Backyards: Making the most of your outdoor space

A beautiful pool on a warm summers day with trees in the distance.
Extending our living space outside has become key for many homeowners. Photo: Roger Willis Pools & Landscapes

By Anita Murray, All Things Home

Our outdoor space has become more important than ever, particularly since the pandemic. We’re cocooning, we’re staycationing, we’re interested in making indoor/outdoor connections and extending our living space to the outside.

With that in mind, All Things Home put together a panel for the recent Ottawa Home & Garden Show to explore the importance of our outdoor space and how to make the most of it. The panel featured Welwyn Wong of Welwyn Wong Landscape Design, Michael Willis of Roger Willis Pools & Landscapes and Lana Doss from Ritchie Feed & Seed.

Here’s an edited excerpt of the talk.

ATH: How much should you spend on your outdoor space? 

Welwyn: A study by Laval University in 1999 looked at homes that had gotten their front yard professionally landscaped versus the same home, in the same neighbourhood, that didn’t. Those that did could fetch 15 to 25 per cent more and they sold faster. That’s been our go-to for clients: unless they really want to spend more, I advise them to try to stick within 15 to 25 per cent of the value of their home. 

ATH: What projects give you a good return on investment or hold their value?

Mike: Curb appeal’s important, so landscaping the front holds its value. Pools — for the right buyer — hold their value, too. And having nice indoor-outdoor living features, fire features, things that are nice for entertaining are also a good idea.

Lana: And trees as well. Trees year over year continually add to the value of your home. Just get some guidance on size and how close to put them around your house.

ATH: Pools became a hot ticket when the pandemic hit. Are they still in big demand?

Mike: For sure. We naturally gravitate to water. And there’s so much you can do with a pool and have a staycation in your backyard. Being able to maximize your space and having multifunctional spaces is also becoming big.

Welwyn: Using natural and classic materials is another. And that relates to what we’re doing with interiors; we tend to then translate that to the exterior. 

Mike: Smaller pools are trendy, simply because many don’t have a big backyard. So, a lot of pools are smaller, with a constant depth and more features incorporated like bench seating and sunken loungers. Plunge pools are also popular; as are fire features. Nothing is nicer at night than having a fire feature illuminate the landscape.

ATH: Not everyone has a big budget, but they want to create impact. What would you suggest?

Welwyn: We all have side yards and the distance between neighbours can be tight. What I sometimes suggest is to get together with your neighbour and do a garden together. You’ll have more room together to do a wider path than you would on your own and it allows you to have plantings on both sides. In this way you can both share the cost and both get to enjoy the effect.

Mike: One easy thing to do is to define your garden edges by using an edging stone, which brings an interesting element to your space but also makes it easy for maintenance — it’s much easier to weed up against a garden barrier or to trim grass. Lighting is a huge feature. We use our outdoor space often in the evening, so doing simple landscape lighting is definitely a good idea. 

Lana: Start by creating a small sitting area where you can enjoy your morning coffee. One that’s easy to do on your own is a small flagstone patio with a bench, maybe a little water feature, an ornamental tree.

ATH: One final question — why are our outdoor spaces important? 

Lana: We are a part of nature but we’ve tried to remove ourselves from nature, so anytime we’re back in it is good. Spending time outside grounds us, it makes us feel a little more “right” and allows us to get that distance from our technology and our chores and just enjoy it.

Welwyn: There are some things in our home that we have to do, like the roof, but what we do outside in our landscapes is like vitamins to us; we don’t necessarily have to have vitamins, but they’re certainly good for our mental health.

Mike: You have to look at your landscape — whether it’s a patio, terrace, fire feature, pool — it’s an extension of your home, it’s really like another room. It’s having that indoor/outdoor approach and that’s so important.

Anita Murray and Patrick Langston are the co-founders of, Ottawa’s go-to resource for homeowners and homebuyers.

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