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Add color and pattern to your patio with fabrics. "There's nothing like new pillows and cushions to change the whole mood of a place," says garden designer Jon Carloftis. "Outdoor fabrics no longer have to be plasticky and uncomfortable to withstand the weather." Toss in some patterned pillows with solids for a more dynamic look and include ottomans and floor pillows for extra seating.
Give your tired patio furniture a facelift with spray paint. With so many colors and finishes now available for just about every type of surface, your makeovers are limited only by your imagination. Even your outdoor pillows can get a paint makeover with taped-off stripes or stencils. "Each year there are more and better choices and quality products available," designer Carloftis says. "There's a whole new world out there!"
Create a shady oasis in the backyard with a canopy over your patio. Available at many price points, the structure can be as simple as a fold-away unit or as complex as a permanent feature with integrated planters at each corner. This lovely pavilion is the ideal spot for a conversation grouping or an outdoor dining area.
Bring a bit of bling to your outdoor room with a crystal chandelier or two over your dining table. If you don't have the means to hot-wire electrical fixtures, drape them instead with battery-operated twinkle lights. Another option: chandeliers that use a battery-operated taper candle in each arm of the fixture.
Enhance your patio with the subtle shimmer of candlelight. Place pillar candles on tables, in containers, and in luminaria around your outdoor room. For a romantic glow overhead, group various sizes of pillar candles on a metal disk suspended by chains. Entwine the candles with draping plants such as lysimachia, moss, or ivy.
Furnish your patio with multitasking furniture. Your patio functions as a place to relax, to work on gardening projects, and to entertain, so keep all those activities in mind when purchasing furnishings. This potting bench, for example, works hard at its day job but also acts as an ideal sideboard for a social gathering.
Invest in a good grill and make it the foundation of an outdoor kitchen. Stock cabinetry and countertops can create an inexpensive setup with a sink attached to hoses for water supply and drainage. "A new grill can change your life and keep the party and cooking mess outside for most of the summer," Carloftis says. "Not only is food healthier when cooked on the grill, but cooking out is easy, nice to be outdoors for a change, and provides another good family tradition to start."
"Add a water feature to the mix," Carloftis says. "It doesn't have to be the huge ordeal, in-ground, tiled, cost-a-fortune thing. Use a water-tight pot, fill it with water, and toss in some floating plants to jazz up your terrace. In my own yard I found an old copper pot and added a spitting frog to make some noise," the designer says. Floating glass globes like these will also add movement and color.
Whether your patio is attached to your house or standing alone in the yard, give it an entrance that proclaims it as a destination and creates a focal point. A charming arbor, such as this one, makes a style statement but your entrance could be as plain as a metal arch or gate or as simple as a couple of lengths of picket fencing. The secret is to blend it into your landscape with flowering and climbing plants.
A simple color scheme for both plantings and accessories makes your patio decor serene and beautifully balanced. In this outdoor room, masses of lavender petunias punctuate the patio in pots, with the color echoed in the climber on the lattice fence. Lavender tints the grass plumes and dark foliage of the potted sweet potato vine beside the chaise. Pillows in the same hue accent the seating. The white furniture, weathered gray pavers and fencing, and green foliage provide neutral foil for the rich color.
"Most people tend to think of containers as temporary or seasonal things that go away in the winter months," says Carloftis. "This year, why not start out with a new set of frost-proof pots, large enough to plant permanent trees or shrubs. Then plant your regular annuals at the bases of the permanent plantings. It sure makes it easier to leave everything outside all winter long." Put your large containers on heavy-duty casters so you can move them around the patio as needed.
Add a bit of the exotic to your patio with tropical plants in containers. Select varieties of different heights and leaf size and mass them together for a lush rain-forest look. Inject the flavor of southern climes with your container selection too. "Use Mexican pottery for a quick splash of color," says Crawford. "Even if you aren't experienced in putting together mixed plantings, Mexican pottery is so decorative that the plantings can include just one type of plant in each pot and still be riotously colorful."
"Grow herbs and tomatoes in pots on your patio this year," Carloftis says. "If you have children, involve them, as there is no better learning tool or entertaining toy out there." Gather a grouping of herbs on your outdoor dining table as a functional centerpiece. "You will not believe how much you can get from a small space and have a conversation piece when friends come over," he says.
"Change your floral combinations this year," Carloftis says. "Think texture as much as you think flowers. Even when you hit a perfect combination, it's still good to mix it up. There are no real rules for a successful textural combination. Just go to the nursery and pull together plants you like in the wagon they provide and see what looks good grouped." Look for plants with different leaf sizes, shades, and types.
Punctuate your patio with annuals and perennials without containers. Remove a square of pavers or bricks and place a flowering plant or small shrub in the hole. If you have a large patio, you can create low living walls by planting rows of small shrubs such as boxwood or yew to create outdoor rooms within your patio.