How to get the backyard of your dreams, on your budget

Carolyn Sperry

It’s summertime, and our activities aren’t the only things that have migrated outdoors. Likely, the attention you gave your aging bathroom or shabby carpet over the winter is now being turned to the yard you’ve been meaning to fix up but just haven’t had the time or money. Limited only by your budget and your imagination, you can be well on the way to the backyard of your dreams this year.

Flowers and plant life

Many homeowners are looking for things they don’t have to work too hard to maintain, according to Will Spiegelberg, owner of Spiegelberg Landscape Design in Chicago.

Many people are looking for native plants, not only because they’re environmentally friendly but because they need virtually no maintenance by the homeowner. Many don’t even need to be watered.

Rain collection features can also be incorporated into a landscape design to help plants get the water they need without dipping into a well, he said.

An extension of the home

Outdoor living spaces are all the rage on home improvement TV shows, and those who can afford to go all out will do so, regardless of how cold it gets during the winter, according to Spiegelberg.

Outdoor kitchens, complete with plumbing and a sink and even features like a pizza oven, are popular among those who can afford it and will use it often. Special outdoor-friendly televisions can be installed. Those who don’t want to get too warm can install sheltering for shade or even misters. And to lengthen the period during which homeowners can enjoy their outdoor spaces, outdoor heaters are available, like the ones restaurants sometimes have on their patios.

Because those items can be a hefty investment, those with more modest budgets can modify their plans and get a great backyard retreat for a lot less, according to Rick MacRoy, owner of Landscape Creations in Lombard, Ill. A high-end stainless grill, a nice patio set and a fire pit can make a great outdoor space for someone who can’t afford (or won’t use) the fancier amenities.

Vegetable gardens

Vegetable gardening has taken off in the past few years as well, according to MacRoy.

Vegetable gardening gives a homeowner a sense of pride, not to mention ultra-fresh food. And once a garden is planted, it can be relatively low-maintenance. MacRoy has even installed drip irrigation systems, so homeowners can enjoy the bounty without even having to worry about watering.

A landscaper can integrate a vegetable garden into the overall picture of the backyard so it is not only practical but beautiful. Herb gardens are quite popular, as are heirloom vegetables, Spiegelberg said. Heirloom vegetables are varieties that grow as they were grown a few centuries ago, and the taste can be markedly different than today’s varieties. Heirloom flowers are quite popular as well, Spiegelberg said.