Yards need to meet the needs of the entire family. They need to provide space and amenities for people of all ages to be able to enjoy the outdoors.
So if your home has pint-size or even mid-sized residents, you need to keep their interests in mind when designing your outdoor spaces.
Without much of an investment at all, you can start a garden with your children. Growing vegetables to help feed your family can teach them any number of valuable life lessons, according to Jean Bragdon, operations manager at Lurvey's Garden Center in Des Plaines.
"You can also plant sunflowers. It is lots of fun to watch sunflowers grow so high and fast and then you can harvest the seeds to feed to the birds," she continued. "Butterfly bushes, which attract butterflies to a garden, are also great for children. You can teach them how to use a butterfly net to study the butterflies that come to visit."
Adding garden art and other accoutrements like bird baths, bird feeders and wind chimes can also educate a child and enhance his or her outdoor fun.
Water features like ponds also get children outside and away from video games and television, instead letting them observe and learn about nature including frogs, salamanders, fish, plants and more.
"They are like little sponges, taking in everything they see. Having a water feature in a yard helps children connect with nature," explained Brian Helfrich, construction manager for Aquascape Designs in St. Charles and Lisle.
"That is why we are seeing a spike in schools creating their own outdoor learning centers like ponds and butterfly gardens. Neither require a huge amount of space."
You don't have to invest in a pond to give your children this opportunity. Aqua bowls, for instance, are made of a resin that looks like stone and they are designed to hold water lilies, small fish, tadpoles, snails and even turtles. They are a favorite with small children and are lightweight and easy to move.
Free-standing fountains that move water from dish to dish to dish can also entrance young ones. In addition, pond-less waterfalls, which recycle water to run over rocks and disappear into a reservoir in the ground, are quite popular.
RYCO Landscaping of Lake in the Hills and South Barrington specializes in creating outdoor living spaces that bring together families -- children, parents and grandparents, according to Colin Taheny, vice president of sales.
"We are not just building patios anymore. People today are living outside as much as possible, enjoying fireplaces, pergolas, outdoor kitchens and much more," he explained. "Everything revolves around the family gathering for barbecues and other events because since the downturn, people are entertaining much more at home.
"That trend is just exploding because, when you get right down to it, people love to gather around food. So we are building lots of outdoor kitchens. And adding living space outside is really much cheaper than adding space indoors," he explained.
RYCO is seeing lots of interest in its eco-friendly, synthetic turf product that stands up to the punishment children and pets can dish out.
Identical to the turf used on many area high school and college football fields, it is now being used under play sets, around pools and on rooftops in the city and is particularly popular with parents of young children because it requires no maintenance or chemicals, doesn't get too hot and doesn't get muddy.
"We are the exclusive installer of FieldTurf in this area and we are now seeing lots of interest in it since it has been used on so many area athletic fields. It lasts 20 to 25 years, feels nice to walk on and creates no drainage or water runoff issues. We see it as just another tool to offer to our clients," he stated.
One of the best uses for FieldTurf is in the creation of backyard putting greens for children, adults and seniors who love the game, Taheny said.
"All of our putting greens can be custom-shaped and sloped to the same characteristics of a natural turf putting green, but the maintenance is minimal. It consists of keeping the green free of debris which can be done with a low-speed blower and keeping encroaching natural turf away with periodic applications of Round Up or a similar product," he said.
The installation of a putting green in one's back yard enhances its beauty and provides space for the playing of a game that can be enjoyed by all, Taheny said.
The same can be said of the installation of an inground pool, but it is a bigger ticket item that can only be used four or five months a year in this climate.
"It is definitely more of a luxury item in the Chicago market. Even among our high-end clients, only 30 percent of them are interested in installing a pool," he said.