What’s wrong with “The Outdoor Room”


Finally, HGTV is bringing a bit of the G (garden) back into its prime time with “The Outdoor Room” starring the charismatic Jamie Durie. I’ve been involved with HGTV’s home makeover show “Curb Appeal” and have witnessed the made-for-TV dramatic embelishments involved, but I have reservations about this new show from a landscape design and business standpoint.

Where is the budget?
I suppose that someone is paying for this project, but I doubt it’s the homeowner. Landscape design in the real world involves creating outdoor rooms and gardens within a client’s budget. The design team never makes a mention of money, and not acknowledging this undermines the credibility of the show when creativity is not constrained by budget.

Where is the communication with the homeowner?
There are lots of surprises, for the landscape architect, the carpenter and construction crew, and worst, for the homeowner. The client’s role appears to be to help set a theme that allows the designer to roam the planet, but beyond that not to have a voice in the approval of plans. I can’t decide whether this is a dream, or a nightmare. I want the client to be involved as intimately as possible. The design is not an exercise in creativity for my benefit, but a process to evaluate the client’s lifestyle and needs and to address those in a creative manner.

Who wants this much drama?
In every episode the landscape architect and carpenter spend a considerable amount of time shaking their heads, muttering about lapses in communication and design. Why would you want this for a project at your home? Do you want the designer and builders “winging it”, or would you be more comfortable with a well planned, organized approach? Ideally, we don’t want to stifle the creativity of an artist, but there should be a balance demanding that the designer communicate their vision into detailed, practical building plans.

What happens when the wind blows, or it rains?
Colorful fabrics are hung from outdoor rooms and pergolas with flair, but are they practical? Perhaps the wind doesn’t blow in California, but it does in my garden, and I don’t care to run out to secure the fabric with every puff of breeze.

And rain? It rains regularly, sometimes in torrents, and I want to be certain to mention that the fabrics and seating cushions we use on the benches and lounges won’t suck up moisture like a sponge. Creativity is wonderful, but why no mention of weatherproof materials?

It’s a jungle.
My personal garden is a jungle, too many plants, too close together, with leaves and stems arching over paths and patios. I have an uncontollable addiction to plants, so I accept that my garden is a maintenance nightmare, and that occasionally a prized plant will get crowded out. The constant struggle keeps me off the streets, but is this appropriate design for you?

To the eye of the camera plants often fade into the background, looking smaller than they are, and for the purposes of the show the intent is to give a lush, often tropical appearance. What happens when these plants grow? Get out the chainsaw, don’t go into your outdoor room, or move out. As much as I would love to design gardens that are mature and filled in from the start, I’m obligated to allow for plants to grow without overwhelming the walkways, the house, and each other. I can create a high maintenance jungle on my property, but I shouldn’t on yours.

Is there anything good about “The Outdoor Room”?
Plenty. Mr. Durie is fun and creative, the show is never dull, and in the space of a half hour his team transforms some lousy landscapes into lush outdoor spaces for entertaining. If this inspires anyone to do the same, I’m on board, but I expect that our project will go a bit smoother than any you’ll see on “The Outdoor Room”.

Is it harmful? Not unless you’re dissuaded from starting a project because of the frenetic pace and drama generated in each episode. “The Outdoor Room” is better than most, good entertainment, and often inspiring. Just don’t take it too seriously.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Diane Amick says:

    I so agree with you about this show…love watching, but the function/reality isn’t available to most people. I also would love to know the total dollars spent in creating these “outdoor rooms” – way, way, way beyond what most homeowners are able to spend. Thanks for your posts – I enjoy your honesty. I also am getting up there in years and find it more difficult to keep my body going like I used to – have to pace myself with all the clean-up chores after this past winter and all the heavy snow damage. Thanks again!!

    1. Dave says:

      I was second guessing myself, I didn’t want to be too critical when I do enjoy the show, but I watched the episode that night and all my comments were confirmed. More head shaking, a client who had no clue what was going on so that half the project had to be torn apart and redone, and no mention of budget. I’m quite sure that this is the formula that they’ve decided has the right mix of drama and gardening to be successful, but anyone in business wouldn’t last long.

      The past two days, with beautiful weather, have confirmed that I am too old to be working a garden this size, but the labor will be behind me in a few weeks, and I have ambitions to add to it again this spring. The pain will be forgotten soon enough, with plenty of time to enjoy before the hard work rolls around again.

  2. Shiva Chen says:

    Thanks for the great article. I suppose most people watch it for the entertainment value, and the fact the Jamie Durie is cute AND has a cute accent!! It’s impossible to have a garden variety like this show creates in anywhere outside of California. When they do a garden show, they should have gardens in different parts of the country and take the weather factor and maintainability into count, then add some flair and out of the box ideas to inspire people. This show is too pie in the sky.

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