How an outdoor room gives a woodland garden year-round appeal

Filled with light and open on two sides, this garden room ― a Northwest take on the lanai ― provides flexible options for outdoor living.

Architect Kevin Gent conceived it as a summer deck that would “float” in a sea of salal, but it was transformed into an all-season outdoor room when he and the owners decided to add a roof, a fireplace, and walls that slide closed in stormy weather.

 The room anchors a garden remodel that turned several problem areas into assets. The forest behind the house was once overgrown and impenetrable. Landscape designer Susan Calhoun cleared out the thicket, laid a network of gravel paths, and planted colorful, multitextured woodland plants.

The area also suffered from poor drainage, so Calhoun corralled the water and transformed an existing swale into a peaceful reflecting pond. First she deepened the swale and installed French drains ― trenches filled with coarse gravel or river rock ― to direct excess water to it. Then she added stones, ferns, and water-loving plants to make the pond look as if it had always been there.


 In the front, a dazzling mixed border greets visitors as they approach the house. Calhoun thinned out the shrubby, overgrown bed, saving some Joe Pye weed and Miscanthus. Then she mixed in ‘Sally Holmes’ roses and colorful perennials, including black-eyed Susans and daylilies. Now the owners enjoy their lush new surroundings in comfort all year.

Four great ideas from this garden

1. Vary textures and colors to spiff up shaded places.

Ferns, gunneras, hostas, and Japanese forest grass create textural contrast, while astilbes, hydrangeas, primroses, and rhododendrons light up the woodland with flowers.

2. Hide drainage channels.

Calhoun installed French drains beneath the lawn and driveway to carry off excess water. (Since the drainage problem was severe, she also hired an engineer.)3. Save existing plants.

Many of the garden’s perennials, shrubs, and trees were retained ― they just needed thinning.

4. Think twice before discarding anything.

After the landscapers pulled a cedar log out of the muck during pond construction, they cleaned it and turned it into a bench. It’s now a favorite garden feature.

Info: Kevin Gent, KdG Architecture, Bainbridge Island (206/842-1613). Susan Calhoun, Plantswoman Design, Bainbridge Island (206/842-2453).