TORONTO - It's a party spot, play area and private retreat rolled into one — all nestled within the cosy confines of home.
And with the arrival of warmer weather, many will be inclined to spend time revelling in their outdoor oasis, adding incentive to spruce up their backyard, patio, porch or balcony for summer.
But whether you're entertaining, child-minding, curling up with a good read or settling in for a snooze, giving your exterior space a stylish seasonal makeover can be accomplished without busting your budget.
"Say you have your big box store patio set and it has really neutral seat cushions on them and you don't want to change them? You could make a few throw cushions — and you definitely don't have to be a seamstress to do it."
Story continues below slideshow: 10 tips for creating the perfect garden:
Easy Colour Coordination
"One of the biggest challenges that many gardeners face is what colours and plants go together? Visit your local Garden Centre and look for combination planters that are specifically developed to make it so easy to colour coordinate your entire backyard. Simply take these and plant them into containers, window boxes or in the garden. The plants and the colours work incredibly well together and provide non-stop coordination all season long."
"Everyone loves to watch hummingbirds as they hover in the garden. We discovered an incredible "hummingbird magnet" at the California Spring Trials last year. Hummingbirds love bright red flowers and, of course, fragrance. As a matter of fact, when we were in the greenhouse looking at the display plants, there were actually three hummingbirds going from bloom to bloom on the plants."
The Lived-In Look
"When it comes to furnishings, consider old patio furniture or weather-resistant indoor furniture. If pieces are mismatched, all the better -- the point is to go for an eclectic, casual look. Benches and rocking chairs are a great touch and very affordable. Add outdoor cushions in vivid colours and prints to all the seats."
Set The Tables
"Old tables can be easily adjusted to better suit your outdoor area. Table legs can be cut down and lowered to a more comfortable height for playing games or enjoying refreshments. Plastic tables can be draped with a pretty floral tablecloth and wooden tables can be unevenly sanded to create that great distressed look."
"Proper lighting is essential for entertaining on summer evenings and creating the perfect ambiance for your garden getaway. Light from candles, lamps or a solar illuminated planters are available at an affordable price and provide a splash of colour."
Define Your Space
"You'll need to put up "walls" to make it feel just like a room. Use part of your fence, big potted plants, a trellis or simply arrange furniture to create privacy and separation. Also, lay down patio tiles or an outdoor rug to define your "floor" and further separate your room from the yard."
Planters In Minutes
"Here's a little secret that I use when planting up my planters at home. I have a lot of planters in clay, fibreglass and concrete and instead of buying individual plants and doing all the work of planting them all together, I pick up some hanging baskets in my favourite colours. Then I remove the hangers and take them out of the basket (you can do this really easily by carefully turning the basket upside down and removing the plastic basket. Then I simply drop the root-ball into my planters, add more fresh soil to fill and presto! -- you're done. And there's no waiting for individual small plants to grow larger and fill in -- your planters will look professionally done in minutes."
"One of the great new trends in gardening is adding a tropical flavour to decks, patios and balconies. We've got just the ticket with our new Tropical Plant Collection. These come in a tree-shape and the leaves are a glossy dark green, but the real joy comes from the beautiful, heavy fragrance of the gardenia flowers! Imagine sitting out on your patio next to one of these plants in the evening as you enjoy the refreshment of cool summer air -- there's nothing like it."
Don't Let All Of Your Hard Work Go To Waste
"Here's an insider tip to keep those pesky animals away from your beautiful garden: to deter large mammals or rodents from a particular area one can use a mixture of black pepper corns and cayenne pepper as a soil surface dust. When applied to the soil surface this becomes an eye and nose irritant to rodents or mammals that may be snooping around that area of the garden."
Make a Big Impression
"Liven up your garden with some easy to grow plants that, although they might start small at the beginning of the season, reward you with huge results. My favourite is the PC Super Gigantico Dragon Wing Begonia. I planted these in my planters last year and in a matter of a few weeks, they were massive -- they finished up the season almost 3 ½ feet to 4 feet tall! And they were covered with flowers right up until frost."
Furfaro said standard pillow forms can be covered with outdoor fabrics which are water and UV-resistant and have a stiffer feel to them. What's more, such fabrics are currently available in far more varieties and prints than previously, with a range of rich hues and geometric prints on offer, he noted.
Outdoor fabric can also be used to craft an outdoor canopy in the form of a shade sail, noted Heidi Richter, stylist on the HGTV series "Decked Out."
"If you have some basic sewing skills, you can sew yourself a nice big either triangle or square," she said. "If you already have a fence on both sides of your yard, it's very easy to attach a shade sail to your fence to use as your braces."
It's key to position the shade sail on a steep enough angle so that water will drip off the end rather than pool inside, she noted. Don't have a fence? Do-it-yourselfers can purchase four-foot (1.2-metre) spikes at a local build-it centre to support four-by-four posts, she added.
Cushions and shade sails aren't the only way to crank up colour. Dishware and table linens are another alternative — particularly for those with fickle fashion tastes.
"If you love blue this year, fantastic. If you decide a year from now you want to go for orange, it's a very cost-effective way to switch up the entire look with something like the cutlery or the napkins or the toss pillows," said Richter. Beverage dispensers, charcoal grills and lanterns are also available in colourful hues, she noted.
Aside from gingham, she is seeing more bold botancials and graphic patterns emerging in summer fabrics.
"You forget how much larger people's outdoor spaces are than inside their homes," said Richter, who owns Toronto design and project management company HR Design Inc. "Sometimes you need a larger pattern to carry that larger space."
If you don't regularly flex your green thumb or want something more low-maintenance, Richter suggests settling on one choice of plant to add pop to your space. Filling a pot with petunias all in one colour offers a great, bold statement, she noted.
Another option is to consider housing multiple plants in one container.
"You can have a nice big pot, you can have a taller plant in there, but you can also intermix your herbs in the same pot," said Richter. "You can put the basil and oregano in there, so you get the aromas — which is nice — but you also get the visual interest in the very tall plants."
For those who own a home, Furfaro suggests making investments in fixed objects such as fences and decks. For condo owners with balconies, flooring is key.
Furfaro said there are a number of different wooden systems featuring floor tiles from lower-priced interlocking systems to more expensive versions like Designer Deck which is fashioned from natural wood or recycled plastic resembling wood.
"Invest in those permanent things that will raise the value of your home," Furfaro said.
"If you rent, you should spend the money on the things you can take with you," he added, such as cushions and furniture. "When you do have the space, you have all that stuff with you already."
Furfaro said assembling a good room is much like piecing together an outfit, and styling your backyard or balcony should follow the same fundamental principles. As such, individuals will want to select items that will flatter the space as they would their body, so it's important to look at the shape, scale and size of items.
Furfaro sometimes has clients take him to their closets to point out favourite articles of clothing to get a sense of their personal style.
"It shouldn't be about executing what you see in a magazine. It should just be about getting the perfect combination of the space itself — so your home and your style — and it should meet somewhere in the middle."
He suggests if you have spots for indoor pieces in your outdoor space, consider bringing them into the mix — provided they will be protected.
Free My Interior worked on a client's balcony where they brought a console table designed for use indoors onto the balcony in a place that would be unaffected by the weather.
Around the base of the wall outside, there was a thick cement band that was painted white to conjure the feeling of baseboards. They also found a clearance outlet selling teak outdoor furniture and were able to find a bench, four dining chairs and a lounge chair for $500.
"Don't break the bank to do it, but create a space that you love for those three or four months a year," said Furfaro. "This can be your own private oasis."