By Michelle Brisebois
By Michelle Brisebois
Outdoor rooms have been a red-hot trend driving garden centre sales for several years now.
Outdoor rooms have been a red-hot trend driving garden centre sales for several years now. Crazes are short-lived. Fads come and go. But trends are longer in duration and more profitable to target with products and services, so it’s important to know when one has staying power. For example, everybody’s wondering if the Canadian love affair with the outdoor room is just a fad.
If you turn on any consumer home and garden television show, or flip through the pages of a shelter magazine, the answer is no. The outdoor room has staying power and another interesting statistic helps to illustrate why. A 2005 survey conducted by Léger Marketing on behalf of Weber-Stephen Products Co. reported that 34 per cent of respondents thought nothing of grilling on their outdoor barbeque when the temperature was zero degrees or below. You see, when you live in a country that’s as cold and snowy as Canada is you’ll seek any opportunity (and even risk frostbite) to get out of the house. This is especially true when the weather warms up. Ask any restaurant with an outdoor patio and they’ll tell you that come summer they wish they had more tables outside because the dining room is often empty while there’s a waiting line for the patio.
People are loath to waste any chance to bask. Outdoor rooms have become a refuge and a major trend with staying power.
One way to kick the tires of a trend and verify that it’s not a fad disguised as a trend is to look for more than one motivating factor driving it. The first factor we’ve identified is a desire to be outside and to commune with nature. Another factor would be cost-control. Consumers itching to gain living space yet averse to spending the money to upsize to another house will continue to drive the outdoor room trend. Not only are gardens looking more like living rooms, with outdoor fireplaces, lighting and recliner chairs, but they’re also morphing into “kitchens al fresco.” Dining tables, shatter-proof acrylic stemware and designer grills all play starring roles from an equipment and accessory point of view. It may benefit your business to forge a strategic alliance with some local kitchen designers. According to K+BB (Kitchen and Bath Business magazine), kitchen designers and landscape architects would benefit greatly by partnering with each other to capitalize on the outdoor room trend. “They (kitchen designers) need to market and put to use what they already know about the design of kitchens and connect with landscape architects to partner, using the skills of each,” says Mary-Jo Peterson on the K+BB blog. The landscaping strategy will completely depend on the purpose of the space, so function and form will be equally important
To fill this niche, make sure you have a wide selection of plants that are compatible with your geography, resistant to disease and able to thrive in their native climate. Native plants require less fertilizing and watering, so they are a sustainable option. They are easy to maintain, which is a big plus for homeowners. A broad selection of herbs, vegetables and even fruit trees will give outdoor cooks a way to pluck dinner right from the vine as they prepare a meal. The outdoor room designers recommend strong forms and rich textures, so promote larger plants as having more of a visual impact in a space. Keep in mind that many houses these days have relatively small lots; therefore, outdoor rooms must guard against a neighbour’s prying eyes. Homeowners will likely want their outdoor rooms to be private, so think of climbing vines that could help obscure the view from outside. This will be especially important if the outdoor room includes a hot tub. Hedges and larger plants will play a role here as well and the homeowner won’t have to spend a lot on building walls and fences to shield the view. Privacy plants will grow tall and thick to shroud them from the rest of the world while still allowing light and air to filter through.
One thing to remember is that choosing many different plants means different upkeep regimens for the homeowner to deal with. Create layers of plants, integrating different colours, textures, height and fragrances. The landscaping strategy should ensure there’s always something going on in the garden at all times of the year, as the outdoor room may be used year round. Water is often used in an outdoor room to help create a soothing atmosphere. Whether it’s an adjacent pool with Koi, an elegant fountain or a stream gurgling over stones, water is calming and serene, while at the same time adding an element of interest and magic to an outdoor room that can seldom be duplicated indoors. Tall, narrow vertical trees can provide screening, as well as a place to display night lighting. Large, impactful containers will provide some designer elements to make the outdoor room especially beautiful. While many outdoor rooms have a patio or deck as the floor, many people prefer groundcover plants instead. Groundcover will diminish lawn maintenance and provide interesting colours and textures in the yard.
Canada’s huge baby boomer population isn’t going to be upsizing to larger homes. Instead, empty nesters will look for ways to make their existing home more comfortable and more valuable on the resale market. The outdoor room is one of the most effective ways to achieve both of these objectives, so look for this trend to stay on the radar and to continue to evolve. The emergence of the outdoor room as a landscaping need is an exciting trend for garden centres – just when you thought they’d already put in their gardens, they want more!