reimagine your outdoor space

If summer 2020 taught us anything, it’s that maximizing our time outside is the best way to truly savor the season. This year, with a little planning, why not up your game and transform your yard or patio into a haven that offers day and night opportunities for fun, relaxation, and easy summertime living? Not only can you make your space more enjoyable, but you can ensure it’s a reflection of your individual lifestyle.

Vaccinated or not, chances are most of us will opt to be outside as much as possible again this summer. Here’s how to rethink and retool your outdoor space to enjoy every minute of the warm weather.

Create a healthy outdoor space
“The pandemic forced us into a little self-examination,” reflects Jay Archer, landscape ecologist and director of landscape design and development services at Green Jay Landscaping. “It gave people the chance to experience their own landscape environment and also to think about how to create a healthy space. And it helped us to get closer to and interact with nature.”

He recommends planting more native plants. Not only are these beautiful, but they can help attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. “You can attract a great variety of birds, like songbirds and woodpeckers.”

Archer also suggests lessening the size of your lawn. “We want to do everything we can to nurture the environment. Lawns suck a lot of our resources. We need to water and fertilize them. Reducing the size of your lawn also means reducing the use of leaf blowers.” He recommends moving towards more plants and trees, as well as incorporating a water feature such as a small pond, bird bath, or waterfall. “Your landscape should be like music,” he says. “The more natural the landscape, the more it evokes serenity and good feelings.”

Flower garden or vegetable garden? It’s really a matter of personal choice. A flower garden will naturally bring you outdoors, observes Frank Giuliano, landscape architect and principal of Frank Giuliano and Associates in Katonah. “You’ll be drawn outside to pinch and prune and pick off dead flowers.”

A vegetable garden is more “human resource needy,” notes Archer. “If you are going to weed it and take care of it, a vegetable garden is for you, but know that possums and raccoons will come to visit.” You might consider a wire mesh roof so critters can’t get in and abscond with or eat the efforts of your labor.

What you opt for in your yard will depend, to varying degrees, on the nature of your yard and what you have in mind. “If you have a flat backyard, you could have a patio and a little gazebo with a fire pit next to it,” suggests Steven Geiger, a real estate specialist who, along with his partner Rosemary Stern, works closely with area boomers and seniors out of the William Raveis Real Estate office in Scarsdale. “If you want a very Zen environment, you might think of a waterfall and a sitting area in one corner where you could meditate.”

What to Avoid
Real estate senior specialist Steven Geiger is not a fan of patio bluestone and slate, remarking, “These can be very slippery. Consider brick pavers, instead.” Another Geiger “do not buy”: metal outdoor furniture, which heats up in extreme heat. If you buy treated cedar furniture instead, you can leave it outside in the summer and it’s always comfortable to use.

Giuliano has his pet peeves as well, suggesting that we avoid outdoor rugs, particularly those made of polyester. These can be a tripping hazard, especially when the corners roll up. He also includes gravel paths on his “do not buy” list. “They’re easy for people to slip on and not ideal for small spaces.”

Ideas for what to buy
Plant herbs. “These are easy to grow,” insists Archer. “I grow citronella on my deck, for instance, and it repels mosquitoes.”

Add some drama and excitement to your outdoor space by adding a few less common plants that are not necessarily native. Think about planting a banana tree. According to Giuliano, “It gives you a tropical look for not much money.” Other trees to consider are Meyer lemon trees and lime trees. “For the cold weather, you can take your Meyer lemon tree into the house,” Giuliano notes. “I just roll mine inside if there is going to be a frost.”

Create some shade. “We find that the most important thing to make a yard enjoyable is some shade,” advises Giuliano. “Get yourself a beautiful umbrella for your yard that has some life to it, some stripes maybe, that makes you want to sit under it,” he says. “Shade gives you a little enclosure in your yard, and human beings like enclosures.”

Don’t stop at the umbrella. Invest in a small bistro-style table for two, as well. “A small table is more intimate and you will use it every day to eat breakfast outdoors,” Giuliano says. “You don’t feel lonely the way you would at a big dining room table.”

He also suggests an investment in some night lighting. “Compared to other parts of the country, for some reason in the Northeast, people don’t tend to use their yards at night. But you can extend your time outside in the summer if you buy an umbrella with built-in lights, or get some strings of lights.”

An outdoor heater that runs on a propane tank is also a good purchase for those slightly chilly summer nights.

Giuliano’s backyard vision includes vertical planters: 30 to 36 inches high. With these, your flowers will be at eye level and easier to maintain. He explains, “These look like planters on stilts and may be sold as elevated bed planters – not to be confused with raised beds.”

Don’t forget to add a small bench to your yard or deck. “People just don’t use benches enough,” he laments. “We need to have spaces where we can just sit, relax, and listen to nature. A bench encourages this.”

What to Invest In
Landscape design can be a worthy investment, says Steven Geiger. “Proper landscaping with the proper type of plantings can pay off in the long term,” he advises. “It also enhances your yard and can prevent deer from eating your flowers, and other animals from encroaching on your property.”

Consider in advance what your landscaping will look like year-round, says Geiger. He recalls a client who had a beautiful flower garden in front of her house. It bloomed for eight months but looked barren all winter.

The question of whether or not to get a pool is tricky. “Before Covid, there were homes with pools sitting on the market,” notes Geiger. “But since Covid, you can’t get a house with a pool. Everyone wants one because you would rather entertain in your home than have your kids, your family go to another home. As the market changes, tastes change.”

A nicely landscaped outdoor space pays off in more ways than the resale value of your home. “It’s not always about money,” says Geiger. “You are living in your home and there is the intangible value of enjoying the yard. It is nice to be able to just look around and mentally escape without traveling. A good outdoor space can have a positive emotional impact on your life.”

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