Top 10 Tips for Great Outdoor Spaces
1. Decide how you want to use the space
Unless your outdoor space is very large, you won't have room for the vegetable garden, dining table, swing set, cutting garden and volleyball net. Think about the outdoor activities that are most important to you and plan around them. There's no right or wrong: if you prefer dining indoors, for example, you can forgo the alfresco table and chairs and fill your yard with an abundance of plants and flowers that you and your guests can admire from the window, or a large vegetable and flower cutting garden that will supply your family with fresh vegetables and flowers for your home.
2. Do you like shade or sun, or both?
A large vegetable garden will require lots of sun, but if you plan to use your outdoor space for relaxing it's best to provide some shade. If you're planting trees, choose varieties that will fit well in their designated spaces as they grow. And while you're waiting for shade trees to mature, invest in a portable gazebo you can take down for the winter, or a large umbrella for your outdoor table. If you want more sun in your outdoor space, get advice from a landscape professional about trimming or removing dense trees.
3. Are you formal or informal?
Check out landscape and garden books to determine your favorite garden style. If you love formal English gardens with orderly rows of plants, clipped hedges and a balanced design, then go for it -- but know that it might take more work to keep everything trimmed and tidy. If you prefer a more natural look, with a variety of plants and colors, that takes a bit more planning to keep it from looking haphazard. But one upside is that an occasional weed won't be as noticeable as it would be in a formal garden.
4. Add visual interest
A flat expanse of grass can be boring, and so are rows of matching flowers, so make sure your outdoor space has plenty of visual interest. Plant trees, shrubs and flowers of varying heights and colors, and choose varieties that peak at different times of the year so there is always something interesting to see. Include a focal point -- one spectacular tree, a blooming shrub, a fountain, or an art object -- that draws the eye.
5. First impression: the front yard
The first thing guests see when they come to your house is your front yard, and you want to make a good first impression. No need to go all out, especially if your space and budget are on the small side. Just make sure the sidewalks and driveway are clear of debris, grass and shrubs are neatly trimmed, and flower beds are weed-free. If you have space, a winding walkway is serene and welcoming, but what really matters is that your front yard shows that you care about your home.
6. A welcoming front porch
Your front porch and front door are the gateways to your home, so make sure they welcome your guests and represent your personal style. There are a few tips that apply whether your front porch is large or small: keep the porch clean and free of dirt, debris, and spider webs, and make sure mail and newspapers are picked up. A nice-looking doormat adds a decorative touch and helps to keep dirt out of your home. If you have a roomy front porch, consider adding a few Adirondack-style chairs and small tables to encourage conversation on warm summer nights. If space is limited, a small planter with a shrub or flowers adds a homey and welcoming touch.
7. Curves are more interesting than straight lines
Most city lots are designed with right angles, so chances are your outdoor space has that, too. Soften those hard edges by planting in gentle curves. A garden hose is a great tool for planning a curved planting bed, and for smoothing out those corners. Simply place the hose where you think you'd like to plant, move it around until it feels right, and cut along that line. Make your garden beds deep enough -- you want to continue that curved design by placing taller shrubs and flowers in the back, with shorter ones up front.
8. Backyard seating: a place to relax
Even the smallest city space can become a haven when you add a comfortable place to sit. Whether you have room for a crowd or just a chaise or hammock for one, make sure there's a level place to sit, shade for sunny afternoons (a tree, an awning or an umbrella), a small outdoor table for a book and a glass of lemonade, and some pretty flowers in pots or in the surrounding garden.
9. Make your patio an outdoor room
If you're lucky enough to have a patio -- or you're thinking of creating one -- you'll add an extra entertaining space to your home. Great patios offer comfortable seating options that encourage conversation, games and relaxation, plus space to dine -- and perhaps grill -- outdoors. Your patio can be concrete, slate or pebbles, but make sure it's level to avoid wobbly chairs. Shade is welcome on hot, sunny days, and you can add a warm glow in the evening with candles, decorative landscape lighting or tiny holiday lights strung through your trees. Extend your outdoor season with a portable propane heater made especially for outdoor use.
10. Invite Mother Nature
Spending time in nature is a wonderful way to refresh body and spirit. Along with the trees, plants and flowers in your outdoor space, consider making your space a nature preserve by adding a feeder with bird seed or planting a butterfly bush to attract butterflies. Make your own healthy hummingbird nectar by boiling four parts clean water and one part table sugar, then let it cool completely and fill a clean hummingbird feeder. The best feeders have perches, which encourage hummingbirds to rest and give us more time to enjoy them. If you have space in your garden, add a bird bath and watch the fun. Just remember to keep it clean.