Outdoor living is here again!

By Patrick Langston

Summer will be here before we know it, so we’ve asked five experts for the lowdown on outdoor living trends. Their suggestions will help you get ready for those long, lovely days and nights ahead.

The green, green grass of home (and hardscaping).

Artificial turf is moving from the sports stadium to the backyard, according to Ken Merkley of Merkley Supply, which supplies masonry and landscaping products to contractors and homeowners alike. Remarkably lifelike, the turf is resilient, doesn’t stain, costs as little as $2.50 a square foot, and, best of all, never needs cutting, watering or fertilizing.

“You can put a small putting green in; I did in my backyard. And I don’t own a lawnmower anymore,” says Merkley.

For hardscaping, Merkley says large pavers, not small ones, are now the big seller. Smooth textures are most popular: They’re easy on bare feet, tables balance well on them, and they suit our ardour for sleek, modern design.

Outdoor lighting is also big. “It enhances your backyard. It makes it much more relaxing to sit out at night and finishes up the project quite nicely.”

Softscaping goes lush again

Busy lives mean low-maintenance gardens have been all the rage over the past few years, but Stephanie Scott of Yards Unlimited says that’s changing.

“We’re starting to see the comeback of lush gardens again on a lower-maintenance level because they put oxygen in the air and help regulate the temperature in outdoor living spaces. In the past few years, all the plants have been taken out and it’s all stones and pavers and a couple of plants. That makes it really hot.”

Edible plants and container gardening are also growing in popularity, says Scott.

She’s also seeing the emergence of interesting geometric hardscaping patterns, including chevron and herringbone designs. Scott says low-water landscaping and smart irrigation systems, like those controlled from a smartphone, are also taking off.

Spaces big and small

A small backyard needn’t stop you from maximizing outdoor living.

In limited spaces, products like fire tables can do double duty as both casual dining tables and the centrepiece of a conversation area, says Jesse Campbell of The Fireplace Centre & Patio Shop. As products like this have caught on, he says he’s selling fewer traditional outdoor dining sets.

For condo owners with limited balcony space, he suggests something like Jensen’s gateleg chair and table set ($1,710) made of tough, attractive Ipé hardwood. Heavy enough not to blow away in a high wind, the chairs fold up for easy storage and the round table’s drop-down sides means it fits almost anywhere.

Sling-style patio furniture without cushions is popular for larger spaces, and the durability of higher-quality lines makes it well-suited to Ottawa’s changeable climate. “We see it a lot around pools because it’s quick to dry,” says Campbell.

Good food and a cosy ambience

Outdoor living means outdoor cooking, and for that, versatile smokers like the Big Green Egg are on trend, according to Clive Badcoe of Harding The Fireplace in Carp. They can be run at very low heat for smoking meat and other food, turned up to bake (even cakes, he says), and then cranked for high-temperature grilling and searing.

Badcoe prefers ceramic smokers like the Big Green Egg to steel ones, in part because he says they last for decades, making the cost ($900 and up, although the Saffire ceramic line is a bit less) more of an investment than an outlay.

Looking to stay cosy on chilly summer evenings? Badcoe suggests an outdoor gas fireplace rather than fire tables and pits, which he says are more for atmosphere than heat. Expect to pay $5,600 and up plus framing and finishing for a good, installed stainless steel fireplace.

No matter what you’re buying, “What you want to look for mostly is the warranty.” For example, a good-quality barbeque will often carry a ten-year warranty and last far longer than that.

Pools: Minimalism, automation and energy efficiency

Considering an outdoor pool for Ottawa’s steamy summers?

“The trend for the last few years has been more minimalistic – straight, clean lines,” says Shawn Benson of Campbell Pools.

It’s a design decision that accords with more contemporary architecture in our homes and, often, our gardens.

Benson says automation and energy-efficiency are also key factors in pool selection. Monitoring and controlling water temperature with a smartphone, for example, means you can leave the pool heater off all day and then fire it up just before heading home from work. A modern, large heater of up to 250,000 BTUs will do the trick quickly and efficiently and cost only a couple of hundred dollars more than a smaller unit.

A variable-speed pump will also radically reduce your energy costs.

Roughly $50,000 for a pool and related landscaping is par for the course, he says. Just be careful who you hire: Ask friends for recommendations, phone references and be wary of any contractor who doesn’t know what the municipal permit process is.