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Home and Garden

Create an outdoor oasis in a weekend

A niche with plants, accessories and seating doesn't have to break the bank or your back.

Published April 6, 2007


Except for a few searing summer weeks, most Floridians are lucky enough to enjoy outdoor living year round.

Unless you're blessed with a green thumb or a yen for decorating, the idea of personalizing an outdoor living space on the cheap can seem daunting.

But the truth is, creating your own outdoor sanctuary can be accomplished in just a weekend for as much - or little - as you choose to spend.

Just a little effort and elbow grease applied to a frowsy courtyard, patio or side yard will reap rewards year round. You'll get more use out of the space and enjoy the Florida weather.

"It's really a way to escape to the outdoors, especially for many of us who live in cookie-cutter houses without a lot of yard space," says Kelby Reed, a landscape architect and owner of Reed's Landscaping in New Port Richey.

"It's a nice way to invite yourself into areas of your home where you don't spend much time."

Adding certain touches can lend immediate zing, Reed says. A fountain is a "simple fix" for a drab space, especially something that is small and electric and doesn't use much water.

He also advises adding color through colorful glazed pots. Deep blue is always a good choice.

He recommends planting inexpensive colorful annuals that cost just a few dollars from a local garden center. Put mulch in the bottom half of the pot and fill the rest with potting soil to keep it lightweight and mobile. Pretty annual flowers can be replaced every few weeks with minimal effort.

"They cost $5 to $15 a tray and you can just put them right in the pots," he says. "It's the best way to reduce maintenance and dress up an area."

He suggests looking carefully at the surface of your outdoor living area. Consider replacing sod with flagstone, crushed shell or pea gravel. A bistro table and chairs and a pretty all-weather rug also add a feeling of elegance and comfort, says Reed, who has also served as a consultant to the Wesley Chapel Garden Center.

Creating a nice outdoor retreat can be easily achieved in a weekend and should be easy and enjoyable.

Start the process as if you were planning an indoor room, says Lowe's spokeswoman Jennifer Wilson. Consider using outdoor rugs that have the texture of sisal or bamboo.

"If you're starting from scratch and want low maintenance, think about using gravel that's easy to maintain," Wilson says. "Incorporate stepping stones and pavers."

If planting in pots or containers, she adds, think about combining herbs with annuals so that your creation not only looks good but is functional.

Next, think in terms of walls. An easy way to do that in a day is to install a trellis or arbor, giving an outdoor living space definition.

A garden focal point is also a must.

And you don't have to spend lots of money or time building a pond or outdoor water feature. Instead, think in terms of cast fountains, rock fountains and bamboo fountains that are easy. Accessories like statues, weather-proof screens, even weather-proof clocks and artwork aren't expensive and add a touch of individuality to any outdoor area.

Look for seating that will hold up, Wilson advises. Weatherproof cushions are a plus.

And don't forget about the value of scent.

David Nicely, owner of the Garden Center at 4005 S MacDill Ave., suggests sweet-smelling honeysuckle, confederate jasmine or a plant called "yesterday, today and tomorrow."

Herbs are also a terrific source of scent, he says.

"Rosemary smells really good and does well if you have a lot of sun," he explains. He also suggests growing some lemon thyme, English thyme, cilantro or mint. His center carries a variety of mint plants including chocolate, orange and pineapple.

For a quick and easy splash of color, consider "potted blooming things," Nicely says.

You can even go hot pink.

"With the high heat and drought, bougainvillea has a lot of color right now," he says. "No scent, but a lot of color."

Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at

Fast Facts:


The outdoor sanctuary

Creating or sprucing up an outdoor living space doesn't have to be a huge or costly undertaking.

A small fountain adds immediate visual interest as well as soothing sounds.

Consider purchasing large, colorful pots and planting inexpensive annuals that can be replaced with minimal effort.

A bistro table and chairs offers a new place to read the paper and drink your coffee in the morning.

Don't forget accessories like a garden statue, wind chimes or artwork.

Scent adds a sensory touch that shouldn't be overlooked. Fresh herbs smell good in the garden and serve the cook well.


[Last modified April 5, 2007, 07:24:05]

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