Maximizing outdoor spaces: Ideas from our home show panel

Maximizing outdoor spaces has become an important way for us to get the most out of our yards in Ottawa’s all-too-short summer. And those 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 provide us with 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 how maximizing outdoor spaces can help you enjoy more from your yard. (Want more? In part one, our panelists explored why having a plan is key, and in part three we look at containers, water features and adding personality.)

Who are the panel members?

Maximizing outdoor spaces
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 is 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.)


All Things Home (ATH): We have a plan, we know what we want the spaces to do for us. Now, how do we go about maximizing outdoor spaces we already have?

If you have a small space, focus on priorities.

Mary-Anne: If you have a small space, you have to stay simple, focusing on a key priority. If lounging is important, then perhaps it’s a patio that will bring you outside.

Cindy: Think of your space as separate rooms: an area for your vegetables, an area to have lawn, an area to gather. Think about the things that will make you happy, then start to consider how much space for each of those things you want to dedicate.

Part of that might reflect how much time you want to spend on that area. Do you want to spend much time cutting grass, or looking after flowers? That’s where a designer can come in and help guide you through all those questions.


Ed: It used to be that people wanted big lawns, but times have changed and now many are in smaller spaces like townhomes and condos.

Think about going up to help maximize your space.

When you talk about maximizing a small space, we’re starting to go up, we’re starting to go vertical and I think that’s where you start maximizing individual space and trying to get inventive. It doesn’t have to be all horizontal. Think green walls, herb gardens in containers that draw people up.

We’re starting to see when it comes to food growth, maximum yield in small spaces by stacking growth and there’s no reason why that can’t extend to other areas as well. Why not use a privacy screen that also happens to be a planter?


Maximizing your space is using it for something that makes sense and value for you and not limiting yourself to just the horizon. You can also look up vertically.

ATH: We often also hear how people want low maintenance. How do you both maximize your space and keep the workload down?

A restful lounging area can be created with low-maintenance materials.

Ed: Low maintenance has been a goal forever, particularly if you’re busy. No maintenance doesn’t exist, there’s always something to do, but low maintenance, there’s ways to do it and part of that is taking a smart approach, like mulching to keep down weeds.

The key is to determine how much time you’ve got and what you want to spend that time on. Cutting your lawn can actually be quicker than spending time in a garden; it’s just a matter of picking what you’re going to spend time on. If time is at a premium, maybe you’ll stick to a few containers rather than a big garden bed.


Cindy: You need to keep in mind your patterns in the summer. If you travel and you’re going to have container gardens, you need to do everything you can to make sure they don’t need constant watering. That can include things like a potting soil that retains moisture, using succulents – plants that require very little care.

Another thing to consider: hire people to do the work you don’t want to do and keep what you want for yourself. Our maintenance crew, for instance, sometimes doesn’t deadhead flowers because the homeowners love doing that themselves, but they get us to weed and edge their gardens.

Mary-Anne: Low maintenance can be added on very early in the process by starting with good soil, mushroom compost, choosing the right plants, placing them in the right spot, not having too many plants, making sure the beds are where you want, trees are where they should be for privacy and shade and enjoying your garden.


When you do all these things and your garden is beautiful, it’s not a maintenance problem for you. You will go outside, you will pick the weeds, because you love it and you want to be outside.

ATH: Does using natural elements help in keeping maintenance down?

Mary-Anne: It’s something that definitely calms you down. A boulder, for instance, is no maintenance and you can control it. Even water when you see it is visually attractive and it calms you down.

Even in a contemporary garden you should add something natural, like a piece of driftwood, for a calming influence.

Boulders and other natural elements are calming features.

ATH: Why is it important to add natural elements?

Mary-Anne: Because it’s who we are. That’s why it’s so important to have plants, living items. It’s all part of going outside.

Cindy: Bringing natural elements in is therapeutic and grounds you. The more natural the element, the more stress-relieving it will be, even something as simple as a bush that’s left to grow as it would naturally rather than pruned into a shape that’s not natural.

Ed: It’s like being a kid again and being carefree, like picking up a stone at a beach and bringing it home and putting it in your garden to help you remember those good memories.


The most beautiful things in this world are pure nature, like the Grand Canyon. Nature is a beautiful picture that’s not contrived of something that’s in its own element.



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