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The coronavirus pandemic sent homeowners scurrying to create outdoor oases. Here’s how some Baltimoreans did it

Reimagined porches, patios and decks are giving many Baltimore-area residents a quick but needed escape as the COVID-19 pandemic keeps them close to home.

Homeowners — with limited options for other activities — have turned to enjoying underutilized spaces. But not before they have added furniture, plants and items to make these outdoor spaces into unique retreats.

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Americans spent a tad more money on home furnishings this July than last year as sales at furniture and home furnishings stores were up 2% year-over-year seasonally adjusted from June to July, according to the National Retail Federation.

Kim Wiggins created a rooftop deck with a native pollinator garden at her N. Milton Avenue rowhouse in Patterson Park two years ago.
Kim Wiggins created a rooftop deck with a native pollinator garden at her N. Milton Avenue rowhouse in Patterson Park two years ago. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Rooftop retreat

Kim Wiggins, 49, said she now does “everything” on the deck of her Patterson Park corner rowhouse, which she describes as a “city rooftop garden for pollinators and people.”

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“It is a true third-floor living space,” said Wiggins, a program manager at Live Baltimore.

“I watch sunrises and I watch the sunset. I eat meals and I drink drinks. I just sit. I read. I listen to music. I also [entertain with social distance] with up to four people on the 12 feet by 20 feet space.”

Wiggins has lived in her home for the past 10 years. Before COVID-19, the outdoor space was an afterthought for her.

Kim Wiggins created a rooftop deck with a native pollinator garden at her N. Milton Avenue rowhouse in Patterson Park two years ago. She has added a rug and dining table in addition to the seating and fire table arranged under a pergola.
Kim Wiggins created a rooftop deck with a native pollinator garden at her N. Milton Avenue rowhouse in Patterson Park two years ago. She has added a rug and dining table in addition to the seating and fire table arranged under a pergola. (Amy Davis)

“I just had a sectional [sofa,]” Wiggins said. “There were no lights or a proper table. I would watch the sunrise and sometimes the sunset. I would sit out there at night, but that was about it.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, Wiggins didn’t plan to do anything to the area. But then a friend who was moving was selling her outdoor furniture.

“I hosted monthly [pre-pandemic] brunches and thought it is about time to get a proper table,” she said. “My friend sold me a table for six, an umbrella and an outdoor rug. Everything matched the sectional I already had on the deck.”

Kim Wiggins has softened the outline of her rooftop deck, made of composite flooring, by staining the wooden railings a warm sky blue. Native pollinators like Black-eyed Susans thrive in the sun and wind, and are mixed with bright annuals for color in large pots that dot the outdoor living space.
Kim Wiggins has softened the outline of her rooftop deck, made of composite flooring, by staining the wooden railings a warm sky blue. Native pollinators like Black-eyed Susans thrive in the sun and wind, and are mixed with bright annuals for color in large pots that dot the outdoor living space. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Wiggins added fairy lights and café lights from Amazon, and some accents from Aldi’s — one of her favorite stores — such as side tables and whirligigs. She got mini flamingos from a friend. She also discovered At Home — the Glen Burnie location of the national chain — for her planters.

“Having a pollinator garden was important to me,” she said. “But getting the right plants can be tricky. I hired Emily Jaskot of Ornamental Nature [a plant store] to pick the right native plants for my city space.”

Wiggins peppered her spaces with almost a dozen kinds of flowers, including trumpet vine, black-eyed Susans, butterfly weed and ornamental oregano.

Kim Wiggins created a rooftop deck at her N. Milton Avenue rowhouse in Patterson Park two years ago, and added native plants like butterfly weed that thrive in the sun and wind. An all-weather rug picks up the orange, blue and brown color scheme.
Kim Wiggins created a rooftop deck at her N. Milton Avenue rowhouse in Patterson Park two years ago, and added native plants like butterfly weed that thrive in the sun and wind. An all-weather rug picks up the orange, blue and brown color scheme. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

“It seems like a splurge, but I gave her the flower colors I like and she bought the plants and laid them out in the proper containers for me,” Wiggins recalled. “It was worth every penny and was less expensive than I thought it would be.”

Now Wiggins starts the morning by watering plants on her deck and ends the day there as well.

“After I log off my work computer, I make dinner and dine on the deck,” she said. “I usually stay out there until it is time to go to bed.”

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From left, J.P. and Kohli Flick sit on the patio with their son, Ari.
From left, J.P. and Kohli Flick sit on the patio with their son, Ari. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

Perfecting her porch

Kohli Flick found that incorporating items already in her home with new candles and a plethora of plants were the keys to transforming the back porch of her 1950s Cape Cod-style Homeland home

Flick’s husband, JP, and 7-year-old son, Ari, moved to the home in July 2019.

The 225-square-foot space is one of her favorite parts of the house.

“I’ve decided to turn it into a living area and a dining area and spend as much time out there as possible — from coffee in the morning to reading at night,” she said. “Due to COVID-19 we are home much more and will spend whole days out there so I really wanted it to be comfortable and be an extension of our house.”

Large citronella dragonfly candle on a side table is Kohli Flick's store, Becket Hitch gift shop. The plant is from Valley View Farms garden center.
Large citronella dragonfly candle on a side table is Kohli Flick's store, Becket Hitch gift shop. The plant is from Valley View Farms garden center. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

Flick, 38, started with the addition of an array of greenery.

“I added a lot more plants this year to fill space and make it feel lush,” she said. Her plants include a mix of ferns, coin plants, fiddle leaf figs, jasmine, geraniums, along with herbs and edibles — basil, oregano, mint and strawberries. She says they all were selected primarily for their aesthetics.

“I’m totally the person who picks a book or bottle of wine based on the graphic [on the label or a book cover] so I choose plants the same way,” she said.

She also added candles to make the space “feel special at night” and to change the atmosphere.

“Normally I’d only light the candles if we were entertaining, but since we are not doing that right now, I’ve gotten into the habit of lighting them nightly just for us and now wonder why I didn’t do that before,” she said.

Tableware from Kohli Flick's store, Becket Hitch gift shop, on the patio of her Homewood home.
Tableware from Kohli Flick's store, Becket Hitch gift shop, on the patio of her Homewood home. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

Flick “shopped” her house and garage as well as her home goods store, Becket Hitch in Green Spring Station, to perfect the space.

She stacked one of her planters atop a red industrial scooter stool to give the space a more layered look.

“The dining table on the porch is my husband JP’s kitchen table from his childhood home in the [Washington, D.C., suburbs],” Flick explained. The two have been married 12 years.

Rattan hanging lamp from Kohli Flick's gift shop, Becket Hitch, provides light on the patio of her Homeland home.
Rattan hanging lamp from Kohli Flick's gift shop, Becket Hitch, provides light on the patio of her Homeland home. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

“It landed there and works for us for now,” she said about using the table on the porch.

“This year was definitely about making the most of what we already had with the addition of new life,” Flick explained about adding the different elements to the patio.

Joseph Ritsch, left, and his husband Corey Frier-Ritsch have been improving the patio at their E. Federal Street rowhouse in Greenmount West since they moved in six years ago, first as renters and now as homeowners.
Joseph Ritsch, left, and his husband Corey Frier-Ritsch have been improving the patio at their E. Federal Street rowhouse in Greenmount West since they moved in six years ago, first as renters and now as homeowners. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Multi-use outdoor space

Joseph Ritsch, 51, and Corey Frier-Ritsch, 44, wanted to treat the patio of their two-story rowhouse in Greenmount West as an extension of their home.

“We have used it as an outdoor office, a place to eat meals, a spot to meditate, and recently we have had some small, physically distanced gatherings with a few friends from our pandemic pods,” said Ritsch, producing artistic director at Rep Stage.

The couple has always used the space — especially during the summer and fall

— just not quite so much as they have lately.

The backyard patio of Joseph Ritsch and husband Corey Frier-Ritsch at their E. Federal Street rowhouse in Greenmount West is small but feels spacious with comfortable dining and seating areas. Several hanging baskets of cascading scaevola bring color to eye level.
The backyard patio of Joseph Ritsch and husband Corey Frier-Ritsch at their E. Federal Street rowhouse in Greenmount West is small but feels spacious with comfortable dining and seating areas. Several hanging baskets of cascading scaevola bring color to eye level. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

“Since we have been home during the several phases of the lockdown, we have really taken advantage of the space,” Ritsch said.

His husband, Corey Frier-Ritsch, the associate director of marketing and strategic communications at Everyman Theatre, added: “It has been a special place for reflection and rest during these uncertain times.”

Ritsch says they didn’t want their oasis to look too landscaped, but it needed to feel pulled together.

The patio at the E. Federal Street rowhouse in Greenmount West of Joseph Ritsch and his husband Corey Frier-Ritsch is an urban oasis filled with plants.
The patio at the E. Federal Street rowhouse in Greenmount West of Joseph Ritsch and his husband Corey Frier-Ritsch is an urban oasis filled with plants. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

“[I wanted it to look] somewhat random, but at the same time I did want it to have a feel of cohesiveness,” he said.

The couple achieved this look by going with a neutral color palette.

“Although they are different materials, [ceramic, woven fibers, fiberglass] everything is in a neutral palette of browns, naturals, deep red-browns, with a little off-white thrown in,” he explained. “This also creates a nice canvas for the variety of plants and flowers.”

The plants, such as lavender, rosemary, dahlias, echinacea and Celosia, flourish because the patio gets a lot of direct sunlight during the day, Ritsch said.

He also added Rose of Sharon and hydrangeas to the patio because they are the same type of flowers that were in his parents’ garden when he was growing up.

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A variety of potted plants, densely arranged by height, are highlighted by lights festooned along the wooden fencing.
A variety of potted plants, densely arranged by height, are highlighted by lights festooned along the wooden fencing. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

“But basically I just purchased plants and flowers that I was attracted to. Almost all the plants and flowers are from local farms and nurseries,” Ritsch said.

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The crown jewel of the patio is the beloved ceramic water fountain they purchased online in early July from Design Toscano.

“The sound the water makes against the ceramic fountain is beautiful and really relaxing,” Ritsch said.

Robyn Johnson, who rents a 19th century rowhouse in Fells Point, has furnished the patio with comfortable seating, a fire table, and plants to create an outdoor room for relaxation. Her landlord, a tugboat captain, was able to obtain the Lark boat sign gratis because of the misspelling of Virginia.
Robyn Johnson, who rents a 19th century rowhouse in Fells Point, has furnished the patio with comfortable seating, a fire table, and plants to create an outdoor room for relaxation. Her landlord, a tugboat captain, was able to obtain the Lark boat sign gratis because of the misspelling of Virginia. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Oasis in the city

Robyn Johnson, 41, created the colorful “oasis” on the patio of her 1850s row house in Fells Point.

“This space provides me serenity and privacy,” said Johnson, a government contractor. “The high walls allow me the opportunity to sunbathe or just have some peace and quiet.”

Johnson and her boyfriend, Josh Kilrain, enjoy wine, music and sunsets on the patio.

Nautical-themed objects were part of the original patio in Robyn Johnson's 19th century rowhouse in Fells Point. She added a fire table, plants and occasional tables to create an outdoor room for relaxation.
Nautical-themed objects were part of the original patio in Robyn Johnson's 19th century rowhouse in Fells Point. She added a fire table, plants and occasional tables to create an outdoor room for relaxation. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

“It also is fabulous to take a break during the day and walk out in between meetings and conference calls,” she said.

Johnson loves the laid-back vibe of the space, which is 16 feet by 12 feet.

Like many, Johnson admits to underutilizing her outdoor space.

“I didn’t use the patio that much before COVID-19,” said Johnson, who has lived there since October. “I knew it would be nice in warm weather, but I had no idea how much time I’d end up spending out there during quarantine.”

A lot of her time is spent tending to and enjoying her plants.

“Every morning I am out watering my flowers and plants,” she said.

Potted plants in an array of sizes and materials add visual rhythm to the patio. Robyn Johnson, who rents a 19th century rowhouse in Fells Point, has furnished the patio with comfortable seating, a fire table, and plants to create an outdoor room for relaxation. People are putting more effort into patio decor since they are spending more time at home during the coronavirus pandemic.
Potted plants in an array of sizes and materials add visual rhythm to the patio. Robyn Johnson, who rents a 19th century rowhouse in Fells Point, has furnished the patio with comfortable seating, a fire table, and plants to create an outdoor room for relaxation. People are putting more effort into patio decor since they are spending more time at home during the coronavirus pandemic. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Her patio is filled with flowering hostas, lemongrass, basil, mint, oregano and rosemary. She also has a wall of ivy. Johnson purchased most of her plants and flowers from local farmers markets and nurseries.

“I love the textures and colors and all of my lush plants,” she said.

The look of the patio started with her mounted herb boxes, she said.The boxes mounted on a fence and the varying heights of the plants helped determine the arrangement of the patio furniture.

“I have never grown anything in my life before, and the sense of pride I have in my patio and my planters makes me feel accomplished,” she said.

Locally-made cedar boxes filled with herbs repeat the horizontal lines of the privacy wall. Robyn Johnson, who rents a 19th century rowhouse in Fells Point, has furnished the patio with comfortable seating, a fire table, and plants to create an outdoor room for relaxation. People are putting more effort into patio decor since they are spending more time at home during the coronavirus pandemic
Locally-made cedar boxes filled with herbs repeat the horizontal lines of the privacy wall. Robyn Johnson, who rents a 19th century rowhouse in Fells Point, has furnished the patio with comfortable seating, a fire table, and plants to create an outdoor room for relaxation. People are putting more effort into patio decor since they are spending more time at home during the coronavirus pandemic (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Although she bought most of the patio plants, Johnson admits to “borrowing” her creeping Jenny vine from a planter outside Cinghiale, the Harbor East restaurant.

“I put one small piece in my pocket on a walk and [after I planted it] it turned into the most gorgeous and interesting plant I have,” she said.

“I love this slice of heaven in the middle of the city,” Johnson said. “Even when police helicopters are circling, I can turn up the music and sit by the glow of my tiki torches and let It all drown out. It’s been the best thing I never knew I needed since March.”

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