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Landscaping: How to get the most bang for your buck

If you’re thinking of selling your home or just want to splurge on a new look, a little landscaping can go a long way.

“With real estate, it’s location, location, location, but what comes to mind next is curb appeal,” says Joseph G. Morello of Toronto’s Premier Landscaping and Design Ltd. “It’s what people are attracted to at first glance.”

Calgary’s Ron Jones, owner of Ananda Landscapes, says that a client attributed the sale of his home to his revamped back yard and garden. It came complete with a tiered cedar deck, custom-made opaque glass privacy screens, a fire bowl within an open-beam pergola, a koi pond with plants in the water, trees around the lot’s perimeter, and tiered flower beds. The home sold for its asking price in a depressed market after three offers on the first day it was listed.

“You want to create a lifestyle,” Jones says. “You can put two or three trees in a yard but it might not be a place you want to spend time with your friends.”

Here are several experts’ tips to boost a property’s appearance:

Plan ahead
“Whether it’s a design or a list of to-dos, the most important thing is to start with a plan,” says Chris O’Donohue, president of Vancouver’s Great Canadian Landscaping Company Ltd. “Figure out your wants and needs.” One way to get ideas is to clip pictures from magazines or take photos of yards and gardens you like.

Establish a budget
Keep in mind that revamping your yard might call for the installation of a gas line (for a barbecue or fire pit) and electrical work (for outdoor lighting). “Once you have a budget you can come up with a design that works or you might realize the dream is too big,” O’Donohue says. “Maybe you have $10,000 to spend but everything you want is going to cost $30,000. It’s better to establish this all at the start, step-by-step.”

Treat the back yard as an extension of the home. “This gives the house a lot more value and you can emphasize outdoor use,” Morello says. “The big theme these days is all about entertaining: outdoor kitchens, built-in barbecues, good size patios with club chairs and loungers, and fire pits.”
Don’t spend too much on the sides of the house. “These are rarely seen. But make sure they’re neat and tidy,” Morello says.

Consider cost-cutting materials
“Generally, interlocking paving stone, stamped concrete, and exposed aggregate are less expensive per square foot of installation than natural stone on a rigid or flexible base,” says Vera Bedard of Vancouver’s Bedard Landscape Design.

“Sometimes the right answer for a seldom used side of the house is a rock dust passageway bordered with river rock set on landscape fabric. This would be very cost-efficient because the materials are lower in price per ton and the installation can occur quickly.

“If these lower-cost materials suit the area and intended use, then they can be great options to reduce the install price. Native boulders can make great retaining walls if planned out properly.”

Don’t overdo it
“Generally, it’s not a great idea to combine too many materials in the same space,” Bedard says. “If the design has one type of stone veneer on the house, another stone veneer on the raised foundation planters, and a very different stone look on the walkway, the finished look can be too busy or jarring. Colour is the great unifier, though. In some cases even these opposing materials can go well together if the colours are in the same tones or the design really pulls these elements together.”

Take traffic flow into account
“The main front walkway should never be two feet wide and you should never place the outdoor dining table and chairs too close to the back door because this makes the spaces uncomfortable to use,” Bedard says.

Install up-to-date paving
“Whether it’s brick pavers or natural stone pathways, walkways should be level and clean, not 10 to 15 years old with dips and cracks,” Morello says.

Make your beds
“People don’t like seeing dry soil and weeds growing out of it,” Morello notes. “There should be a good mix of some trees, evergreens, flowering shrubs and perennials. Play up the seasons a bit; in summer get a lot of annuals and tropicals in there; if it’s spring, make sure there are flowering bulbs.”

Think vertical
“Rocks, small walls, and pillars introduce vertical elements that can be softened by planting,” Morello notes. “This creates a lot more interest than a flat lawn.”
Consider the soothing sound of water. “People like pondless waterfalls, koi ponds, gurgling rocks,” Jones says. “It creates a really nice mood.”

Turn on the night lights
“Night lighting works 12 months of the year, and is even more important in wintertime than summer because it gets dark at 4:30,” Jones says.

“You can come home in a blizzard in Calgary and the whole place looks like winter wonderland, with trees, pergolas, and bushes lit up. From a security point of view, having the yard lit up even when you’re not home makes it feel like there’s a presence there. With mood lighting it feels like you’re in a resort.”

Think twice about that large spruce tree in the front yard
“It looks nice in the wintertime with Christmas tree lights on it, but the police don’t like it — it’s a security problem because a villain can hide behind the tree and be out of sight from the street,” Jones says.

Be mindful of local rules
“Every jurisdiction has bylaws related to plantings, so be sure what you’re doing is permissible,” Jones says. Avoid using shrubs to hide fire hydrants and utility boxes, which need to be easily accessible.