Nowadays, people call any flat spot with a bit of structure a garden room. But it takes a whole lot more than a sense of enclosure to bring a room to life — a sense of purpose is needed, too. Landscape designer Jon Carloftis explains, “We should put as much thought into outdoor spaces as we do into interior ones: An allée, for instance, can be a great entry hall; a hammock in a shady grove deliberately invites restful solitude. I designed this room for clients who like to party.”
Tucked amid the soft, rolling hills of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the site came with 8-foot fieldstone walls (the ruins of a 19th-century barn ravaged by fire 60 years ago), so Carloftis didn’t have to put in a fence, clip a hedge, or move trees to separate the area from the rest of the property (though these solutions would have worked, too). “Those graceful old walls really make you feel as if you’re leaving one world and entering another,” he says. The only drawback: The world inside the walls, at only 25 feet by 50, felt cramped.
To leave plenty of room for revelry, Carloftis confined permanent plantings to a 3-foot-wide border that runs along the perimeter. With a palette inspired by French country gardens, he mixed blues (delphiniums, bluebeards, phlox, and ageratum), greens (such as variegated dogwood and ostrich ferns), and silver grays (like baptisia), then added brilliant reds (Astilbe chinensis ‘Visions’ and Rosa ‘Don Juan’) to make the cool colors pop. “I didn’t use a lot of different plants,” he says. “Gardeners tend to overdecorate, jumbling tons of varieties together, but repeated groupings are much more soothing.”
Carloftis paved the rest of the room with fieldstone, collected from the property and arranged “by feel” on a dirt floor. Forget-me-nots, not concrete, connect the irregular slabs, and “volunteer” moss greens them up. With leftover pieces of stone, he crafted a small fountain — now home to water lilies and wild flag irises. “I built it on a wall at the back of the room,” he explains, “so the sound of flowing water would draw guests inside.”
The finishing touches — a welcoming whitewashed trellis (8 feet high and 9 feet wide) that frames the entryway and a wooden arbor where the barn door once hung — add drama to the atmosphere, and don’t eat up too much square footage. The resulting garden offers all the freedom of an open, airy loft, with plenty of space for a large event: cocktails, dancing, or a formal dinner. A few pieces of furniture and a scattering of container plants are all it takes to cozy up the place. A group of chairs makes one corner a living room; a table surrounded by small trees becomes a private dining room; a chopping block serves as an impromptu kitchen.
At this intimate gathering, indoor pieces venture outside to divide the space and consort with Carloftis’s French-inspired flowers. A funky 1930s wrought-iron sofa from France, wrapped in blues, greens, and yellows, rests beneath the arbor. A weathered marble-topped farm table set at an angle, instead of dead-center, keeps things casual. Smaller French antiques — a metal table painted to look like wood, and a round iron table — carve out a bar and a spot for setting down drinks.
And though some container plants have full-time summer jobs in the garden — the santolina flanking the entrance, the Calamondin orange trees and clipped boxwood that soften the corners of the rectangular flower border, the ivy-leaved geraniums sitting atop the fieldstone walls — others pinch hit for special occasions. Rosemary, violas, rose-scented geraniums, and cut lilies perfume the air and bring the garden in closer to the guests…who are likely to stay and party all night. Which is, after all, what this room was made for.