Moving the Party Outdoors

Independence Day is probably my favorite holiday. Not only does it take place during the beautiful summer months—I prefer the heat to cold—but there’s also no pressure to give someone the perfect gift. July 4 is all about sun, fun, barbecuing, and celebrating our nation’s independence with family and friends.

This year I’ll be heading back to my hometown in Iowa to share in the annual festivities with my family, which has grown a bit since my two brothers and I lived in my parents’ house. I now have a sister-in-law and an adorable almost-two-year-old niece. My parents’ kitchen, which is where we all seem to gather, quickly becomes chaotic, and my mom finds it easier to order us out than accept our assistance. And when extended family comes over, forget about it. Everyone immediately abandons the house for the yard, which gives my mom the opportunity to show off her latest plant additions, and my dad and brothers can get in touch with their inner caveman and throw meat on the grill and, as night falls, stoke the fire pit.

Americans have made the great outdoors an extension of their homes since long before 1776, and that trend will continue according to a recent survey by the American Society of Landscape Architects, Washington, D.C. The 2012 Residential Landscape Architecture Trends survey found that 91.5 percent of residential landscape architects who responded think outdoor living spaces will continue to be at least somewhat or very popular. Among the outdoor living features ranked the highest were grills (97.4 percent); fire pits/fireplaces (95.8 percent); lighting (93.1 percent); installed seating, like benches, seat walls, ledges and steps (86.9 percent); and weatherized outdoor furniture (81.2 percent). It’s good to see my parents are in vogue!

The survey also found low-maintenance landscapes are preferred (96.6 percent); in fact, native plants (86.3 percent) and xeriscaping (64.3 percent) ranked fairly high. My mother’s yard is a bit more labor-intensive, but, to her, it’s a labor of love.

Outdoor structures, like terraces, patios and decks earned 95.7 percent of the “somewhat” or “very popular” votes. I found it interesting that spa features, like hot tubs and Jacuzzis, and swimming pools received a lot of “somewhat” or “very popular” votes—80.4 percent and 79.2 percent, respectively. I’ll share these results in particular with my parents and see what they think about adding a hot tub and/or pool for next year’s July 4 celebration. Surely, my brothers, sister-in-law and I can convince them to add one of these features to the yard. It will keep us out of the kitchen!

What outdoor living features are the most popular among your clients?