With the season of family barbecues and outdoor dinner parties approaching, some may wonder how to create a functional outdoor space.
Amy Conway, assistant manager at Pike's Nursery in Ballantyne, suggested homeowners begin by looking at garden magazines and books to get a design idea.
"Even though garden magazines are a great place to start, you will also want to see what's available in your area," said Conway. "Go to your local garden center, but don't bring your wallet - just a notebook to take notes on what you see."
Conway said to take practicality into consideration when creating a space.
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"You need to look at the practical reasons for having the space," said Conway. "You want to create it for a specific reason and then ask yourself what tools you'll need to create your vision."
Conway suggested creating a budget when trying to achieve a certain look.
"Some people want to do it cheaply but then end up spending more money than they expected," said Conway. "Usually furniture will cost the most, so begin your investment there."
Conway warned against spending all the budget on one key piece.
"If you buy an outdoor kitchen but it's sitting on a plain concrete slab in a lawn that is full of weeds and grass, the look will be disappointing," she said.
Conway said to take photos of the existing space and bring them to a local garden center. Gardening experts are the best resource for advice on what would work best in specific spaces, she said.
Jim Hinkle, 80, who lives in the Pullengreen neighborhood in Ballantyne, said he took photos of his space into Pike's to get advice on maintaining the garden. He and his wife, Mavis, 76, began creating their outdoor space nine years ago, complete with a wooden dining set, flower beds and a stone walkway.
Although they originally had a landscape architect create the space, maintaining it has been something the Hinkles have done on their own. He said they enjoy being in the garden and like to keep it looking nice.
"We like to eat lunch outside and play with our grandkids," said Hinkle. "When we first had the space created, they didn't tell us how much maintenance it would need. (Having an outdoor space) really isn't low maintenance."
Start the project by looking at items like furniture, grills and outdoor kitchens. These pieces will anchor the look.
"Think about what you want to do in the space," said Conway. "If you want to have barbecues in the middle of the afternoon and your yard is south-facing, it's going to be hot. You may want to consider adding some shade to cool the space."
Conway also said that if a homeowner has outdoor dinner parties in mind to think about adding outdoor lighting.
"You can go with anything from Tiki torches to installed lighting, depending on your budget," said Conway. "You also should think about the number of people you're entertaining. That could change the hardscape of your plan."
Once the large pieces are in place, Conway recommends sitting in the furniture and looking at your property to create a landscape vision.
"Ask yourself what you like and dislike about your area," said Conway. "Look at specific areas where you want to see change."
Instead of trying to tackle the lawn as one large landscape project, Conway said, consider container gardening instead.
"Container gardening is much more budget friendly," said Conway. "You'll save money on plant material as well as on water. Sometimes people are surprised just how much water and maintenance a garden takes and container gardening cuts down on that."
Hinkle said he prefers container gardening over his flower beds simply because the plants are less to maintain.
"The garden looked great until last summer, when the bad drought hit. Now the flower beds are dead and we can't seem to get them to come back But the flower pots look nice all the time."
Conway said container gardens also are an easy way to add color and life to an outdoor space without putting in too much effort.
She said to begin with a three-gallon container to give the plants room to grow. Conway said not to skimp when it comes to the type of soil used in the containers.
"Don't use cheap topsoil," said Conway. "Use a nice planting mix and potting soil to give the plants the proper nutrients."
She said to choose various plants to go in the containers instead of using one type. Doing so will guard against the entire container failing if the plant doesn't thrive.
"I recommend starting with very small shrubs or evergreen grass to use as building blocks in your container," said Conway. "If you want to use flowers, make sure they are drought resistant. No matter if the plants are put in the sun or shade, Charlotte gets very hot and dry and the plants will sustain themselves better if they are drought resistant."
Hinkle said he was unaware of drought resistant plants before this season but recommends them.
"I wish I'd know about those a long time ago," he said. "It's been so hot that I bet they'd do better than the flowers we have now."
Conway said now is the perfect time to start building an outdoor space.
"You'll want to start before it gets too hot, to give the landscape time to acclimate to the warm weather," she said. "Begin getting some ideas together now and start getting some footwork done."