Backyard dreams: Getting into the garden

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A sparkling combination of pond, water motion,, landscaping, outdoor furniture, and the back yard becomes a very very special place. | COURTESY OF AQUASCAPE, ST. CHARLES

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March 20 — officially — was the first day of spring. So says the calendar. Weather having its own ideas of when to spring, we are now seeing a steadier move in that direction.

Now that spring is here, it is time to start making and carrying out plans on how to spruce up your yard so you can enjoy spending time outdoors in the long-awaited warmer weather.

Consider these ideas:

The outdoor room

Patios and decks today are outfitted with grills, tables, and various types of seating so that homeowners can cook, eat, and relax after their meals without turning on the kitchen stove or oven and heating up the house.

Sabina Mikos of Warner’s Decking, Plainfield, said that they installed a deck in St. Charles that has a steel substructure, a walk-out kitchen, and a walk-out basement underneath.

“It looks phenomenal,” she said.

Homeowners can also personalize their decks by adding unique features that match their needs. Another deck that Warner’s Decking built used glass panels instead of spindles so that the view of the lake from the back yard would not be obstructed.

Mikos said that while people are looking to spend $1,000 on a deck, a good deck actually runs around $10,000.

“They should remember that a deck is a 25-year investment,” Mikos said. “Popular decks today are made of composite materials such as Trex and TimberTech. People today are also opting for low voltage lighting, which produces a nice glow at night, and adding accent fences and rails. It’s a good idea to install lighting on the steps so you can see where you’re going when it’s dark.”

To make their yards more interesting, homeowners can have a water feature installed. The sound of running water is not only appealing to humans. Birds and butterflies are attracted to running water and will fly miles for clean, fresh water to drink.

Water for wildlife

For residents interested in turning their residential property into a certified wildlife habitat, they should know that water is one of the elements required to achieve certification.

Aquascape, with locations in St. Charles and Lisle, offers a number of water features that include “fountainscapes,” “pondless waterfalls” and “ecosystem” ponds.

Aquascape describes a fountainscape as a tabletop fountain, container water garden, stand-alone fountain, bubbling urn, spitter, or fountain that incorporates an in-ground reservoir.

A pondless waterfall is a recirculating waterfall and/or stream without the presence of a pond.

An ecosystem pond includes a balance of aeration, filtration, plants, fish, rocks and gravel. All components must be present in order to be considered an ecosystem since all components interact to keep the pond naturally balanced.

According to Aquascape, “enhanced landscaping improves property value. A pondless waterfall in the front yard provides curb appeal, while a backyard ecosystem pond increases a home’s value much like a patio, deck or gazebo. The sound of a water feature will drown out noise from traffic or neighbors.”

In addition to traditional gardens in the back yard, homeowners today are opting for raised gardens and miniature gardens.

A raised garden is a raised soil bed inside a containment system such as a wooden frame. It is easier to reach than a ground level bed and requires less bending. It also blocks out bugs, offers soil drainage, and is unaffected by ground weeds.

Carol Massat, co-owner of The Growing Place, with locations in both Aurora and Naperville, said miniature gardens feature statues of fairies, elves, trolls and gnomes in a setting designed for their tiny stature.

Garden, mini-style

According to Jennifer Schultz Nelson, horticulture educator with the University of Illinois Extension, “the basic idea of miniature, or fairy, gardening is creating the appearance that tiny fairy creatures have taken up residence in your garden. This is a perfect opportunity to let your creativity run wild and let your inner child have some fun. This is also a great chance for the children in your life, be they friends, grandchildren, or your own children, to be part of the process.”

When it comes to selecting a location, Schultz Nelson said “it should be slightly hidden at the base of a tree or an out of the way corner of the garden to create an element of surprise and discovery for visitors to your garden. Incorporating small plants into the scene increases the feeling that the space is inhabited by tiny fairies.”

“Miniature gardens are a fun activity,” Massat said. “Some people use their whole back yard, but all it takes is a small nook under a tree or a converted sand box.”

“A fairy garden is a chance to rediscover the fun and wonder of gardening,” Schultz Nelson said. “We all know we have a lot of chores in the garden at this time of the year. I highly suggest you throw in some just-for-fun activities like building a fairy garden. You’ll be glad you did.”

Here’s one more tip: Planning is fun, but you might consider some professional guidance. Consider the services offered by your local greenhouse, garden center, tree and shrub farm, or other retailer with multiple product lines, or which might specialize in such landscape elements as concrete, brick and stone work.