Imagine a piece of earth – untouched, barren, waiting for attention. Maybe it is overgrown, weedy, filled with wire grass. Maybe it is dry, sparse, sunny, sloping. Maybe it is cool, wet and shady. Maybe it just needs a little tending, thinning, pruning and new life. What would you do with that space? How would you bring it to life? I’ve spent the last couple of weeks helping a number of my friends and family consider those exact questions.
Over the course of the next month I am going to lay out a short series on how to start re-thinking your outdoor space, where to get started and how to make your outdoors as welcoming as your indoors. It is easier than you think, and as long as you’re not afraid of getting dirty, you can do it. Here are a few questions to consider to get you started…
1. What purpose/function do you want your outdoor space to serve? Do you want to host outdoor parties and cookouts? Do you want to create a peaceful wildlife sanctuary? Do you prefer to spend your time indoors and want a low-maintenance design that improves the look of your home but takes less upkeep? Are you a cook? If so, do you want a functional kitchen and herb garden? Where is your kitchen in relation to outside doors and available gardening space? Do you want a spiritual place for reflection and small gatherings? How does your ideal garden look in your mind when you close your eyes?
2. How long will you be in your current space? This plays a big part in determining how much money and effort you want to put into your space. If you’re in a short term rental stick to light weight containers or annuals and small vegetable gardens. You can always invest in perennials for future tenants, but you’ll be sad to leave those plants behind and, unfortunately, you can’t count on future residents to care for them. If you own your home, but only plan to stay there for a few years, you’ll want a shorter term plan that improves your space more quickly and increases the beauty while you’re still there (and the resale value). If you’re there for the long term you can plan big and take your time developing spaces and making large investments.
3. What are your available spaces and corresponding sunlight? Start mapping out the available areas in your yard you’d like to rework. Depending on your answers to #2, think big. Often times people think too small when considering their outdoor space. They see existing beds and think that is all there is. There is so much more. And grass is not a low-maintenance plant to upkeep, so consider expanding beds and manicured spaces for depth and layers. Spaces also need to be proportionate to the houses, tress and surrounding plants. If they’re too small they will distort the space and look out of place. Draw rough sketches of your space. Think of your outdoor spaces as rooms in a house. Start noticing how much sunlight those areas receive throughout the day, make a note of it. Available light is a significant contributor in determining the types of plants you should use in the space.
4. What look do you like in the garden? Start looking at the landscapes and gardens around houses in your favorite neighborhoods. What do you like? What don’t you like? Do you prefer neat, boxwood edged, formal gardens, or wilder, seasonally colorful cottage gardens? Take photographs of landscaping you like, cut pictures out of magazines. Create a vision map of your ideal garden. Look for houses similar in style to yours and see what types of landscaping look best. If you see someone out in their yard, and you like particular plants, ask questions. Take notes. Gardeners love to talk about their plants!
5. What elements are most important to you? What inspires you in your space indoors? Bring that same element outside. Love your fireplace or candles? Purchase outdoor sconces and create space for a fire pit. Love the sound of running water? Consider a fountain. Love birds? Add more water elements and feeders. Love butterflies and wildlife? Build a butterfly cottage garden. Inspired by words? Bring signs and flags into your outdoor space with your favorite sayings. Does music and sound inspire you? Add wind chimes throughout your garden on shepherd’s hooks. The ultimate goal is to create a space that feeds your soul.
I’m looking forward to your landscaping journey – Best wishes and happy gardening!