- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2001

Rolling hills lead down a path lined with beautiful spring and summer flowers. Soft colors wind in and out of the groves as you sit in the gaze-

bo overlooking the estate.

Then you open your eyes. And the reality that is your yard hits. Your small yard, with its uneven ground and less-than-perfect flower bed, could use a little sprucing up. And a gazebo? Where could it possibly fit?

Face it: You don't have an estate-size yard, just a patch of grass that happens to be behind your house. But that doesn't mean you can't have a groomed, well-maintained piece of land. And the gazebo? They come in all shapes and sizes.

"Gazebos are one of the most romantic structures out there," says Mike French, owner of Virginia Decking & Remodeling in Fredericksburg, Va. "They lend a sense of elegance and style to any space they occupy whether it be big or small."

Mr. French, who specializes in Amish-made gazebos in all sizes and shapes, says most people don't want them for practical reasons, but for the ambience and atmosphere they create.

"People gravitate toward a gazebo," says Mr. French, who has been in the gazebo business for 19 years. "It's a great place to sit and have coffee or to sit down and chat. It's a space that lends itself to conversation."

Many homeowners may think the gazebo is reserved for the well-to-do, but Mr. French builds them to fit every budget.

"You really have to sit down and decide what your yard space is and make sure the gazebo isn't going to dwarf your house; it has to look right proportionally," Mr. French says.

Landscape designer Bernie Mihm agrees. "Even the smallest spaces can accommodate a gazebo; town house back yards can even have them," he says. "But it all has to be proportionate and a design that's functional."

Gazebos that are attached to small decks, for example, are the perfect answer for town house owners looking to add a little charm and atmosphere to their backyard space. Larger homes might add a gazebo to accent a swimming pool or house a Jacuzzi.

Homeowners with larger back yards might opt for a wooded or flowered path leading to a gazebo. To really add pizazz to a gazebo area, set it off with a small water fountain or waterfall.

"There is a limitless avenue of possibilities when trying to fit a gazebo into your landscape," says Mr. Mihm, who owns Fine Earth Landscaping in Poolesville and has been designing landscapes for 24 years.

"Anyone can have a gazebo," he says. "It's really a myth to think they only belong in parks or estates."

Mr. Mihm says one of his favorite gazebo landscapes is to have a more "woodsy" look.

"A natural setting in a wooded area, with a path leading to a gazebo surrounded by trees and plants, is absolutely classic," he says.

But homeowners without the luxury of a forest in their back yard don't have to lose hope. When working a gazebo into your landscape, Mr. Mihm says it's important to look over your site and check out the ground conditions and the way water drains off the property.

"Also, it's important to check out your neighbor's visibility into your yard," he says. "A gazebo might look beautiful in the corner, next to the fence … but you might have to rethink the fencing because you might not want your neighbor to be able to peer into your yard."

If visibility is a problem, then Mr. Mihm suggests a gazebo with latticework on it or perhaps a screen of hedges next to the fence.

Mr. French adds you should think through whether you can have an assembled gazebo delivered to your house.

"Decide whether or not the structure is going to have to be built on site or can be trucked in," Mr. French says. "A small gazebo literally fits on the bed of a pick-up truck."

If you're going to construct the gazebo yourself, Mr. French says a kit can be put together by two workers in a day.

Level ground is also needed for the gazebo's foundation, he adds.

Designing a stunning landscape around a gazebo isn't difficult. Mr. Mihm says he asks his clients two main questions when determining the gazebo's surroundings: How the structure will be used and whether they want flowers or greenery.

"Believe it or not, some people don't want flowers surrounding their gazebo," he says. "They don't want the bees and insects that flowers attract bothering them while they sit in the gazebo."

But others want a picturesque garden surrounding their gazebo.

"It's important for the homeowner to pick out flowers that they love to plant around the gazebo," he says. "Perennials work best; then you will have them year after year."

Also, arrange the flowers in an attractive way to get the best possible visual effect when they're in full bloom.

"There really isn't a limit as to what a homeowner can do," he says. "Gazebos add so much to a landscape. They are perfect places for conversation, breakfast, you name it."

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