Money may be tight, but homeowners are still investing in their great outdoors.
Homeowners love their yards. They plant gardens, create cozy areas for entertaining, and install decorative elements that they're as happy to look at from the kitchen window as they are from their chaise lounge.
And despite a weak economy, Americans are expected to continue this love affair with the world outside their door -- and perhaps spend a little more time in it as they plan to spend their summer vacations at home.
About 94% of residential landscape architects polled by the American Society of Landscape Architects earlier this year said that outdoor living spaces, including cooking and entertaining areas, would be popular in 2010. That said, improvements are expected to have few frills as homeowners stick to the basics in this cool economy.
"Homeowners want to create a sense of place for their family, friends, and neighbors to enjoy outside, but an uncertain economy means many will dial back some of the extra features we've seen in past years," said Nancy Somerville, executive vice president for the group, in a news release.
Some of the most popular features this year: outdoor seating and dining areas, including benches and seat-walls or weatherized outdoor furniture, as well as fire pits and fireplaces, the classic outdoor grill and outdoor counter space, according to the survey results. More lavish outdoor kitchen appliances, including refrigerators and sinks, are expected to be less popular, as are stereo systems and outdoor heaters.
Survey results found a growing interest in low-maintenance landscapes and native plants. There's also a continued resurgence of the home garden.
At Home Depot, sales of seed packets for vegetable gardens were up more than 50% in 2009, compared with 2008, said Jean Niemi, spokeswoman for the company. Last year's popularity has prompted the company to increase the types of edible seed packets offered at the stores by 25% this year, she said. The stores are also planning to offer workshops on how to plant and maintain a garden.
While consumers may be planting more as a way to have fresher produce or so they can know where their food is coming from, there's also an economic driver: According to the National Gardening Association, a well-maintained food garden yields an average $500 return, considering a typical investment and the market price of produce.