Outdoor Living
First a Trend, Now an Essential

Today’s guest post is written by former Garden Design editor Sarah Ristorcelli, who is working on an outdoor living book for Timber Press.

outdoor family style dining

What are origins? Somebody somewhere did something for their own personal use or enjoyment and the word never got out, or it got out incrementally, or a version of the story became a legend.

That’s how I think about the beginnings of the “outdoor living” movement. We can’t really pinpoint the origins.

Greystone Mansion

Trends, however, are different. The trend of outdoor living gardens is bigger than what one person created in their backyard. In this case, a prolific influencer created many outdoor living gardens in many backyards, and that guy was Thomas Church.

In Church’s 1955 book, Gardens Are For People, he documented the advent of the trend he pushed forward so successfully.

contemporary front yard

He first addressed the blending of the formal and informal as the sweet spot for American gardens of that day. Through the centuries, rigid, uncompromising gardens had given way to very loose, naturalistic gardens, until landscape designers observed that above all, But, whichever time period he was considering, Church recognized that one garden element emerged as central to design.

transition between indoor and outdoor

The terrace, in all periods of gardening, and whether called the atrium, close, promenade, or lanai, has been an obviously man-made part of the garden. It has been used to extend the architectural lines of the house and supplement the activities of the occupants. Today, the “terrace area is for outdoor living.

outdoor patio living

Church wrote about Pompeii’s first century gardens, which featured enclosed indoor courts with planters. The sound of fountains tempered street noise. Later, Spanish patios were adjacent to the house, and let in sunlight and air. In large, formal French gardens, terraces created a transition between the house and sprawling parterres, and gatherings there could be as small as a family breakfast, or as grand as the party Louis XIV hosted on the terraces of Versailles for 3,000 people, lasting three days.

formal backyard

Now, we still have terraces or patios outside our back doors, before we get to our yards, and this is where we spend most of our time when we’re outside. Since Church’s time, there’s been a firm expectation that gardens will always have a place not just for plants, but for people. That’s how outdoor living shifted from a favored trend to an essential part of the program for virtually every garden built today.

Read more from Sarah on her blog, A Blog Called Plot.


Sneak peak into our next blog post…

Villa del Greco Part 3: A Fountain Gets a Facelift

tiled fountain


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6 thoughts on “Outdoor Living
First a Trend, Now an Essential

  1. My mother’s gardens were both designed by Tommy Church. One was behind her San Francisco house on Broadway which was a steep, south garden at the back of the 4-storey house, and his other garden was around her Belvedere house on Eucalyptus, close to the top of the island, which was situated on an acre overlooking the San Francisco Bay.

  2. What a coincidence! My mother’s favorite landscape designer was Tommy Church! And she gave me that book to read when I was a teenager! 12 in fact!

    And two pictures of my garden are in this post!! Yippee!!!!

    1. Thanks for chiming in Penny! Your mother started you early!! Your beautiful garden is without question a stellar example of gardens that invite outdoor living. Love, love, LOVE your garden!

  3. 3 of my favorite people!! Thank you Sarah for a wonderful look at Tommy Churches influence on our gardens today and Cynthia and Penny you are both such lovers of beauty. I am really happy you are following our new blog…

    xoxo Margie

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