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Make Room for Outdoor Rooms and Special Spaces

By: Beverly Fortune
Lush Botanical Garden


“Long Island has been through so much transformation in the last few years,” says Michael Zaino, an understatement if there ever was one. “People are looking at their homes with a different eye.”

Indeed, the recent past has inspired many homeowners across the country and right here in our own backyard to reconsider where they wanted to live—the boom in home sales and prices certainly underscored that point—as well as how they might reimagine the spaces in the places they called home. Among the many trends that arose, one that has continued to grow is the expansion of the “living space” beyond the walls of the house and into the great outdoors beyond.

You may not think of your backyard as “living space,” at least not in the traditional sense, but if you view the outside of your home like the inside, there are many ways to expand on the concept and take that space to another level, say Michael and his brother, Anthony, owners of Zaino’s Nursery & Garden Center of Westbury.

The brothers work as a team, with Michael handling the design work, planting and weekly lawn maintenance crew and Anthony overseeing the nursery and garden center. Here they’ve come together with tips for Long Islanders looking to create their own backyard oasis.


“One of the biggest things now is people redoing their backyards and creating an entertainment area, sitting area and a lounge area,” Michael notes.

Dividing your backyard into “rooms” is a great way to use the space as you would the interior of your home. Whether you have a small backyard or an expansive spread, breaking up the space makes it more usable. If every area has a purpose, then every area becomes special. For example, create “secret spaces” like a private dining area where you can enjoy your morning coffee before work and a cocktail upon your return.

Since your interior home has hallways and a sense of flow, you might want to consider making a path outdoors that can create flow among secluded areas and define them. “English gardens are very big right now. They are really booming,” Michael says, adding that most people are choosing to forego the tradition of planting roses in these gardens.

When designing an English garden, you should include a variety of perennials, annuals, vegetables and herbs, shrubs and grass, he advises, while also making sure to make the space your own.

“Every property is different,” Michael explains. “Some private spaces can be right off the patio and can be created with stepping stones. We offer a ‘Tuscany look’ with crushed stones, making gravel paths that lead to a gravel patio with seating.

“For an entertainment area, outdoor kitchens are very big now, with conversation areas. Pergolas also continue to be popular,” he says, adding, “I don’t see a lot of gazebos anymore.”

In any of these scenarios, comfort is key. Be sure the furniture is appropriate for its use. Make sure, for example, that patio cushions are deep seated, to provide for optimal comfort when relaxing.

Focus on Foliage

A good rule to remember in almost any outdoor space is to focus on foliage. A backyard filled with greenery and color evokes calm. Of course, choosing plants native to Long Island will help them grow with greater ease, but you need not limit yourself.

If your backyard is shady, adding plants such as Boston ferns and hostas can give it a tropical feel. You can also keep large pots of aromatic herbs next to the barbeque to liven up the space and make use of the herbs to enhance your dinner plates.

“I [recommend] more flowering plants like coreopsis, where it can bloom all summer long,” says Anthony. “Different types of annual flowers with nice bright colors are a beautiful way to brighten the yard.”

When a sunny backyard is available, Michael says that more and more people are growing their own vegetable gardens. “Cutting gardens where you can bring the flowers into your home are also very popular. I think that it’s a kind of therapy for some people. It’s very relaxing, growing your own floral arrangements and vegetables.”

Follow Your Own Path

“Everyone has their own ideas,” Michael says, “and people’s tastes can be so dramatically different,”

Regardless of your preferences and plans, a great backyard is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. Start now, add a little something every season, and you’ll build a beautiful outdoor space that is perfect just for you.