Adding personality: Containers, water features and other ways to personalize your outdoor spaces

A small waterfalll is seen in a rockgarden in a home backyard in Ottawa
Like other natural elements, water features have a calming effect. Photo courtesy of Beyond the House.

By Anita Murray, All Things Home

Outdoor containers and other “decorations” are a great way to add personality to our outdoor spaces, which are increasingly important as the pandemic continues.

At a panel discussion moderated by All Things Home for the Ottawa Home & Garden Show — when it could still be held — panellists looked at containers, water features and adding personality. 

On the panel

The panellists were:

Ed Hansen, founder and president of Hansen Lawn and Gardens Ltd., established in 1988. He’s also a past president of Landscape Ontario’s Ottawa Chapter.

Mary-Anne Schmitz, founder of Gardening By Design. She has 30+ years’ experience in garden cultivation and outdoor design.

Cindy Cluett, who is so passionate about plants that she left a successful IT career several years ago to become a horticulturist and landscape designer. She runs Beyond the House.

(This is an edited transcript of the panel discussion.)

Water features

All Things Home (ATH): A water feature may not seem like a low-maintenance option, particularly when so many of us want low-maintenance spaces, but there are many benefits of having one. What can you do to lower the maintenance?

Ed: Water features can be tricky. They do require maintenance, but water is an element that I think is important in a backyard because of the calming effect it has. It doesn’t need to be an elaborate, expensive setup, it could be as simple as a $40 tabletop plugin model from Home Depot.

Cindy: I’m a big fan of water features and they’ve come a long way in terms of reducing the amount of maintenance they have. Like the rest of your space, you need to determine if it “works” for you to have a water feature, including the work required to maintain it.

Mary-Anne: There are many kinds of water features you can include, such as pond-less features, water runs, swimming ponds. It’s a real draw to the outside. You can sit there and look at the water and it’s very gratifying.


ATH: Can we explore the appeal of containers?

Cindy: I love them because they can be very simple, but they can also be dramatic with big tropical foliage; they don’t even need to have a lot of flowers. There’s no end to what you can do with containers, just make sure you pick the right plant for the right place, that’s key. And starting with the right soil. Fertilizing with slow-release fertilizer can help keep maintenance down.

Tip: A small container means you have to water often. The bigger you go the less work it is.

Ed: There’s the staging aspect of containers as well. I love that if you’re having a party you can change up the containers and make it feel like the space isn’t the same space people were last at. It’s kind of like swapping out your throw pillows.

Don’t forget about the idea of vegetable garden containers, which are perfect for those who want the idea of a vegetable garden without as much work. They’re perfect for introducing children to vegetable gardening, they’re up off the ground so they’re easier to get at if mobility is an issue, and you can easily see them at eye level if you’re sitting out on the patio. They’re yet another stress reliever.

Mary-Anne: They also make a great way to do your trial and error on a small scale, letting you test things out. Maybe you change them out the next year, position them in different spots. They’re a great way to start off spring.

Adding personality

ATH: What about other ways to add personality or dress up your yard?

Mary-Anne: You can jazz it up, that’s for sure. Add some colour, like painting old tires. It’s a way to add some fun. It’s your space, usually your backyard, so it doesn’t matter what you do, but the colour and the visual element are just one more thing to help bring you outside.

ATH: Is it important to add your own personality?

Mary-Anne: Absolutely, it’s your garden. You have to see a little bit of what you love. A carboy, for instance, it’s just hanging around. Put it outside and move it around next year. That way it’s something you can control yourself.

Cindy: Adding those fun little moments in the garden, they become focal points. So, if the plant isn’t blooming, let’s say you add that blue ladder, it still holds your eye to that area. It’s your garden, so make sure that when you invest that kind of money in doing the space that you’re doing it for yourself.


Anita Murray is former Homes Editor of the Ottawa Citizen and co-founder of, Ottawa’s trusted resource for home buyers and homeowners.

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