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Landscapes in Bloom

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As an extension of the home, an outdoor area can tap into boundaries previously unexplored. The space beyond four walls offers opportunities to finally create the entertainment, relaxation or gathering area that couldn't fit inside the home, all while benefiting from both the special addition of and amalgamation with nature. Natural elements can not only elevate the appearance of an outdoor addition, but also provide the ambiance necessary to uplift the spirits of homeowners and their guests alike.

"I view the outdoor living space as an extension of the home and the client's personal style. The colors in the architectural details of the home are important when choosing materials and colors for the outside space; they don't have to be an exact match, but it will all flow together if the colors and tones complement each other," says Keith Frederick, owner of ELA Outdoor Living.

While the main attraction might be a water feature, outdoor television set, or a high-tech lighting and sound system, what truly makes outdoor living spaces special are the plants complementing them. Implementations to reduce an ecological footprint are trending most right now, both inside and outside the home. With such considerations, a cosmetic rejuvenation can give back to the earth to help create a symbiotic relationship. While spring is a fantastic time to enjoy an outdoor living space, it is always best to be conscious of how plants will interact with local native species and the changing climate.

"Everyone and everything is being affected by climate change. Therefore, my focus is to incorporate as many plantings into a design that can handle extreme temperature swings throughout the year and satisfy the aesthetic needs of the client," says Ronni Hock, landscape designer and owner of Ronni Hock Garden & Landscape. "It's a balancing act that's essential from my perspective… Beauty plus environmentally sensitive practicality seems to be the formula going forward."

Describing one of her favorite projects as an example, Hock explains how an intricate home was customized to her client's specifications. This complete renovation of a contemporary home in a wooded area for a young family emphasizes the realm of possibilities in landscape design when using the natural surroundings to spark creativity.

"One of the client's principle concerns was to create a series of gardens with native plantings that would complement the location of the home and be safe for the children and pets," she recalls. "My intention was to create an 'inspirational journey' for the girls that would lead from the main house, through a woodland maze and into their playground near the lake."

Placement can make or break a final product. That's why it is vital to balance looks and utility while also envisioning these attributes from all perspectives: changing weather, night and day, and the relationship with both natural and manmade features.

"What's your priority? If you're cooking, you need an area for cooking, but you also need your traffic patterns to go to a social area where you can just relax – say, by a fire pit or a water feature," says George Mihalchick, owner of Ponds By George. "A lot of people don't really think about this, but it's your angle, your exposure to the elements like the sun. Is your dining area going to be right in the sun rays in the evening hours as the sun is setting?"

With any project that has an everyday impact, a household's unique lifestyle should be a significant consideration in determining what works best. Families with pets likely want to enjoy the outdoor living space alongside them, but they'll also want to take into account what popular plants are toxic to dogs or cats. While working with natural elements, carefully planning around all the living things that may interact with it can yield the best and safest results, while also providing new inspiration."

At ELA, we have excellent horticultural knowledge and will always advise on which plants and shrubs are better for different soil types, areas of the garden, if they're deer-resistant and, of course, whether or not they are a good choice if the client has children or pets," says Frederick. "Some things which might look beautiful are not a practical choice in reality for the local climate and the ways in which it is intended to be used."

Practicality and safety are two guiding principles when it comes to selecting from the many different types of water features, especially if an area is intended for small children to run around and play. Conferring with an expert can help narrow down that plethora of choices to best accommodate one's ideal scenario.

"The most popular water feature we do is called a pondless water feature, meaning there's a stream and you've got all these nice little waterfalls, and it's beautiful. You get the sound of water, you get sunshine, you get birds, your dogs can go in and your kids can play in it. But, it disappears into a gravel bed; it doesn't go into a pond and therefore it's totally safe," says Rich Cording Sr., owner of CLC Landscape Design.

Fire features alongside water features are popular ways to add a wow factor with contrasting elements, from a fire pit to sit around after getting out of the pool, to actually combining them in a fire and water bowl where both flow simultaneously.

"We call it living the lifestyle… even when you're inside and you look outside, you always see a water feature. That's your focal point. That's where people are going to gather. That's where the conversations are going to happen if you have seats by it. And I can tell you that a fire pit will usually be by a water feature, because it's soothing, it's relaxing," says Mihalchick.

The best time to make the leap toward beautifying an outdoor living space is right now. With planning design, consultations and construction, there are permitting considerations to account for, as well. Knowing your town's standards and laws can minimize the potential for any hurdles moving forward.

"The sooner, the better," Cording affirms. "Everything in every town in North Jersey requires permits or what's called a zoning review. What normally used to take weeks is now taking months."

Any vision in home renovation these days can become a reality with adequate planning, expertise and time. Allowing the climate provided by spring to demonstrate the endless opportunities for an outdoor living space can guide you in making the choices necessary to create your family's new favorite hangout destination.


CLC Landscape Design
Ringwood, N.J.
(973) 839-6026

ELA Outdoor Living
Doylestown, Pa.
(215) 794-2400

Ponds by George
Southampton, Pa.
(215) 396-7500

Ronni Hock Garden & Landscape
Lawrenceville, N.J.
(609) 844-0066

Published (and copyrighted) in House & Home, Volume 24, Issue 3 (January/February 2024)
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