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Is there such a thing as a “dark academia” garden?

3 months ago

Since we’re on the cusp of gardening season, I have been thinking about my deck/balcony (a completely underutilized and uninspiring space).

My cats would love to spend more time lying on the deck, sunning their tummies, chasing leaves, and watching the hummingbirds that pop by for a visit. Unfortunately, my husband and I don’t enjoy spending time on the deck, thus the cats don’t get to spend much time out there (the bars on our railing are spaced super far apart, so we don’t feel comfortable letting the cats out there by themselves).

Our townhouse’s previous owners left us a patio table and chairs (the chairs are still in winter storage, thus they’re not in the pictures), so we do have a place to sit when we go outside. Even though the chairs aren’t uncomfortable, we don’t enjoy reading books or playing on our phones in those chairs.

Also, the exterior wall colors suck, but it’s a townhouse and I have a HOA; hence I cannot paint the outside walls.

Plus, the sliding doors that lead to our deck are basically in the center of our home, so the view of that deck can be seen from all the common spaces. Consequently, I would for our deck to be less of an eyesore and compliment the design of our home’s interior.

I would love suggestions on what I can do make our deck:

  1. An extension of our home,
  2. A destination
  3. A place that attracts more hummingbirds, butterflies

The measurements of our deck are 211 inches by 161 inches

(more detailed measurements in my terrible handwriting)

The art on the wall was left by the previous owners, so I'm not attached to it. The wood door leads to an outdoor storage closet.

View looking out.

Comments (28)

  • 3 months ago

    If you don't already have a copy, I would get a copy of your HOA rules to make sure what you can and cannot do. What I would want to do is install planters with tall shrubs/plants that create a visual screen and block out the neighbors--either artifical or real plants. Or can you have a pergola of some type?

  • 3 months ago

    You might consider blueberry bushes in pots, I have some. Not many berries but their red color in fall is stunning. Another option is something like a dwarf "blue muffin" viburnum, which has more year round interest. Both good for butterflies. Helenium (Sneezeweed which does not make you sneeze) is an absolute bee and butterfly magnet. The bees won't bother you, they are so wrapped up in the flowers they don't notice anything else unless you were to swat at them, and even so, bees aren't that aggressive like wasps and yellowjackets. They have other things to do besides bother humans! Carpenter bees are another story!

    I have found wonderful things on Facebook marketplace for gardens, like seating, tables, planters, etc. People move or downsize and sell really cool stuff.

    We went basic with a hummingbird feeder which is what they like the best anyway. If there are any around, that will draw them in the most, plus if you do some type of shrubs in big planters it will provide cover which is what they want near the feeders. Lots of tubular flowers you could add, but ours aren't much interested. I have seen them on our hostas. I put out red, purple and white petunias for them but they never seem to care. They supposedly like things like pentstemon and salvias, but at my house they fight over the feeders, no matter where I put them or how many . . .

    If it were me, I'd decorate with herbs in planters. Butterflies like them and they taste good, win win.

  • 3 months ago

    Where does the brown door lead? I assume the air conditioner unit is a bit noisy and you'd like to sit farther away from it.

    This is a link to a book called A Pattern Language. It has lots of good tips for how to make our living spaces more pleasant to use. I suggest you skim through the chapters about outdoor spaces. Lots of good tips.

    One that I remember reading but can't find now is that we feel good in outdoor sitting spaces when our back is to a wall, and we have something overhead e.g. an umbrella or a tree. Doesn't need to be solid or big. I find on my deck that the first seats that people choose are always the ones that meet this crieria. Can you put a small metal gazebo on your deck? Mine is screwed to the wood, and only 10 x 10. We love it. An umbrella would serve the same function.

    A decorative cover over your air conditioner would look good.

  • 3 months ago

    Partim the wood door leads to the outside storage closet (it’s where we’re currently storing our outdoor chairs).

    HU-910663146 I recently learned that I’m allowed to stain my deck’s flooring any color I want.

  • 3 months ago

    Will your HOA allow you to attach privacy screening to your railings? A friend of mine simply attached lattice to her chain link fence with plastic zip ties. Looks great and has stayed in place for years. Or bamboo or fabric.

  • 3 months ago

    First off… I LOVE YOUR CAT. I also have a black cat & am a fan of dark academia.

    Not sure what your exact goal is but when I think dark academia in the garden, i picture Kante or chantal planters with boxwood toparies… almost formal garden….. with maybe some checker pavers and maybe incorporating a wrought iron chandelier with solar lights or copper aspects….

    Some deep purples like oxalis triangularis…

    I’m getting ahead of myself and didn’t even read if you shared what zone you are in 🤣

  • 3 months ago

    I know when you’re working with limited space and trying to achieve a specific niche you have to get creative with the quirky aspects you bring to the space. Solar light lamps/or pieces you can find … Facebook marketplace or antiquing and diying… outdoor rug… creating a wall with a trellis and climber … or screening with evergreens.

  • 3 months ago

    Also, tying in the academia- i know painting old bricks to look like books is a fun quirky conversation piece that can add character

  • 3 months ago

    These are all great ideas. You can also build a catio so the cats can be outside when you are inside.

  • 3 months ago

    romanszone8 – Actually, I have two black cats. Also, I live in zone 5b, but I'm super close to zone 6a.

  • 3 months ago
    last modified: 3 months ago

    Wow good ideas on this thread! just another vote for FB marketplace - so many deals on there if you’re patient, I also think that larger and fewer items will have more impact, so instead of lots of small planters - select fewer and larger ones (same for furniture) it will look ”full” but not visually cluttered - such gorgeous cats!

  • 3 months ago

    Fear not, 5b will soon become 6a. Happy cats.

  • 2 months ago

    For dark academia, look into dark rattan furniture unless you have black widow spiders, in which case, look at white wicker furniture instead. Two rattan rocking chairs are comfortable and easy to move in and out of sunlight. Add one or two small cocktail tables.

    A replica of the Rosetta Stone could make a good small cocktail tabletop.

  • 2 months ago
    last modified: 2 months ago

    These aren’t balcony settings, but I wanted to show them for some of the elements that could work for yours —

    Vintage wicker/rattan, vintage table, wrought iron, plants (not as many as the pics below, of course, but a few) ….

    Vintage bar cart:

    New one:

    Gotta have some whimsy. ;)

    You can find or build a screen to hide the A/C unit. And if you can’t add any sort of privacy screening to your railing, use shrubs in large pots. I don’t know what grows well in your area, check with local nurseries.

    I think the key is not going too formal, rather having an eclectic mix of things that look like you’ve been collecting for years.

    So … plants that will attract pollinators, lovely shabby and comfortable furniture, wrought iron decor, throws that can easily be brought inside, rugs here and there, tables for eating and/or setting down drinks and books, strings of lights (a couple of potted trees would be great for that), organic materials, watering cans, a rustic bench along one side of the railing, hurricane candles, rusty iron candlestick holders, etc.

    We have an old home architectural salvage center that would have good finds for a project like this, maybe you have something like that in your area? My DH and I made a potting bench for our patio, using salvaged items.

    It could really be a charming and inviting spot, so much potential. For inspiration, I’d look for European patios/balconies/gardens.

    I don’t know your budget, but if possible it might be worth having a consultation with a pro in your area.

    ETA: As a kid, we lived in a townhouse in Dallas for a short time, one of a similar age and architectual style as yours … many residents decorated their balconies in the styles I show above mixed with a touch of modern. A sort of heirloom style that had so much character and fit well with what was 1970s contemporary angles.

  • 2 months ago

    It's not a bad space. It looks sorry because it's unused. A few flowers and some bright cushions on comfy chairs will go a long way.

    In pic #1, you have a view of trees. I'd arrange furniture to look in that direction. To spend time out there, you need comfy chairs and, possibly, an umbrella. You need chairs for your table. A tablecloth and clips or weights to keep it in place. You need plants in pots. Annuals on the railings or big pots on the porch.

    Unless you're a gardener, I'd stick to big pots of annuals. They bloom all summer and you don't have to worry about them freezing in winter. To keep them from drying out, you need big pots.

    If you can paint your shed door, you might do that.

    If you have wind in the winter like we do, you will want to bring your chairs in over the winter, which means you need foldable chairs. You can find them. We have comfortable folding lounge chairs from IKEA and stackable chairs for our table from LL Bean. If you think you can leave them out all winter, I might recommend Adirondack chairs --- they are comfortable and bright, but they are big and bulky.

  • 2 months ago

    A door mural would be fun.

  • 2 months ago

    love the pics that @jilly shared - lot of lush greenery and a fair amount of black (plants look amazing against black)

  • 2 months ago

    Does anyone have wicker or rattan furniture? Can I leave it out in the rain?

    Also, will an outdoor rug rot my wooden deck? (In college I had a small outdoor rug that my landlord claimed was rotting the floorboards of my balcony. I always wondered if I just had a cheap rug or if all outdoor rugs destroy wooden decks.)

  • 2 months ago

    My personal experience with wicker/rattan in an outdoor setting that is exposed to the elements without a cover is that the life does not last long…. I’ve had better luck with wrought iron pieces… As for outdoor rug i think it depends on how you plan to care for it. Meaning if there’s an expected rain forecasted and you store it, you won’t have to worry…. Same with cushions

  • 2 months ago

    I’m typing this while sitting on resin ’wicker’ purchased in 2004. Looks good as new, through three houses and harsh Texas weather. I just change the cushions periodically.

  • 2 months ago

    ^ that gives me hope for the resin wicker i purchased from better homes & gardens last year!

  • 2 months ago
    last modified: 2 months ago

    Romanszone, that’s the brand of mine!

    We got a table and four chairs, love them. :)

  • 2 months ago

    An outdoor rug will not rot your wooden deck. I have both. You will get a sun mark where the rug does not cover the wood. Best to go light if you paint the deck as dark will draw heat. You have probably already found it is impossible to walk on a heated wooden deck without shoes so I think a rug is a must. I also agree if you want to spend time out there, you need a table set with umbrella or pergola, but I imagine HOA doesn’t allow a pergola. I love the idea of lattice given by partim, though I would cut it lower to be even with your railing. It would provide privacy for you but more importantly safety for your cats. A catico for the cats is a great idea. There are many ideas you can find online. Jackson Galaxy has a book called “Catification” which has great ideas as well.

    I love jilly’s ideas….she always has great ideas. Perhaps you can get some ideas from her. Many plants draw butterflies and hummingbirds. You can goggle lists of ideas. Hummingbird bushes are great ideas and now there are Drawf varieties you can plant in large pots. But, depending on your location you may have to over winter them. Good luck and keep us posted!


  • 2 months ago

    An outdoor rug will not rot your wood deck. In fact, the part covered by my rug looks better than the rest.

  • 2 months ago

    I came across this lounge chair on Facebook Marketplace.

    I like the style and the fact that it can easily be folded up for winter storage. My husband is concerned that it won’t be comfortable. I also have some hesitation. Typically, my Facebook Marketplace buys don’t exceed $50 (and this is a lot more than $50). Also, I don’t have much experience buying outdoor furniture.


  • last month

    Did you end up getting your deck set up? :)

  • last month

    I wish I had an update to share.

    Sadly, I’m having trouble selecting plants for the space. I’ve visited six different garden and hardware stores in my area, and I just cannot make up my mind.

    And making my design paralysis worse, my husband is eager to design and plant the garden borders in our front patio