Top 5 Outdoor Living Design Elements to Make Your Garden Extraordinary

Taking an ordinary garden to extraordinary is rooted in the details. Here is a list of five design elements to consider when creating your own unique outdoor space to help you weed through the many options.

Natives. What if you could have beautiful plants, ideally suited for your planting region that require little to no maintenance at all? You can. It is called nativescaping. Native plants are evolved to grow in your region’s weather conditions, which means that once they are established they don’t need watering and require very little maintenance. Many native plants tend to be larger and not as showy as their ornamental cultivars but they are tough, long lasting and can be used in all types of gardens. A sprinkling of natives can help your garden stand out from the neighbor’s and help educate people how to incorporate these plants into their own landscape.

Color. In any garden, color is one of the most important design elements. Whether it is an abundance of color in flowering plants or a sea of green, it’s important to take all of the colors into consideration. The majority of a garden’s color theme comes from the chosen plants. There is also the option of using alternative color items: furniture cushions and garden art. These items can add another dimension to your garden, especially while your plants aren’t blooming or don’t have a lot of interest. Beautiful cushions or a colorful birdbath can repeat the bloom colors you have in the surrounding garden if you have a large patio. By adding garden art, you complement the surrounding plants and give a pop of color all year round. These details can make a garden your own.

Water and water features are always an interesting element to add to any landscape. The sense of tranquility they provide within your outdoor space appeals to three of the five senses: sight, sound and touch. Incorporating a water feature into your garden doesn’t have to be a hassle; it can be as simple as a small stand-alone fountain placed on a salvaged wrought-iron table. Placed near the front entrance of your home, the soothing sounds of trickling water can serve to welcome your guests upon their arrival. Water features can also be the elaborate focal point of your design. From waterfalls and streams to koi ponds and reflecting pools. Whatever the size of your project, water can be utilized to create visual appeal and stimulate the senses.

Structures worked into a space can make any landscape feel luxurious and special. Gardens throughout the ages have used prominent structures to add form and function to their designs. Climbing vine ascending a trellis provides visual appeal of increased height. Or shade yielding pergola gives architectural beauty. Structures reflect the style of a garden and help tie the entire space together as a complete outdoor room.

Sustainable and eco-friendly products are hot, hot, hot! While it is trendy to be green, there is a great deal of practicality in searching out alternative products that are better for the environment. There are many options to make your yard or garden more eco-friendly. Consider permeable pavers if you are planning on building a patio or walkway. They help replenish the groundwater supply by allowing water to drain through the surface as opposed to running off into your city’s sewer systems. Fertilizer and pesticide treatments introduced various organic options void of the harsh chemicals found in traditional products. Additionally, you can start a compost bin to create your own free garden soil or install a rain barrel on your downspouts to collect free rainwater. These green options often act as a conversation piece with guests or neighbors.

What are your favorite outdoor living features?


Kathy Richardson is landscape designer with clients in the Chicago area. She holds a bachelor’s of science in horticulture with a specialization in landscape design from the University of Illinois. Richardson’s projects have received recognition from PLANET, Illinois Landscape Contractors Association and Unilock while also winning local and national awards. She has been designing landscapes for more than 10 years, mostly focusing on residential properties. She has been featured in many local and national media including Landscape Architect and Specifier, West Suburban Living magazine, Chicagoland Gardening and Total Landscape Care magazine. Richardson is active with local associations and is the chairperson for the awards committee with the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association. In her free time, she volunteers with a local community theater, gardens, experiments with photography and spends time with her family. Contact Kathy at