Home & Garden

Scenic and Low-Maintenance? Yes, it’s Possible

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Creating a beautiful and easy-to-maintain backyard is well within your reach. There are professionals in our area who can help you create a backyard you can be proud of.

If you want to turn your backyard into the perfect summertime hangout, area landscaping experts can help.

Warm and pleasant weather brings many an opportunity to gather outdoors with friends and family. We all dream of having that picture-perfect backyard setup, but the reality is that, with jobs, kids, and other responsibilities, life gets busy and backyard landscaping can easily get pushed to the wayside.
On the other hand, it may be that we have all of the right elements, but our landscape still needs that extra little panache.

Don’t despair; an attractive, fun and easy-to-maintain backyard is well within your reach. With a little help from area experts, turning a humdrum backyard into something extraordinary can feel like a breeze.

Surrounded by Natural Beauty

Plenty of studies show that spending time in nature will lower stress levels. So, why stress every time you look at your backyard? Surrounding your home’s landscape with easy-to-maintain flora will help to create a personal sanctuary.

There are numerous varieties of plants that need minimal upkeep, and many of them are familiar to the native Midwestern landscape. Sean Ducey, horticulturist at Whispering Hills Garden Center in Cary, suggests mixing things like columbine, Salvia, butterfly weed and Pentsemon (beardtongues) with choices like Baptisia, Coneflower, Rudbeckia and Anemone. Those summertime bloomers pair up well with waving grasses, which add variety and texture. Bluestem, for example, comes in more than 100 varieties, from choices with tall, waving blades to those with shorter, pointier shapes.

Surround your new plants with a good bed of mulch, which not only looks nice but also helps to fertilize plants and cut down on weeds.

Whether or not you’re a “green thumb,” container gardens are a fast and easy way to add color, variety and texture into your yard, and they generally require little more upkeep than a quick daily watering. Combine colorful flowers or take a more practical angle by planting vegetable varieties, and then place them around your patio or select nooks in the backyard.

Containers also play well with rock gardens, which bring creativity to a space and keep weeds and general maintenance down.

Transforming a backyard into an oasis may be as simple as adding a privacy fence, using plants or a combination of shrubs and trees to block out the outside world.

“Arborvitae make great living fences,” says Marcy Cronin, of Countryside Flower Shop, Nursery and Garden Center in Crystal Lake. “They not only provide greenery year-round, but they also will give you privacy and provide the perfect habitat for your feathered friends.”

Cronin finds these living fences pair up well with all variety of native plant species, which are especially easy to grow in our region because they’re naturally adapted to our climate.

“Some native plants are more drought-tolerant, and others grow well in thick clay soil,” she says. “Check your soil condition and plant the plants that are best for that condition.”

A Welcoming Patio

The patio is the perfect spot relax with a couple of cold drinks on a hot summer’s day, or to soak up those starry nights. Creating the perfect patio for your backyard, no matter how busy your lifestyle, is an easily attainable goal.

Steve Olson, manager of Viking Ski and Patio in Barrington, has a couple of suggestions.

At the top of his list is deep seating – basically anything that has a padded seat. Though people may worry about a cushion’s ability to endure nature’s harsh conditions, Olson says materials have come a long way in the past few years.

“They now make rain fabrics and cushionless deep seating furniture,” he says. “But most people just purchase covers that are highly water-resistant and breathable – an easy fix for those who want the comfy sofa and lounge chairs without the hassle of waiting for a cushion to dry after a heavy rain.”

Finding the right furniture material is also important, as comfort and function are high priorities for many shoppers.

Viking Ski and Patio offers furniture made from “envirowood,” a durable and high-quality material that’s often made from recycled milk jugs. Such pieces typically need little maintenance, won’t rust or rot, and can be left outside year-round. Furniture pieces constructed from woven materials, like traditional wicker, now feature ultraviolet protection that offers some guard against the weather.

Don’t forget about the cantilever umbrella, which can rotate to different angles while offering maximum shade. Fire pits are another must-have, and new gas fire pits provide a great alternative for patio areas. Unlike wood fires, gas pits won’t create sparks that can damage cushions and fabrics.

It may seem counterintuitive, but adding a little movement can go a long way toward that laid-back vibe.

“Make sure you have enough swivel chairs,” Olson adds. “Everyone tends to like the swivels over stationary chairs, at least for the lounge chairs.” Pair it up with a nice love seat gliding bench.
Of course, good furniture doesn’t have to stay just on the patio or deck. String up a hammock between two trees, or tuck a charming bench between a couple of flowering bushes. Strategically place comfortable chairs to make cozy seating areas in the garden.

Adirondack chairs, with their extra-wide armrests and signature reclining seatback distribute weight evenly throughout one’s upper legs and back. They now come in several styles and colors, including lounge chairs.

As you’re out shopping, remember to think about storage. Given the harsh winters we see in the Midwest, furniture that is easily stored will enjoy a significantly longer lifespan than furniture left out all winter. If storage space is lacking, shoot for furniture that can be easily taken apart or conveniently folded down before the snowfall.

Purchasing patio furniture from a knowledgeable company helps to take away much of the guesswork that comes along with setting up a new patio.

“We have you covered day or night with the latest trends,” says Olson. “We deliver our furniture assembled and placed exactly where our customers would like. We also do repairs for our customers on furniture and umbrellas, and we re-sling and do custom orders for most collections.”

It’s In the Details

It would be wise to remember that the little things can go a long way. That’s especially true when accenting your garden landscape.

“It’s nice to add a little something whimsical or elegant to set the mood,” says Cronin, of Countryside Flowers. “Birdhouses, wind chimes and spinners all make great backyard additions. Your solar lights don’t need electricity and birdbaths add a splash. Hang a soothing wind chime, and you will be on your way to a laid-back atmosphere.”

Dress up the ground as well, with some nice all-weather rugs. Designed specifically for outdoor use, all-weather rugs are quick-drying and can bring a touch of flair and comfort to patio areas.

Because they’re composed of man-made fibers, they’re built to handle rainstorms and everything else Mother Nature will throw their way.

Create simple stone pathways, using spaced-out pavers or stepping stones to help bring character to your backyard. Then, try illuminating them or highlighting other focal points – like bushes and trees – with landscape lighting, including solar-powered options.

Water features, such as fountains and waterfalls, blend into the surroundings and add a relaxing, low-key feel.

Along those lines, outcroppings of stone create a similar visual effect without the water. Commonly, small bunches of plants are secured among the rocks. “Outcropping are large pieces of stone used for landscaping, and add a bold statement to any design,” says Roberts, of Whispering Hills. Try stacking up long, flat lines of the grayish-blue bluestone, go for a more ochre-toned flagstone, or go with some big boulders of granite. Integrate those stones into the landscape and they might provide seating in a hidden nook or at a fire pit. Garden centers like Whispering Hills carry a wide variety on-site.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

Perhaps the best way to reduce the stress of sprucing up your backyard is to seek out the professionals. Experienced designers, like those at Whispering Hills and Countryside, have the know-how to identify which plants and accents will be well-suited to your landscape. They’ll also offer consultations and installation services.

“We encourage people to stop in and speak with our in-house designer, who will make sure the plant material you choose will flourish on your property,” says Roberts.

Selecting the right materials may also involve free in-home consultations.

“Our friendly and professional staff will make sure you are satisfied by making the appropriate suggestions based on budget, ideas and property,” Roberts adds. “We recommend stopping by our retail garden center to explore the vast selection of stone and plant varieties that we carefully select each year.”

Before you visit, it doesn’t hurt to have a few ideas of what’d you like – or don’t like – for your spruced-up garden and to know where you’d like to see it installed.

“When you come to shop, bring photos, measurements, or blueprints,” says Olson, of Viking Ski and Patio. “Our professional staff will be happy to assist in making your plans a reality.”

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