford.  Our array this year cost a fairly typical $200, which works out to a couple bucks a day--well worth it for the joy they bring.  Plus, you can defray your cost by asking for patio plants for Mother's Day like I did this year.  That's how I snagged this beautiful dish garden you see in closeup below.  I just adore the many shades of green and white, and the great variety of shapes and textures.  Whoever planted this one (at Home Depot) knows whereof s/he dishes.

I bizarradore dish gardens, Blog.  I guess because they showcase the variety of flora we enjoy here on Planet Earth, on a very small scale.  There are as many colors in the leaves of this dish garden to the right as there are in the blossoms.  Oh, and speaking of variety, let me point out the plant stand here.  I really love this one, and got it on Super-Duper-Multiple-Discount last year at Kohls.  Being on the lookout for cheap, awesome plants stands is a fun hobby in and of itself.  Garage sales, late season discounts...there are lots of ways to get yourself nice stuff.

I should mention right now, Blog, the cool fact that I am writing this post on the patio!  Another thing to keep in mind for Perfect Patio Living is technology (an optional but beneficial Thing).  Nature and tech are not opposed, as I am proving right now:  without our wireless network and my netbook, Coraline, I'd have to be indoors doing this!  Hells to the no, Blog!  If you have a network and a laptop, your patio living just got even better.  Let's toast that idea with another dish garden!

Please note how we dolled up a commonplace wood plant stand with a rock mat.  Obsessed as I am with rocks indoors, I certainly like to use them outdoors too.  In fact, I incorporated some big art glass chunks in my new hens-and-chicks dish garden you see below.  Yeppers, Blog, I actually made this one myself, in a way cool birch basket we had.  You can see that rocks are Thing 2 about a cool patio.

And Thing 3 is a water feature.  I can't emphasize enough the difference it makes having the soothing sound of splashing water a part of your patio ambiance.  You don't have to put in a waterfall (although if I could I would, Blog).  All it takes is an inexpensive table-sized fountain, like you can get for maybe 25 bucks at all kinds of places.  If you want to go bigger, we saw a bunch on sale at Stein's this weekend, in the $100-200 range.  Our fountain is a one-of-a-kind art piece that was the item I treated myself to with our wedding gift money, found at a shop in Door County, Wisconsin.

Now this is just a personal thing, but we've found the patio is a great place to get whimsical.  That's Thing 4:  whimsy.  We have a Whimsical Sculpture Garden, Blog, and most of the items in it were bought for less than $5 apiece over the years.  Our latest addition is this $3 moose, which rather than being under the hedge with the other sculptures, is using his rain gauge as a vase.

While we're up on the tabletop, let's talk about Thing 5: furnishings.  These days people are going pretty nuts with the outdoor furniture, and I would too if I had the mega-bucks.  But really, a quality umbrella table with four chairs is all you need.  We've had ours six years and it's still good to go.  You can add on more seating as the budget permits.  Oh, and one other must, which I hardly need mention:  a grill.

You'll see some more whimsy in my artsy shot below:  that's Lisa-Bird you see in the background.  Of course it's key to name all your Whimsical Sculptures.

And no discussion of whimsy would be complete without mentioning our cat-birdhouse sculpture, seen here with Cody.  Yesterday Codes knocked that fork loose and you can imagine he freaked himself out a little bit. Speaking of Cody, I have to say it helps to improve the quality of your patio living if you can employ some fauna (Thing 6) with your flora.  The participation of our cats definitely makes one feel more a part of nature.  Below you see Selke and Alice respectively, au naturel as they say.  Cats are great at creating a chillin' mood, but dogs will do in a pinch, too.

A few other things that can enhance patio living:  An iPod with speaker(s) and a kickass playlist like my "Neverending Ubiquitous Patio Party Playlist."  A simple radio broadcasting a baseball game.  A thermometer and a clock.  Candles.  Hanging patio lights.  And last but not least, a fabulously stocked bar like we have here at Magic House.

I'm not sure, Blog, if our readers stuck with this entire long post.  But that's okay, I mostly did it for us.  There are going to be days ahead when it'll be nice to come back here and remember when the patio wasn't in Snow Shutdown Mode...and look forward to the next season of patio enjoyment.  Wisconsin may have long winters, but here's the nice thing about it:  summer always shows up again eventually.

Let's close with a little video tour of the patio (taken earlier, so you'll note a few subtle changes)....

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