Create your own garden oasis

Ray and Chris Jacob at their home in Westmont.

These days, perhaps more than ever, our homes have become our havens. They’re the places we feel the safest when our world is not as secure as it once was.

For many, spending so much time at home during the pandemic brought about changes. Some decided to buy new houses that met their COVID-19 requirements. Others made improvements to their homes – creating spaces for offices or classrooms, putting in gyms or just dedicating an area for arts and crafts or putting together jigsaw puzzles.

 

Now, as the long winter is becoming a distant memory, many people are looking forward to spending time outdoors – a lot of time outdoors.

So now might be the time to create your own little garden oasis. 

Derek Matthews, of Tussey Mountain Mulch Landscape Center in Hollidaysburg, says he has seen a distinct uptick in business since the start of the pandemic. “People are more interested in outdoor living since COVID-19,” he says. “We are up probably 80 percent than what we normally are.”

Dustin Camblin, project manager, estimator and designer with Milkie’s Lawn & Garden Center in Johnstown, agrees. “It seems like everyone is putting money back into their homes, especially with COVID-19,” he says. “People aren’t traveling as much. They are looking to be outside, around the house.”

or many, spending so much time at home during the pandemic brought about changes. Some decided to buy new houses that met their COVID-19 requirements. Others made improvements to their homes – creating spaces for offices or classrooms, putting in gyms or just dedicating an area for arts and crafts or putting together jigsaw puzzles.

Now, as the long winter is becoming a distant memory, many people are looking forward to spending time outdoors – a lot of time outdoors.

So now might be the time to create your own little garden oasis.

 


 

Derek Matthews, of Tussey Mountain Mulch Landscape Center in Hollidaysburg, says he has seen a distinct uptick in business since the start of the pandemic. “People are more interested in outdoor living since COVID-19,” he says. “We are up probably 80 percent than what we normally are.”

Dustin Camblin, project manager, estimator and designer with Milkie’s Lawn & Garden Center in Johnstown, agrees. “It seems like everyone is putting money back into their homes, especially with COVID-19,” he says. “People aren’t traveling as much. They are looking to be outside, around the house.”

Chris and Ray Jacob of Westmont started work on their beautiful backyard several years ago and have been enjoying their efforts ever since. Their property, on a corner lot, gets lots of attention from passersby and was the site for last summer’s Gallery on Gazebo Garden Party.

While Ray did some of the initial work himself, the majority of the landscaping was done by Tussey Mountain.

Jacob says the backyard transformation came about over the past 15 years and was done in phases. 

The couple decided to hire a professional when Tussey Mountain was putting in a pond for one of their neighbors. “I asked if they could put a pond in for me,” Jacob says.

After they purchased the lot next to their house, the Jacobs had Tussey Mountain return to expand the work already done.

Jacob says his goal is always for something unique that looks like it came from “God’s finger and not by man.”

While he admits his project was not cheap, Jacob says he and Chris determined the cost was worth it to get exactly what they wanted. 

“You don’t want to make payments on something you don’t like,” he says. “I still enjoy it like it was (put in) yesterday. Now that it is getting fuller, I enjoy it even more.”

Matthews says the price range for backyard projects can run from $3,000 or $4,000 up to seven figures. It all depends on what the homeowner wants. Some projects can even be done by the homeowner. 

Camblin says Milkies does “anything from small projects where we just do front entrance beds all the way up to entire backyard landscapes with pools, retaining walls, fountains – you name it.”

 

So what’s important in creating a garden oasis?


 

 

PRIVACY

Moving.com says the secret to a truly relaxing backyard is privacy. The site suggests using fences, hedgerows, screens or large planters to create a cozy sanctuary. 

Wildlife Gardeners online describes a hedgerow as a living fence, a layered border, a long skinny forest. Such a divider not only gives privacy, but is a “riot of diversity, a place pulsating with life, abuzz with creatures, a wildlife community,” the online site says. 

Moving.com says those who do not have yard space for a large garden, can still create an oasis.

“If the only outdoor space you have is a porch, consider adding curtains around the openings,” the website suggests. 

 


 

PLANTS

Most experts agree that plants could be the most essential ingredient in a garden oasis – the more, the better. 

Jacob says he likes to use a variety of plants of different colors and sizes to add depth and interest.

He likes the plants to look like they have been there forever. “Make (your garden space) look as natural as possible,” he advises and notes that plants look best when used in odd numbers.

Matthews suggests using a mixture of plants that do well in our climate. “Use things that do well spring through fall so there is interest all year round,” he says.

Jacob says it’s important to remember that plants grow and may need to be relocated if they get too big for the space. “When you first (put in your plants), it is going to look naked because the plants are very young.”

Matthews agrees. “The number one mistake that people make is planting things too closely together. You want to design for what they will be when they are mature.”

Penn State Extension office offers this advice: “Buy small plants,” its website notes. “You’ll save money and small perennials will suffer less transplant shock and will grow quickly.”

The office also encourages the use of plants that are native to our area.

Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources describes a native plant as one which grew within this region before settlement by Europeans. 

Native plants include the ferns, grasses, perennial and annual wildflowers, woody trees, shrubs, and vines. Examples include garden phlox (Phlox paniculata), bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia), beebalm (Monarda didyma), New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), and flowering dogwood (Cornus florida). 

Penn State Extension also encourages the use of plants that attract butterflies. “They pollinate flowering plants and serve as food for other organisms, thus forming an important link in the food chain,” its website says.

Butterfly populations have steadily decreased in recent years and the extension office credits the increased use of pesticides, the loss of hedgerows, urbanization and other destruction of habitat and the loss of caterpillar host and nectar plants. 

A successful butterfly garden includes a sunny location, host and nectar plants, minimal or no pesticide use. The extension office suggests placing a few rocks in sunny areas to give the butterflies a good basking surface. 

It also recommends planting milkweed species native to the area as milkweed is the sole host plant of the monarch butterfly. 

Monarchs lay eggs specifically on milkweed, the eggs hatch into caterpillars and the caterpillars eat the foliage.

Jacob says attracting butterflies was very important when he and Chris planned their gardens. “We also have certain plants that attract the bees and I like that,” he says.

 


 

PEST CONTROL

Moving.com stresses the importance of controlling bug problems for a more enjoyable outdoor experience and Western Exterminator Company’s online site suggests growing pest-deterrent flowers. “Planting marigolds around your patio can help you fight against mosquitoes and other biting and stinging pests,” it suggests. “Place a potted marigold container on your patio table as extra protection.”

Farmers’ Almanac is high on its praise for lavender. “Not only is lavender beautiful and fragrant, but it is known to repel mosquitoes, fleas, flies and moths,” its website notes.

Mint and thyme also are good for repelling mosquitoes, the almanac claims.

Basil repels flies and moths and chrysanthemums are recommended for use as a border planting around the house to keep out bedbugs, fleas, lice, roaches, ants and more. Chrysanthemums repel ticks, spider mites, Japanese beetles and other garden pests.

Farmers’ Almanac notes that lemongrass is packed with citronella, one of the best-known alternatives to synthetic repellents.

 


 

WATER

Although the Jacob’s land includes many beautiful elements, their water feature is probably the most striking. Matthews calls it “the jewel in the backyard.”

The couple love their pond and waterfall, but Jacob is quick to point out that maintenance is involved in a water feature. “If you think you will put it in and walk away from it, it’s not happening,” he says.

“It’s work, but it’s very, very enjoyable.”

Camblin says it’s important that a pond is done correctly and recommends hiring a professional for the job. And he agrees that it isn’t something that can be installed and forgotten. “A pond is going to mean maintenance for you, depending on how elaborate you want to go,” he says.

Matthews says a lot of his younger clients are putting in pond-less waterfalls. “The water goes into an underground basin and it recirculates,” he says. “It doesn’t need quite the amount of maintenance.”

Jacob notes that their pond isn’t just beautiful to look at and listen to. It’s also attracts birds. “They just love it,” he says. “They are in it continually.”

 


 

LIGHTING

Outdoor lightning not only extends the amount of time a homeowner can spend in their garden oasis, proper lights placed in the proper spots add a great deal of interest to the landscaping. “Good outdoor lighting options include string lights along your fence, tiki torches along the perimeter, candles on the table, outdoor sconces attached to your home’s exterior, up-lighting fixtures under trees and solar-powered landscape lighting,” Moving.com’s website notes.

Jacob did his own lighting and plans to add more lights this year.

“Lighting adds a layer of security,” he says. “And then there is the beauty of it and the curbside appeal.

“We like to go out in the evening with a glass of wine and just look at the garden and listen to the pond. You probably wouldn’t do that if it was dark.

“It gives you another living space.”

Matthews agrees. “We are seeing more and more people realizing the value of lighting,” he says. “It’s the icing on the cake. 

“Without good lighting, people who work 9 to 5 don’t really get to enjoy their landscaping.”

Jacob says homeowners who want to add lighting to their yards, should think about what is most appealing about their homes and property and highlight that – whether it’s a large boulder or an interesting tree. “You work around those things,” he says.

 


 

SEATING

A cozy conversation area also should be part of a good outdoor oasis. Moving.com says it all depends on the arrangement of furniture and suggests either having four chairs placed in a circle or a sofa and chairs next to or across from each other to encourage conversation. If the area is on a deck or patio, consider using an outdoor rug to define the space.

Moving.com also recommends including a dining table and chairs and at least one comfortable piece of lounge furniture – such as a hammock, outdoor daybed, sofa or swing. Make sure the furniture is appropriate for the space. Some “outdoor” furniture is meant to be kept under a cover such as a porch roof and would not hold up in rain and snow. 

Another recommended piece of furniture is a storage bench or somewhere to place cushions when not in use. 

Most homeowners want a meal prep area as well. Whether it’s a built-in or stand-alone grill, make sure you have a practical outdoor kitchen set-up for outside entertainment. 

 


 

A FUN ELEMENT

Moving.com suggests making a backyard space enjoyable and unique by adding at least one fun feature. It could be a hot tub, a play set for the kids, a hammock, a game area or a fireplace. “Adding one of these fun touches to the backyard will make it feel like your own personal backyard oasis,” the website notes.

Matthews says a lot of people are adding speaker systems to their backyard projects. “People are wanting to spend more time outside and are wanting more – the whole package. They have become a major thing in the last five or so years.”

Speakers allow homeowners to enjoy music while outside or can be connected for an outdoor theater. 

Camblin says fire pits are the most popular thing Milkie’s sells. “It’s a nice do-it yourself project you can complete in a weekend,” he says. 

Jacob says his favorite element in his garden oasis is the fire pit. “I have always liked fires,” he says. “I wanted one that wasn’t ornate. I wanted it to be natural.”

So what’s the most important thing to remember when planning a backyard oasis. “Functionality,” Camblin says. “What are you wanting to use it for?  If you have kids who are playing soccer and football, maybe you want more lawn. You like sitting around a fire pit, maybe you want a nice big patio.”  

Jacob says the best advice he can give anyone deciding to create their own outdoor oasis is to create a look that reflects their personal style. “Make it you,” he says. “Make it who you are.” 

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