There’s a lot to love about newly built homes: modern designs, brand spanking new appliances, fresh paint, energy-efficient operations … the list goes on and on. But one area that I’ve always been less than impressed with in new homes is the yard. If you’re lucky, you’ll have some new sod and maybe a tree or shrub or two, but other than that you’re on your own. The good news is that when you buy new construction, you don’t have to invest any money in updating or repairing the house. That means you can use those funds to upgrade your outdoor space.
Residential outdoor spaces are more diverse than ever. Large expanses of green, manicured lawns still exist, but they are far less common than they were a few decades ago. Today, you’ll find homes that incorporate kids’ play areas, vegetable gardens, pollinator habitats, low-water lawns, rain gardens, firepits and hardscapes — sometimes all on the same property!
Despite the excitement that comes with upgrading your outdoor space, landscapers and designers recommend starting slow so as not to get overwhelmed. As Elyse Santoro, a Miami-based interior designer/decorator, explains,”It doesn’t have to happen all at once, and it doesn’t have to be overwhelming or cost a fortune.”
Just as it’ll no doubt take some time to understand how you will best use the rooms in your house, give yourself time to figure out how you’re going to use your outdoor space before jumping into a major landscaping project. In the meantime, here are five ideas to consider.
Some homeowners view the yard as an extension of the home’s living space and design “outdoor rooms” to support that concept. Outdoor rooms can include an attached screened-in porch, a gazebo or a landscaped area with seating. Ideally, the outdoor room will be connected to the house in some manner either by a path or passageway or literally connected to the home.
Many homeowners use outdoor rooms as entertaining space or retreats where they can get away from it all. Even the smallest of yards can accommodate an outdoor room. At a minimum, you only need an area that is large enough for a bench. Place a small fountain next to the bench and surround them with plants (use trellises to train climbing plants up a wall or fence to provide even more serenity) to create a welcome retreat that can fit in just about any yard. At the other end of the spectrum are outdoor kitchens and living rooms complete with electricity, TVs and appliances.
Some homeowners decide to landscape with native plants and remove as much lawn as possible. According to the U.S. Forest Service, native plants, “provide nectar, pollen and seeds that serve as food for native butterflies, insects, birds and other animals. Unlike natives, common horticultural plants do not provide energetic rewards for their visitors and often require insect pest control to survive.”
Using native plants in landscaping is popular right now as homeowners have tuned in to the impact each person can make on the environment, no matter how small it seems. This type of landscaping has several benefits, including providing food and shelter to local wildlife and pollinators, reducing yard maintenance and expenses, and beautifying the area. Native plants are adapted for the local climate so they don’t require the same kind of care as a lawn or non-native plants. That means less watering, less weeding, less fertilizer and less mowing.
Not all native plants are right for residential yards, however. Choose plants that are adapted for your planting zone and make sure you research them to learn how big they get and if they will spread. Going native also doesn’t have to mean not having a lawn. Check with your local agricultural service about the best types of grasses for your area.
Rain Gardens and Low-Water Gardens
If you have a perpetual wet spot in your yard or a sloped yard where “nothing will grow,” don’t fight it. Work with it instead by turning it into a rain garden. Rain gardens help filter runoff before it hits lakes, rivers and streams; they stabilize the soil and provide beauty and wildlife habitat. They are not swamps or wetlands since they don’t hold water for very long after a heavy rain, but they can be used to grow some gorgeous plants and flowers and protect water resources as well.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are xeriscaped yards. These are common in desert communities where rain is rare and water restrictions make it difficult to maintain a traditional green lawn. Xeriscaping doesn’t mean landscaping with cacti, however. The landscape technique is used all over the country, even in climates that get a lot of rain. The technique is really more about water conservation and eliminating the need for supplemental watering than it is about creating a desert garden.
Hardscape is a broad term used to describe any man-made feature of a yard or garden such as a patio, deck, pathway, wall or fence. It’s rare to find a home without any hardscaping — the walkway up to the house and the front stoop count. A deck or patio is the most popular type of hardscape, but you can branch out into short retaining walls, meandering pathways, arbors and gazebos — even a she-shed! Hardscaping can help bring a yard together to make it more structured and functional for your family. In some cases hardscapes are simply practical, providing a solid surface or extra space outside, even when the rest of the yard is full of mud.
Nothing brightens up a yard, literally and figuratively, more than lighting. At a minimum, you’ll want lights at your entry points and at the back door if you have one. After that, the sky’s the limit! Solar landscape lights are very popular and can be used to highlight exterior features of the home, mark a pathway or illuminate a garden or fountain. Fairy lights or string lights hung from trees, a pergola or arbor, or around the deck rails add an element of romance to a yard, and motion-sensor spotlights can help enhance home security. Lanterns are a mobile option allowing you to place them where and when they are needed.
Love Your Landscape
You’ve found the perfect home, and with a little more work, you can perfect your landscape! The nice thing about landscaping is that it can be done incrementally as time and budget allow. Take some time to daydream and research landscaping options, and then get to work creating the outdoor space you desire.
Liyya Hassanali is a Project Manager and Content Strategist for Kinship Design Marketing, a boutique agency that provides marketing strategies and content for architects, interior designers, and landscape designers. She is a 15+ year veteran of the marketing and advertising industry, working closely with her clients to provide written content that meets their marketing goals and gets results.
Liyya is passionate about home design and décor and is a confessed HGTV and Pinterest addict. When not providing content writing services for her clients, she can be found browsing home décor sites or spending time with her family.