As Americans try to maximize the space of their existing homes, they're increasingly looking outside to create new, rejuvenating places.
"More people are realizing that home begins when you set foot on your property, not just when you enter your front door," says garden designer Julie Moir Messervy, author of Home Outside: Creating the Landscape You Love (Taunton Press). "You can think of your outside as an extension of the inside."
An outdoor living/grilling area ranked as the third-highest priority space, after a separate laundry room and additional closets/storage, in a recent survey of 4,000 readers by Better Homes and Gardens magazine.
Clients see the outdoors as another room of their home, says Josh Baker of BOWA, a high-end remodeling firm in the Washington, D.C., area. He says he does "a lot of pools and other outdoor areas" to create a resort feel.
Messervy says homeowners want not only an "outside away room" to relax and entertain but also — in a new push toward "homesteading" — a spot to raise vegetables and livestock.
"People are keeping chickens even in Boston and Cambridge (Mass.), where many of our projects are," and others are keeping bees on flat roofs, Messervy says. "The definition of curb appeal has changed."
"Our editors predict an even bigger boom in home food gardens," Better Homes and Gardens says in its overview of 2012 garden trends. Many homeowners have limited space, so it expects more will grow food on rooftops and vertical lattices, or plantsmall-space fruit trees such as the Urban Columnar Apple series that's less than 2 feet wide.
Just as interior spaces are getting cozier, homeowners also expect smaller, more intimate outdoor rooms — rather than the multilevel deck — and container gardens using colorful, varied and repurposed materials.
To guide the iPhone crowd, Messervy has launched the Home Outside Design app, which allows users to experiment with different yard ideas. Other apps include iScape and HardScape.
Other garden trends:
•Privacy. "People want privacy," says Messervy, who recommends using hedges to create outdoor "rooms."
Cecilia Palmer, who works at Shade Tree Farm in Sudley Springs, Va., says there's a lot of interest in screening trees that are tall and fast-growing, such as hollies and theGreen Giant arborvitae.
•Grills and firepits. As homeowners remain budget conscious, firepits are replacing fireplaces as a less expensive, cozier option. Similarly, Messervy says she sees more portable grills and fewer outdoor kitchens.
•Accessories. She also notes more interest in personalizing yards with accessories such as birdhouses, fountains, hanging planters, window boxes, large stones, wind chimes and kinetic sculptures that turn in the wind.
•Native plantings/grasses. "A lot of people have shade and don't know what to do with it," says Palmer, who recommends they intersperse perennials with tall grasses. She says such grasses, sages and ferns are durable and deer-resistant.
"I see a lot of grasses," because they're hardy, inexpensive, divide easily and provide height plus movement (as the wind blows), Messervy says. She also sees more native plantings, which she says attract insects and thus, birds.
To minimize water use, homeowners are turning from traditional turf grass to groundcovers such as sedum, drought-tolerant plants such as succulents, and hardscaping.
•Pea gravel/water barrels/clothes lines. Eco-minded homeowners on a budget are using pea gravel in lieu of bricks or pavers to hardscape their patios. At about $4 per square foot, pea gravel is permeable, so it reduces runoff by allowing rainwater to percolate.
To also help storm-water management, garden clubs and local governments are offering workshops that show people how to make rain barrels for irrigating their yards. Cisterns, which can also be plumbed to flush toilets, tend to be larger, costlier and subterranean.
In some places, Messervy says people are saving energy by again drying their clothes outside. She adds: "There's a tremendous sensibility out there about living lightly."