Take a shower in the garden

Universal UclickJuly 26, 2013 

  • Come clean in the garden

    If you’re making plans for a shower in the garden, here are some tips and ideas from professionals who have done it before:

    Check local codes: There may be rules about outdoor plumbing, structures and setbacks from property lines.

    Locate the plumbing: “You can pull off the water from a kitchen or a bathroom on the back of the house,” said garden designer Katherine Brooks. “You may not have to run pipe very far.”

    Choose your temperature: Hot and cold running water will allow you to really indulge in outdoor showering. If you know you’re just going to be rinsing off, and only in the summertime, a cold-water shower may be fine.

    Consider size: The shower’s footprint should be a good 4 feet on a side – 4 feet by 5 feet is nice, Brooks said. The floor of the shower can be brick, tile or paving stones.

    Style counts: Make a shower that suits the style of your house and fits into the design of your garden. There are lots of ideas on Pinterest; search for “outdoor showers.”

    Plan for privacy: For privacy, a couple of sections of fence or shutters mounted in a framework will work as walls for your shower. Or plant an evergreen screen.

    Accessorize: Look for shower accessories (towel racks, soap holders and a mirror) at thrift shops and flea markets. Brooks has a pair of teak shower mats from a bath specialty shop. A bench or side table will be handy.

    Plan ahead: To protect water lines from freezing over the winter, you will need to drain the water lines in the fall. Ask your plumber to install a faucet that can be drained.

Getting all hot and dirty in the garden is something to look forward to when you have an outdoor shower. The relief is instantaneous, and you’ll never track mud into the house again.

Outdoor showers have long been part of the scene around a pool, but gardeners are catching on to them, too. Rinsing off muddy boots with the hose is fine, but peeling off your clothes and taking a real shower outdoors is even better.

“For me, it’s part of the experience of nature,” said garden designer Katherine Brooks, who has a charming outdoor shower at the corner of her patio. “When you garden, you get dirty, and when you’re dirty – well, the shower’s right there.” An evergreen Confederate jasmine vine, with delightfully fragrant white flowers, grows up one side of the shower stall and perfumes the air in June. Mint growing around the outside of the shower contributes a sharp, refreshing note: “When you step on it, it smells so good.”

Brooks has designed many outdoor showers for her clients in southeast Virginia. People don’t always ask specifically for a shower, but when she describes how a shower fits into a plan for a garden, they love the concept.

The footprint of an outdoor shower can be quite small. Brooks’ shower is about 4 feet by 5 feet. “If you have little children or grandchildren, you need to make it big enough so you can be in there with them,” she said. It’s nice to have a dressing area, but not essential. One of Brooks’ client’s showers has just enough room for a long bench to hold towels and clean clothes.

Richard Bubnowski, an architect in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., built an outdoor shower in part of the footprint of a tiny garage outside his 1921 Craftsman bungalow home. The 10- by-16-foot garage was torn down and replaced with a shed that accommodates a 4-by-4-foot shower, gardening tools, fishing gear and surfboards.

“Living along the shore, you have to have an outdoor shower,” he said. “It just feels great to be out in the open air taking a shower. Everybody uses it – the whole family, and our 90-pound Labrador retriever, too.” When Bubnowski and his wife decided to tear down their old house instead of renovating it, “I said I would only do it on one condition,” Bubnowski said, “and that was that we save the outdoor shower building.”

The tiny building has become the core of a family gathering place, with a bluestone patio, a grill and a dining table and chairs.

Outdoor showers don’t have to be complicated. You probably won’t need a permit for something as basic as the cold-water-only outdoor shower set-up sold by Orvis, the outdoor specialty company. But it’s a good idea to check local codes, especially if you’re thinking about more plumbing than a garden hose.

“It has definitely become more complicated over the years,” Bubnowski said. “Mine just splashes down into the sand, and it’s open to the air above, but nowadays you have to tie them into the sewer, and it has to have a roof over it.” Every area has its own laws and restrictions.

Bubnowski has designed outdoor showers for several clients. Usually, the shower is attached to the back of the house, where it can easily tie into plumbing and drainage lines. Bubnowski likes to use cedar shingles or siding for the shower walls, both because they are durable and because they smell so good.

Landscaping around the enclosure adds privacy and makes the experience of showering outdoors even more pleasant, he said. His shower is sheltered by tall arborvitaes, which also define one edge of the patio. “It’s all part of it,”Bubnowski said, “being out there, feeling the breeze, the air, and the sounds of nature.” The water lines may need to be drained for the winter, but you can forget about that until sometime in the fall. “We use it into November,” he said.

An outdoor shower comes in handy when you have guests, who usually consider it a great treat to shower in the garden, but a shower off the master bedroom is a nice touch, too.

Jason Urrutia, a designer in Sausalito, Calif., built a private outdoor shower for the owners of a house he designed. “It’s like part of the parents’ retreat,” he said. The shower is very basic, but beautiful, with the plumbing in a tile wall set into the wall of the house. A bench is built into a brick wall opposite the shower; a rough-hewn wooden pedestal holds a towel and a scrub brush.

“It’s all simple stuff, such an easy thing to do,” Urrutia said. “It probably cost $2,500, but there is so much bang for the buck doing something like that.” The shower is part of an enclosed patio with a fire pit, comfortable garden furniture and easy, low-maintenance landscaping.

After a hot day outside, an outdoor shower is like a vacation.

“At night, when the stars are out,” Brooks said, “it’s awesome.”

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