We’ve all looked at magazines and books filled with photos of outdoor gathering spaces. We love the vibrant flowers, lush trees and shrubs, and have dreamed of yards “just like that.” Some of us can achieve that look, some of us “try,” and some of us just close the blinds and think of moving to a new location that already has that dream yard in place.

Take a deep breath and step outside to the area you’d like to see changed. Take notes as you consider the area. Think about what you would like to use the area for. This is an important first step. Is it the outside dining area? How about that cozy space for quiet conversations or perhaps meditation? Or will this be the area where family and friends enjoy barbecues and fun? Perhaps you need a play area for a little football or catch. Take your time on this step. Involve the family to share ideas. Be sure to note sun exposure, existing buildings or trees that may shade the area, and note where your water sources are. You will need that information for plant selection, placement and irrigation.

Do you want lots of plant life or minimal, easy care surroundings? Remember, our current water availability is vastly reduced; choosing water-wise plants will help save water while still providing the look you desire. Think about including edibles in your plant choices. Fruit and citrus trees have beautiful flowers that will perfume the area, and they also provide food to eat. Visit nurseries often throughout the year to observe how the plants change with the seasons. Look for nurseries that actually have the plant in the landscape of their grounds to aid in your decision of whether that particular plant will work in your landscape. Talk to nursery staff and note the mature plant size. Check on the availability of a dwarf variety if the standard size at maturity will be too big for the space.

Within the landscape, consider surfaces to walk on: reclaimed bricks, repurposed or new concrete, stones, gravels, pavers and ground covers that can tolerate being walked on are choices to think about. Don’t forget about seating areas for relaxing and entertaining.

How about structures? Longing for a covered patio or shaded area? Would you like this space to be an extension of your living area, or a domain of its own? Furnishing it might be coordinating an existing inside style to the new outside area. Other ideas might be incorporating refurbished favorite pieces or fun finds at garage sales and thrift shops into your space. Maybe you’d prefer that clean, sleek look of modern outdoor sets. There are many options to consider. Think about bringing plant life to these areas. Container gardens can be an easy care option. 

It will take time and effort on your part, but if this article inspires your creative thoughts, you’re off to a great start! Whether your dream yard is a “do-it-yourself” over time in small budgeted chunks or a professionally built and landscaped project, hopefully you’ll end up with a space that suits your needs and wishes alike for years to come.

The Master Gardeners will be live to answer your questions on Saturday, Aug. 13, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Luis Nursery in Visalia. You can also contact them at 559-684-3325, or visit their web site at ucanr.edu/sites/UC_Master_Gardeners.

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