A backyard dining space can make a big statement while still fostering intimacy (photo: Cooper & O'Hara)

Summer (Home) Lovin’: Create a Great Outdoor Space

By Janet Gyenes

This season, it’s all about easy living. AMA offers this guide to creating a great outdoor space, so you can better enjoy lazy afternoons in a blooming backyard and evenings of entertaining on a barbecue-ready deck or patio.

There’s no need to envy your neighbours’ green thumbs when it’s so easy to create your own lush oasis!

Start with soil
Great gardens begin with rich, well-drained soil, according Trudy Watt, a horticulturalist at Red Deer’s Parkland Garden Centre. Lacklustre dirt? “You can always add compost,” Watt says. “Peat moss does well here in Alberta.”

Add flower power
New blooms bring fragrant, colourful bliss to your yard. Watt suggests planting tried-and-true petunias, pansies and geraniums—they’re hardy and easy to grow. Zinnias are also summer stunners that come in hot hues. Because these flowers are annuals, they only last for one growing season. The upside: If your fondness for purple petunias fades over the season, simply find a new flame for next year.

great outdoor space flowers
Carefully curated flowers and foliage can add drama to your yard (photos: Cooper & O’Hara)

Opt for ornamental
Flowering trees offer architectural drama, romance and shade. For small yards, Watt recommends the Spring Snow Flowering Crab (a.k.a. the Malus Spring Snow). In full bloom, this crabapple tree is cloaked in showy, fragrant white flowers. And since it doesn’t produce fruit, there’s no mess or animal attractants.

Veg out
Succulent, sun-loving tomatoes are great staples for a vegetable garden (even if they are technically fruits). Herbs are also popular; oregano, basil and chives are heavenly with tomatoes. Add to the mix by planting some reliable greens: “You can get a ton of produce out of a little space if you’re growing leaf lettuce.”

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Less is more
“Grass is so high maintenance,” Watt says. If you want an undemanding garden, it might be time to break up with your lawn. Instead, embrace water-wise plants like stonecrop and hostas. And use practical paving stones, not turf, for your seating area. You won’t need to constantly move furniture or mow the lawn to keep your grounds looking good.

great outdoor space backyard patio paving
Elegant, modern spaces and more rustic, lower-maintenance gardens each have their virtues (photos: Cooper & O’Hara)

Follow our step-by-step guide and you’ll soon be enjoying the Alberta summer (and spring, and fall) even more—in your own beautiful backyard.

Begin with hardscaping
“If you want a deck or patio, hardscaping is where I’d start,” Watt says. Measure the space you plan to use, factoring in elements like pathways and pergolas. Visit a local garden centre, like Parkland, if you need help; landscape architects can help sketch out what suits your space. Want a hot tub? Don’t forget electrical and plumbing considerations.

Identify wants and needs
Once the hardscaping is planned, figure out how much room is left. Then start visualizing your dream space. Says Watt: “I’d also look at things like, do you need some shade? Is there a view you want to block or features you want to hide?”

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Choose materials
There are many different styles of stone to help set the tone for your space. Consider modern, elegant flagstones cut into intricate designs to surround a pool, or rustic paving stones for the patio, where small plants can sprout up between the spaces.

Select furniture
“Think of furniture as a long-term investment and buy the best you can afford,” Watt says. Then consider scale, just as you would inside your home. Go for big, brawny pieces in sprawling gardens. Create an enviable entertaining space with a full-sized table and chairs. Or suspend swing-style seats from a sturdy tree to create an intimate sanctuary. Remember, you’re outside, so be playful!

Set the mood
“Outdoor lighting is a huge trend,” Watt notes. “Especially anything solar powered.” Go for statement pieces (like decorative garden stakes) that can be your focal point, or use more subtle lights to illuminate a pathway. Sculptures—especially metal ones—and carved concrete “rocks” are also on-trend. Self-contained water features add to the visual and aural ambience.

Garden growth for less: Save 10% on select regular-price seed packets, bedding plants, perennials and statuary at Parkland Garden Centre.