Taking a well-deserved stroll around your property is one of the nicest things about summertime. Ah, isn't your manicured lawn and colorful perennial border pretty as a picture? The spicy aroma wafting from the herbs growing along your deck sure smells better than a can of indoor air freshener, doesn't it? Have a seat and relax, because life out on the patio is pretty darned perfect -- almost.
Americans are taking full advantage of their outdoor spaces these days. Good news travels fast, and the good news here is that spending more time outdoors during the summer months is a low cost way to add an extra room to your home during two to three seasons of the year. Instead of spending money on a formal room addition that can cost a fortune -- and look like an architectural afterthought -- you can add style to your landscape with an outdoor space that's cost efficient and flexible. You can use it for family functions where a little spilled tropical punch won't be a disaster. You can also entertain outdoors with a lot less preparation than planning a formal meal in the dining room (and all the stress that entails).
Putting together a garden space has never been easier than it is today. It's an option that's growing in popularity, and that's probably not going to change any time soon. People are staying in their homes longer, so inexpensive, fun solutions to problems like lack of space and cabin fever are big business. You can find outdoor furnishings, fixtures and accessories to fit almost any budget. Outdoor stuff isn't flimsy, either. If you want to sprawl in comfort, there's a lounger -- with a comfy cushion -- out there that will make your backside happy the warm weather is here at last.
Even though just about any outdoor space with a comfortable place to sit will work for some folks, staring at the same shrubs day-after-day can get a little -- predictable. Sure, nature is great, but when counting fireflies becomes the high point of your evening, it may be time to look for a few outdoor enhancements that will make life on your deck a little more diverting. We aren't talking about installing a waterproof flatscreen or koi pond complete with illuminated waterfall. A few small details can enhance your outdoor experience without breaking the budget in the process.
Using Fire Pits to Add Warmth and Style
Before there was color TV, there was fire. Yes, instead of listening to a canned laugh track, you can spend your evenings gazing into your very own pond of fire. Fire pits are surprisingly functional. They provide a focal point for outdoor spaces and can even look attractive during the daylight hours when they're not in use. What could be better than a cheerful fire when the heat of the day gives way to chilly evening breezes? You can stretch out in front of the crackling flames and contemplate the wonders of the universe. Speaking of the universe, just look up. The night sky will be directly overhead to delight and engross you. Sounds nice, huh?
A fire pit can be designed as a secondary seating area where friends can gather to have a drink, chat or make s'mores. Some fire pits can also double as grills. They provide warmth, too, so you can stay outdoors longer on chilly nights and extend the autumn season in the garden. They also supply a little additional light, so you won't have to stumble around looking for that bowl of pretzels.
Fire pits are one of the most popular outdoor room accessories on the market. Before you rush out to buy one:
- Check the local ordinances in your area. Adding a fire pit may require a permit.
- Many areas of the country experience cyclical drought conditions, so adding a fire pit may be discouraged or illegal.
- To add a fire pit to your property, you'll need a flat, open spot that's at least 10 feet away from trees, shrubs, firewood, fences, buildings or anything else that's potentially flammable.
- There are faux stone products on the market designed especially for use in fire pit construction. They're lightweight and easy to work with. They look pretty authentic, too.
- Using real brick or stone may end up being a two-person job. Moving stone can be heavy work.
- Because fire pits are so popular, there are now a number of DIY kits available that make fire pit assembly a lot easier than it used to be. Take the time to explore all the options before you buy.
Building a Pergola for Function and Style
You've seen those trellises and arbors in the movies that have ivy, climbing roses, or bougainvillea growing all over them? Instead of looking like they're in desperate need of a haircut, they look wonderfully natural and romantic, don't they? Pergolas are like that. A pergola is made up of a trellis framework outfitted with vertical support columns and a roof. Pergolas are often installed over doors or gates. You'll probably recognize them as a classic cottage garden accessory.
As an outdoor room addition, a pergola can help solve a lot of problems with a minimum of fuss and financial outlay. They make an easy DIY project, too. If you can install posts and cover them with inexpensive lattice, you're good to go. It's almost that easy. Even if you're not very handy, you're still in luck. There are pergola kits available that use lightweight vinyl materials which go together fast and easy. Once installed and outfitted with your favorite climbing plants, it'll be hard to tell the difference between an all-wood custom pergola and a vinyl model from a handy kit.
Here are some ways adding a pergola can enhance your outdoor spaces:
- Added privacy -- If you like the idea of getting romantic in your hot tub or smooching on the porch swing, a pergola can provide privacy without the formality (and expense) of putting up a fence. The climbing plants you add to the structure will grow a lot faster than a hedge, too. If you decide you'd like to change out that clematis climber in a couple of years, making the switch to another plant variety will also be a lot easier than yanking out a boxwood hedge or Japanese holly.
- Continuity -- If you have a shed, detached garage or other outbuilding in your landscape, adding and arbor that connects that building to your fence, deck or house will help integrate the look of your property. Think of it as a visual bridge that connects disparate elements. This one change can help increase your home's curb appeal and maybe even the value of your property.
- More shade -- A nicely planted pergola or other trellis arrangement provides a lot of shade and some shelter from the wind and drizzling rain. It can be cheaper than installing a fiberglass roof on your patio, and it looks a lot nicer, too.
- Beauty -- If your deck, patio or fence looks bare and bland, installing a pergola and plants will add height, color and texture to your landscape. If you want to disguise the view of your neighbor's compost heap, a pergola will effectively curtain less desirable views without the expense of putting up a wood fence, too.
Use Plant Containers to Create a Theme
Nothing celebrates the great outdoors like plants, and adding them to your outdoor room, deck, patio or porch can yield some surprising benefits. Sure, you have plants in your flowerbeds, but what about repeating the colors in your outdoor furniture cushions with cheerful annuals in pots. The space will look more attractive, and you won't have to worry about these decorations getting wet.
Actually, there's a science to adding plants to your outdoor decor. You want them to coordinate with the flowers and plants in your flower beds, but they should also offer something unique. That's where themes come in. The plant kingdom is full of interesting and unique species. The plants in your landscape may have to conform to the limitations of your climate, but container plants you're willing to discard later or bring indoors over the winter months can be more exotic and interesting. You don't have to stick to begonias, petunias and marigolds anymore.
Why not branch out and try a potted cactus garden or invest in that fuchsia, hibiscus or miniature lemon tree you've always wanted. You can move plants around to catch the sun (or sheltering shade), and if you plan on adding a variety that needs frequent watering, install it in a self-watering pot that will make upkeep easier.
There are still a few rules. You won't be able to keep sun-loving plants if the space you have in mind is always shady, and if you can cook an egg on your patio in the afternoon, heat sensitive plants are going to be a no-no. Within reason, though, you can add some fun and attractive plant varieties to you outdoor spaces if you're willing to experiment with container plants.
Here's a thought: Why not include a culinary garden as part of your patio space? Add herbs like sage, parsley, rosemary, oregano and basil. They'll be within easy snipping distance when dinnertime rolls around, and some aromatic herbs tossed on the grill (or into your new fire pit), will add savor and a wonderful aroma to mealtime. While you're at it, be sure to install a few herbs that repel garden pests like mosquitos. Some excellent choices are catnip, citronella, rosemary and lavender.
Need a windbreak or a little extra privacy? You can find outdoor room dividers installed over planter boxes (or make them yourself with lattice). The soil added to the base makes this option sturdy. Add some star jasmine for an accessory that's as functional as it is attractive and sweet smelling.
Add Lighting for Function and Ambiance
Adding lighting to your outdoor landscape does more than provide handy illumination when you're trying to clean the grill. It makes the space safer. If you have a pool or stairs, a dedicated light fixture is a critically important safety feature. The same is true if you have a fire pit or hot tub in place. Good lighting will also make it easier to locate stepping stones, gates, doors and electrical panels, and avoid tripping hazards like discarded shoes, potted plants, young children and pets.
Lighting isn't as expensive an outdoor option as it used to be, either. One reason is the abundance of solar lighting options. Solar lights are inexpensive, easy to install and free to operate. It doesn't get much better than that. You just dig a hole in your soil (or screw a mounting bracket on your deck or stairs), pop in the fixture and you're done. You can install five solar fixtures on your property in less than an hour and for less than $100. Solar lights are also more versatile than they used to be. Many remain charged for more than eight hours, and you can find solar options in table top lamps, pole-mounted garden lights and hurricane lamps. You can even find solar powered paver lights.
Another nice choice is low voltage outdoor lighting. Low voltage lights make effective accent lights for the front of your home and great security lights for the back. They can also be installed along a driveway or path. Ground level lights throw the illumination upward somewhat like a spotlight while wall or fence mounted lights offer bright illumination similar to what you would find indoors. Low voltage lights are available in a number of wattages, too (from 4 to 50 watts using halogen lights). Low voltage lights are completely safe for outdoor use, but installing this type of system may require the services of an electrician. It could also entail some digging to get under or around features on your property like driveways, water pipes and cable lines.
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