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GardenSMART :: Planning Guide: Creating Your Outdoor Living Space

Planning Guide: Creating Your Outdoor Living Space

By Missy Henriksen, Vice President of Public Affairs, National Association of Landscape Professionals 

Many homeowners initially—and often hastily—invest in their landscape to create “curb appeal” or in the eagerness and excitement of first-time homeownership. There comes a point for all homeowners, however, when they are ready to take their landscape design to the next level; the “201 or even 301 level” if you will. For some, that time comes when they realize they want to settle into a home and make it livable for years to come. Others reach that decision after children have grown a bit and pre-teen, teen, or family entertaining becomes more focused on “hanging out” rather than running about. And for still others, landscape investment comes later in life when homeowners desire to create the home and yard of their dreams, an oasis for relaxation and welcoming guests. Whenever the time comes for you, if you are ready to enhance your landscape, it is important to consider carefully what you want to achieve from your investment.

Photo courtesy of Sun Valley Landscaping, Omaha, NE, member of the National Association of Landscape Professionals

Step One: Dream (big)

The first step to enhancing your outdoor living space is to use your imagination. Dream and dream big. It may sound corny, but pretend your backyard is a canvas and your imagination is the brush. What do you want to create? Spend some time sitting outside in your yard and playing the what-if game. What if there was a waterfall?  What if there was a garden that invoked memories of travels to Italy or the south of France?  What if you could cook on the patio or spend hours singing songs by a fireplace?  Then go indoors and look out the windows to envision what you’d like to see when you look outside. Initially, dream without constraints. There will be plenty of time to prioritize and set practical, workable goals but your long-term vision will help identify the necessary steps to achieve your landscape dreams.

Photo courtesy of Sunrise Landscape & Design, Sterling, VA, member of the National Association of Landscape Professionals

Step Two: Compartmentalize

If you find it overwhelming to look at your yard as one big space to be developed, it may be easier to imagine it as several different “rooms” in the same way your indoor space is broken up. For instance, as you make notes about your landscape, draw circles for where you might have an ornamental garden or an elaborate waterfall or outdoor theater. Compartmentalizing the wants for your outdoor living space may prevent planning overload and make tasks seem more attainable. You and your landscape professional can develop plans to bring each area to life all at once, if possible, or more realistically, over time.

Step Three: Stylize

Many homeowners who are installing landscapes for the first time learn a lot and vow not to make the same mistakes the next go around. One of the biggest mistakes people make in their early attempts at self-landscaping is not determining a style or theme for the outdoor-living area. Novice weekenders spend money on flowers that are pretty or shrubbery that is on sale, only to end up with a hodgepodge of design and elements that don’t necessarily work together. When you are upgrading your landscape, work with a professional to determine a style for your yard. Make sure it blends with or compliments your home style. If you will be responsible for caring for your landscape, consider the time you have to invest in its care as part of the style you select. Ask about the latest design trends in color, textures, materials, and in how people are using their outdoor spaces.

Photo courtesy of Designs by Sundown, Englewood, CO, member of the National Association of Landscape Professionals

Step Four: Prioritize

If you must create your ideal outdoor living space over time, know what your ultimate goals are so that you can save money in the long run. For instance, if you will eventually install an outdoor kitchen but will install a patio first, know where plumbing, electric, and gas lines should be installed before the patio is built. Prioritize the projects that will meet your budget parameters and will give you the most immediate satisfaction. If there are parts of your current landscape that are unsafe or terribly unsightly, consider starting with those as improvements in these areas may bring the most immediate impact.

If you are having trouble prioritizing, your trusted landscape advisor can help. Many professionals have questionnaires for you to complete prior to beginning a project. These questionnaires are designed to challenge your thinking and help you envision how you would like to enjoy your landscape now and in the future.

Whether you are investing thousands or tens of thousands of dollars (or more) in your landscape enhancements, you and your landscape professional can develop a plan to provide you with your ultimate outdoor living space.

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