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Need Ideas for Your Backyard, Patio or Other Outdoor Living Space? Look Here

By Lisa Hallett Taylor, About.com

At a loss for what you want to do with your backyard or outdoor living space? Are you tired of living in a cookie-cutter environment but don’t know how to subtly break out of the mold? Ready to try something totally new, but not sure where to start?

Follow these ideas to give you ideas on where to go to for inspiration. Have fun!

Watch Some of That Design TV

Here’s a thought — turn on your TV and turn on your inspiration. Sounds like an RCA ad from the 1960s. Much of the cable networks’ weekend programming is dedicated to landscaping and gardening series, where they cover everything from surprise swimming pool makeovers to DIY hardscaping projects like building a deck or repairing a concrete patio. Combining the expertise of contractors, landscape architects or designers and horticulturists, these programs frequently show the elements that need to come together for certain styles of design, like Mediterranean, Cottage, Formal or Tropical. If nothing else, the shows might help educate you on landscape and hardscape design basics.

Browse Through Magazines

The most immediate sources for ideas include magazines, design books or the internet (you’re here, aren’t you?) Chances are good that something will catch your eye or inspire a possible idea for your yard.If you don’t want to drop a small fortune on the many home and garden magazines available, try other ways to get them. Swap or borrow with friends or co-workers. My favorite sources are “Friends of the Library” bookstores, where kindly, usually older, volunteers oversee a small room stuffed with donations. I often find magazines the same month of their publication date, along with vintage landscaping and garden books by Sunset Books. Magazines are usually 10-25 cents; books are usually under a dollar.

It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Photo by Lisa Hallett Taylor
When the magazine thing loses its appeal, get out and stroll through your neighborhood. Scrutizine the landscaping around you: consider tree and shrub choices, annuals and perennials, and anything different, like native grasses or succulents. Besides plants used, look at their arrangements and relationships. Take a look at hardscaping materials like wood, brick or pavers; things like raised planting beds, berms (small hills) and foot-path materials like pea gravel, cedar bark, or decomposed granite (DG). If there’s something that stands out about a neighbor’s yard, try to figure out what that is. Take photos are talk to your neighbor — gardeners love to share their secrets and might send you home with some cuttings.

Or Check Out Someone Else’s ‘Hood

Photo by Lisa Hallett Taylor
If you can’t find any inspirational designs in your own neighborhood, cruise on over to another area with houses and yards you like. Park and take a stroll, checking out the yards and landscaping. Take a small digital camera or use your cellphone’s camera to capture images of features that capture your attention. If anyone asks what you’re doing, tell them you’re with a local real estate office or are scouting for a yard-makeover cable series. Or tell the truth — they’ll probably be flattered. Who knows, they might invite you to look at their backyard, stay for a cocktail, bbq, etc.

Take a Garden Tour or Attend a Home & Garden Show

Photo by Lisa Hallett Taylor
Most of the home and garden tours occur in the spring, but check your local newspaper listings or nursery to find out when and where these tours occur. Many are held by garden clubs and local chapters of gardening and horticulture groups and associations.Home, pool, spa and patio shows are held at convention centers throughout the year. While many are product-heavy, they often hold seminars and feature guest speakers on topics like eco-friendly homes and gardens and small-space landscape design.

Visit Botanical Gardens or Nature Preserves

Photo by Lisa Hallett Taylor
Some of the best ideas or inspirations for redesigning your living area come to you when you get out of your environment for awhile. Visit one of the many botanical gardens, wildlife preserves, nature conservancies or parks that are usually a short drive away from most major cities. While most of us can’t precisely recreate a favorite botanical garden, you can take away with you the feeling of the garden. Make it a fun day trip: pack a picnic, take along a fellow nature lover, wear comfortable shoes and don’t forget your camera. Take photos of architectural and landscape design details, along with features like rocks, stones, walkways, fences, or whatever you find interesting.

Take a Vacation & Open Your Mind

Photo by Lisa Hallett Taylor
Travel is one of the best ways to physically remove yourself from stress and distraction. If you’re lucky enough to do so, use some of your time in a different environment or culture to really observe things beyond the typical tourist attractions. Consider where and how residents live. Take note of local materials used and how they relate to their setting. Does the landscaping seem to naturally blend with the architecture? Look at details, like pathways, gates, mosaics and planters. Again, you’ll want to bring your camera to capture intriguing images along the way. Besides a respite from our everyday lives, traveling helps us look at things in a different light. And that’s when inspiration is ignited.