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Landscaping Ideas: 10 Luxuries Worth the Splurge

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Landscaping Ideas: 10 Luxuries Worth the Splurge

April 30, 2019

A landscaping project can get expensive fast. But many landscaping elements that feel costly up front can save money in the long run. A good rule of thumb, whether designing an outdoor space from scratch or undertaking a minor project, is to spend money on permanence: invest in quality hardscape materials to give a garden good bones.

Last week we shared our secrets for sticking to a budget, in 10 Ways to Save Money on a Garden Remodel. Now, the flip side: 10 things worth spending money on (culled from the Expert Advice chapter in our new Gardenista book):

Photography by Matthew Williams for Gardenista except where noted.

1. Masonry.

Designers (and siblings) Ramin and Pam Shamshiri added curb appeal to a 1920s Hollywood garden with reclaimed ceramic patterned tile on a stucco facade and redbrick detailing on an entry stairway.
Above: Designers (and siblings) Ramin and Pam Shamshiri added curb appeal to a 1920s Hollywood garden with reclaimed ceramic patterned tile on a stucco facade and redbrick detailing on an entry stairway.

“Stone and brickwork are big-ticket items, but masonry retaining walls, terraces, steps, and paths add timeless beauty to a landscape,” writes Jean Victor, the chapter on Expert Advice: Garden Design in our new Gardenista book. “They also give your garden good bones throughout the seasons.”

2. A Master Plan

Photograph courtesy of My Garden School. For more, see Garden Design: Learning to Plant the Piet Oudolf Way.
Above: Photograph courtesy of My Garden School. For more, see Garden Design: Learning to Plant the Piet Oudolf Way.

Avoid the expensive mistakes that can accompany a slapdash approach to a project. Hire a garden designer or landscape architect to help you create a master plan for the garden you envision having in five years, “then use that as a road map to work toward in phases, as your budget allows,” says Jean Victor.

3. A Great View

In Los Angeles, an edible garden is sited to take advantage of the views.
Above: In Los Angeles, an edible garden is sited to take advantage of the views.

If something is blocking your view—overgrown hedges or a poorly sited tree, for instance—pay to transplant or remove the obstacle. Consider burying power lines to get them out of your sightline.

4. Quality Materials

Black cantera stone pavers are set in a herringbone pattern and “grouted” with plugs of turf grass to create a permeable patio to surround a swimming pool in Los Angeles.
Above: Black cantera stone pavers are set in a herringbone pattern and “grouted” with plugs of turf grass to create a permeable patio to surround a swimming pool in Los Angeles.

Natural materials—such as stone, iron, and hardwoods—will last longer and “may even be enhanced by the elements,” says Jean Victor. “Some woods mellow to a silvery gray over time, metals acquire a patine, and stone takes on a veil of moss.”

5. Craftsmanship

A tiled courtyard in Los Angeles is an indoor-outdoor dining room.
Above: A tiled courtyard in Los Angeles is an indoor-outdoor dining room.

“Building anything well requires careful attention to detail, whether it’s laying flagstone on a patio, forming concrete for a retaining wall, or sinking fence posts,” notes Jean.

6. Soil Preparation

Photograph by Erin Boyle.
Above: Photograph by Erin Boyle.

Before you plant, prepare the soil. Have it tested to determine your soil type: loamy, sandy, or clay. Then add compost or soil amendments as necessary. If you have toxins in your soil (for instance, high lead levels), replacing it may be a less costly option than trying to correct deficiencies.

7. A Specimen Tree

Garden designer had mature ficus trees “limbed up” to create graceful silhouettes in a tiled courtyard garden in Los Angeles.
Above: Garden designer had mature ficus trees “limbed up” to create graceful silhouettes in a tiled courtyard garden in Los Angeles.

A mature specimen tree is undoubtedly expensive (with price tags in the thousands of dollars for some sizes and varieties). But, writes our contributor Kristen Grannan, “Well-sited and smartly selected specimen trees seemingly can do it all. They can add intimacy, age, or personality to a landscape. A large tree can bring instant gratification and make a garden feel as if it has always been there.:

8. Privacy

Artist Stan Bitters’s clay wind chimes act as a screen to create privacy in a covered side porch in Los Angeles.
Above: Artist Stan Bitters’s clay wind chimes act as a screen to create privacy in a covered side porch in Los Angeles.

A beautiful fence or hedge to create privacy in a garden can lend serenity to a space. Invest in a well-designed, high-quality wooden fence or choose shrubs (such as boxwoods) that are evergreen.

9. Fire and Heat

A tall, narrow fireplace with a tiled mural by sculptor Stan Bitters develops a glossy ebony patina from smoke (and is easily washed off).
Above: A tall, narrow fireplace with a tiled mural by sculptor Stan Bitters develops a glossy ebony patina from smoke (and is easily washed off).

“Install an exterior heat source to keep your patio or deck comfortable when cool temperatures try to chase you inside,” says Jean Victor. “You can keep a space toasty by tucking radiant heaters in a  trellis overhead.”

10. A Gorgeous Piece of Furniture

A vintage sofa with cushions upholstered with outdoor fabric will stand up to the elements in a Los Angeles courtyard.
Above: A vintage sofa with cushions upholstered with outdoor fabric will stand up to the elements in a Los Angeles courtyard.

“Worth the splurge:  an outdoor sofa as comfortable as the one in your living room,” says Jean.

Teak furniture or a stone tabletop is expensive, but will in the long run save money because you won’t have to replace it every year or two.

Redesigning a patio, deck, or other outdoor space? See our curated design guides for Decks & Patios 101 in our Garden Design 101 archives. Considering a splurge? See:

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