KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine — In Maine, you’ve got to seize the season, taking full advantage of the brief window of opportunity opened to warmer days during the summer. But how do you create an oasis in your backyard, even if it’s only for a fleeting moment?
We asked local designers and garden expert for tips to turn ho-hum yards into outdoor sanctuaries.
“In the last seven to eight years, we started noticing more and more interest from our clients in creating outdoor living spaces,” Steve Malcom, owner of Knickerbocker Group located in Boothbay and Portland, said.
These customers, who often hail “from states south of Maine, where warmer temperatures permit outdoor living year-round,” are pushing the trend. “They want that same outdoor experience here in Maine.”
And designers are ready to help.
“You have to be out there when you can and enjoy every minute of sunshine,” Cathleen Stewart, an interior designer who turned her Kennebunkport yard into a seasonal living room, said. “I love extending the house into the gardens, and the outside is part of the house.”
She tells her clients at Stewart Design Group that they don’t have to go overboard to make a statement.
“Everyone wants to have a firepit, and outdoor kitchens are big right now,” Stewart said.
But if money is an obstacle, there are affordable workarounds that don’t involve calling a hardscaping crew and writing a fat check.
Bring the inside out
Experts suggest adding beautiful, colored textiles to outdoor sitting areas.
“There is a crossover, now, between inside and out in the textile world,” said Stewart, who introduces bright and striped pillows to chaise lounges in pops of color to her patio, formerly a featureless yard.
She had to raise the earth in that area to make it “look like it has always been there and is not something new.”
Adding French doors that lead to her outdoor room gives her yard a sense of ease and continuity.
For an fast update, drape curtains over a pergola or hang fabric on a porch to add flair and elegance.
Tiki lights are fun, but outdoor lighting fixtures beyond garden torches “create more of a sense of environment than just being out on the big deck,” Stewart said. Solar uplights — ground lights that face upward, similar to spotlights — and LED deck lights can trick out an art-filled landscape and make topiaries come to life.
Creating an alfresco enclave has been popular in California for years but is just arriving here.
“[Design trends] always go from West to East,” Stewart said.
Zeal for styling the yard hit the Maine coast a few years ago and is catching on this summer.
“Our outdoor period is so small, so we are slower to adapt,” she said.
Built-in seating nooks and the iconic Adirondack chairs still reign, according to Elaine Murdoch, a designer at Knickerbocker Group. “But a move to more living room-like sofas and chairs is strong,” she said. “The availability of durable outdoor textiles and hi-tech structural materials is driving the trend.”
Other tips? Re-cover furniture you already own in a new fabric for an instant update.
Plant a personal oasis
What’s an outdoor room without flowers, vegetation, scent and greenery? Create a plant-driven retreat that blooms in tandem all summer long to keep summer in play until the first frost.
Donna Anderson, executive director of McLaughlin Garden and Homestead in South Paris, shares several ways to do this.
Plan your blooms accordingly. Think wildflowers in May, fields of lilacs and then irises. As summer kicks into gear, the feathery astilbes flowers give way to daylilies and hostas. What happens when it rains? Lady’s mantle captures raindrops beautifully, Anderson said.
“Creating an oasis what will look good in rain and sunshine adds balance and is part of the experience,” she said.
At McLaughlin Garden, a 19th century English country garden and shop open to the public, this practice is on display.
“Plants, lawn and trees create a haven for people to get away. They enjoy being outside, watching the seasons’ change. … There is something coming and going year-round.”
As guests walk through the 2½-acre estate with a barn and farmhouse, that feeling of calm only grows stronger. The busy road this homestead sits on starts to disappear.
“The relationship between garden and architecture creates a whole sense of home,” Anderson said.