Expert panel on outdoor spaces: Why they’re important & having a plan

Our outdoor spaces, from the tiniest of balconies to estate lots, are increasingly important in our hectic lives. They offer a counterbalance to the chaos and a welcoming retreat from the weekday world.

All Things Home put together a panel discussion for the recent Ottawa Home & Garden Show to explore the importance of our outdoor spaces, look at why they’re growing in popularity, and discuss how to maximize them.

In this three-part series, our panel members answer questions such as why having a plan is so important, how you can maximize your space and the value of containers. In this part, we look at the importance of our spaces and why having a plan for them is key. (In part two, our panelists explore maximizing spaces, and in part three we look at containers, water features and adding personality.)


Who are the panel members?

our outdoor spaces Ottawa gardening and landscaping

The All Things Home panel at the Ottawa Home Garden Show.

Moderator: Anita Murray, president of All Things Home. Anita is a veteran journalist and the former Homes Editor at the Ottawa Citizen. She has covered the housing industry since 2011.



Ed Hansen: Ed is the founder and president of Hansen Lawn and Gardens Ltd., which was established in 1988. He is an active member of Landscape Ontario, the past president of Landscape Ontario’s Ottawa Chapter and a member of the Canadian Nursery Landscape Association.

Mary-Anne Schmitz: Founder of Gardening By Design, Mary-Anne has over 30 years of experience in garden cultivation and outdoor design. Growing up in the countryside as one of 12 siblings, she’s always gravitated towards the outdoors and her span of experience ranges from personal green spaces to vast commercial sites.


Cindy Cluett: Cindy is passionate about plants, so much so that she left a successful IT career more than 15 years ago to become a horticulturist and landscape designer. Her business, Beyond the House, is inspired by European-style garden centres and includes a florist and gift shop, greenhouses, beautiful nursery area, and a landscape design, maintenance and installation division.

(This is an edited transcript of the panel discussion.)

GAR outdoor spaces Ottawa gardening and landscaping


Landscaping plans come in a variety of forms, including renderings.

All Things Home (ATH): We’ve been hearing a lot lately about how important our outdoor spaces have become. Why is that and what are the mental health benefits of gardening?

Ed: We’re inside so much of the time, that getting outside is a way to enjoy ourselves. If you don’t go outdoors, it’s like you’ve just wasted an entire room in your house.

There are so many rooms it could be out there: a dining area, a barbecue area, lounging, a place for a coffee in the morning. Pick one of those and that’s why you go outside.


Cindy: It’s an incredible stress reliever. We’re so connected to our devices these days, but when you can get outside and work in the garden, for instance, there’s no way you can also be on your phone. It’s a great way to disconnect.

But it’s also a way to connect. When you touch dirt, when you smell dirt, when you play with flowers, there’s something that happens emotionally, physically, that just allows you to be at peace.

For me, even though this is my job, on my days off, this is what I like to do at home. I can’t wait to get out and just play in the garden.


Ed: If you’re looking at your phone, etc., all the time, you’re not finding a way to detach and relax. Go outside, get your hands dirty. Besides, you won’t want to touch your phone if your hands are dirty. If you can’t detach, I think that’s what causes most of our mental health issues and leads to so much stress.

our outdoor spaces Ottawa gardening and landscaping

A plan is like a road map that can help you transform your outdoor spaces.


ATH: All of you believe – as do many others – that it’s important to have a plan for our outdoor spaces. Why is that?

Ed: There’s often the worry of having to pay for it, but if you think about it, even the Ikea furniture you buy, the first thing that comes out of the box are the instructions for putting it together. That’s the design of how to install it. If you didn’t have it, you’d be sitting there the whole time trying to figure out how to put it together.

So, it’s no different than a design in our industry. We want people to think about what they want to do, plan what they want to do. And what happens with most plans? They end up changing, but at least you have something on the white board to get started.

A lot of times we ask how you’re going to use the space: will you eat there, hang out, do you want a hot tub with a TV? You’ve got to think about all those things, but you also have to be realistic with yourself, and it starts with a plan to give you direction.


But the biggest thing is wasted money. Without a plan, you’re not being efficient with what you’re trying to do and the pieces that you end up buying for your outdoor spaces. We’ll plan things inside, but quite often when it comes to the outside of our homes, you start playing around with gardens, moving plants around trying to find the right spot.

Or, you hire a professional and you install it once, hopefully, and then you add to it, as opposed to spending thousands at a nursery because you think, ‘That looks great,’ and you put it in the wrong spot.

When it comes to hiring a pro to help you with your plan, you’re spending money, but it’s saving you in the long run.


ATH: What should you expect to pay for a design and what will you get?

GAR outdoor spaces Ottawa gardening and landscaping

A rough sketch with plant suggestions won’t cost you much to get started.

Mary-Anne: At least you should have someone come by to check out your space and look at the potential. You could spend $200 to $300 on (a rough plan) and once you decide to go ahead, they can do a (full) landscape design.


Cindy: I recommend getting a scale drawing that you can take around when you’re doing hardscaping so you can shop around for things like a deck. It’s going to save you a lot of money in the long run to have a plan. You also want to make sure you’ve got a good connection with your designer (in terms of being someone you can relate to).

ATH: How do you do a design that draws people outside?

Cindy: You want to make sure that wherever you sit you’re looking at something inviting. Maybe that’s a waterfall, or a garden. It’s also important when you’re in the kitchen at the sink, for instance, you can look out and see beauty.

Ed: It’s different for everyone. You need to find what makes you go outside. For some, it’s a shaded area where you can spend time, for others it’s a pond.


But you have to be honest with yourself and think about what’s going to bring you outside. If you don’t like bugs and being outside, maybe you need a screened-in porch. There’s so many elements that can bring you outside, but you’ve got to find out what it is for that individual person. And don’t waste money on something that you’re not going to go outside for.

Mary-Anne: I love the idea of looking out from your kitchen. Sometimes it’s good to look through magazines and look for all of the things that suit your style and what you gravitate to, whether it’s more contemporary or more natural. Collect them all and save them, then write a list of everything that you want in your backyard, maybe categorize them.

Do you want to eat outside, do you have a young family, do you want a pool? Prioritize them, then find someone to help you put all of these items and pictures into your backyard. And it has to be practical. You can’t put everything in there. There are priorities and it has to work for you.


Every garden is different. It’s up to the designer to help you create something that’s useful, practical and will bring you outside.

More in this series

Our panel’s suggestions for maximizing your outdoor spaces

The value of containers, water features and adding pops of personality



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