Backyards: refreshing `outdoor rooms'

THE well-dressed but well-used garden is the theme of The Backyard Book, Ideas and Resources for Outdoor Living, written and edited by Rachel Carley and Tricia Foley (photographs by William P. Steele, Viking, New York, $24.95). ``The idea of the backyard as a place for relaxation, entertaining, and gardening originated in America,'' say those who put this book together. The gardens they feature are not the precise, exquisitely manicured formal variety, but those that are considered an ``outdoor room, a natural extension of the house which acts to refresh and replenish the human spirit.''

These casual backyards are places for tree swings and arbors, picnic tables and barbecues, which change and transform themselves as families themselves grow and change. They are also places where one can sit with a good book and enjoy the fragrance of flowers.

The authors say Americans are pretty ingenious about their backyards because everyone's ideal version is different. For some, the backyard garden is a place of memories and daydreams. For others, it is a quiet retreat where one can commune with nature. For very practical people, the backyard can accommodate a kitchen garden as well as flowers and shrubs and also be suitable for children's games and family weddings.

``The Backyard Book'' is essentially a picture book. Readers will probably glean more new ideas from the 300 full-color photographs than from the text. They depict suburban, city, and country yards, and focus on a selection of such design details as fences, ornaments, gates, paths, and seating. Decks, pools, and patios are featured in the photographs as well.

Though many of the yards shown belong to architects, designers, and landscape gardeners, the expert techniques they use can be adapted to yards and gardens anywhere.

Those photographed range in location from southern California to New England and include a diversity of settings.

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