Ecology + Design

Moving to the Suburbs? How to Make the Most of Your Outdoor Living Space

The global pandemic has shifted (among many other things) our perspective on our living spaces. There have been anecdotal reports of urbanites fleeing to the suburbs since the beginning of the stay at home orders. Fairfield and Westchester County home prices increased, and inventory shrank during spring and summer, an obvious ripple effect of the severity of the virus in NYC.

The desire for more real estate, including outdoor space, makes perfect sense given how limited our social outings and engagements have become. Americans are seeking safe, relaxing outdoor spaces to seek respite in the age of covid-19.

The garden captivates all. Photo by Tetyana Kovyrina from Pexels

At Green Jay, we have long touted the benefits of spending time outdoors, especially in a setting that engages you with wildlife and the magic of nature. Below we’ve compiled some tips to help you make the most of your new landscape in the suburbs.

1. Maximize Your Landscape’s Human Health Benefits

Our first priority is always to make the landscape safe and healthy for human engagement.  This of course means using no toxic chemicals whatsoever, our landscapes are all 100% organic. Our landscapes are designed to be walked through, played in, touched, smelt, and eaten, not avoided because of a toxic pesticide application.

Air circulation is also of critical importance to prevent mold and maintain air quality.  Designing for improved air circulation often involves removing or dramatically pruning existing vegetation, especially if it was planted too close to the house. Now, more than ever, we must take care of our lungs and respiratory systems.

Finally, cultivating diverse soil microbes, and spending time in the soil, has shown to have dramatic benefits on our mood and mental health.  Read up on our previous blog post, How Can We Make Our Landscapes Safer and Healthier?

2. Observation Feeds the Soul – Design for Every Season

The reason we are in the landscape design business is because we are fully addicted and obsessed with the daily unfolding of nature in our landscapes. The constant evolution of a garden, day to day, week to week and season to season, begs us to slow down and take notice.  Take a daily stroll in the garden: observe what is new, what has passed, and the indicators of what’s to come.

Designing a landscape that looks beautiful year-round is of course desirable.  But designing a landscape that captures your interest and excitement year-round is another goal entirely.

Pay attention to what areas of your landscape will be most used when and plan your design accordingly – for example, a summer-blooming pollinator garden around the pool area will probably get maximum facetime and enjoyment from your family. (Does it get much better than butterflies by the pool on a summer day?)

Modern pool area with summer-blooming perennial pollinator garden.

We extend the blooms into fall with perennials like asters, phlox, and goldenrod – all natives that will keep the bees and butterflies happy!

A curbside perennial pollinator garden in all its late-summer glory! (Darien, CT)

As the temperatures drop, your maintenance choices become more critical.  We leave up hollow stemmed perennials all winter for insects like native bees to overwinter in.  Other native perennials like Coneflower provide food when they turn to seed for Goldfinches and other birds.

Native ornamental grass Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) looks stunning in fall and the seed heads provide food for birds!

For the winter months, we make sure to have native berry-producing shrubs like Winterberry and Aronia which provide valuable food resources for migrating and local birds. Landscape architectural elements become more significant in winter, for example, evergreen trees, trees with unique bark (birches, dogwood), boulders and sculptures carry greater impact in winter.

River Birch makes a dramatic statement in winter.

3. Extend your Outdoor Living Season

As the days get shorter, our need for outdoor interaction does not diminish. Simple design elements can enable you to enjoy your landscape through fall and winter and encourage you out into the fresh air daily! For example, we have designed garden stroll paths that meander through mature trees and understory shrubs, a walk that is just as delightful in fall and winter as in summer.

Spring bulbs brighten up a landscape in early spring when not much else is awake yet!

Many of our landscapes include fire pit areas, which can be a great congregating spot for entertaining in the colder months. Our clients that love to entertain will opt for a full-scale outdoor kitchen, equipped with a fireplace and mobile heat lamps, to truly extend the outdoor living lifestyle throughout the seasons.



Design a landscape that can do both: pool area for summer and patio bbq area with outdoor fireplace for those cooler nights.
Simple & functional outdoor kitchen featuring built-in grill and mini fridge, perfect for entertaining!

4. Create a Dynamic Landscape with Water

Nothing quite beats the ambiance of softly trickling water – it is both energizing and soothing, mesmerizing and grounding.  We almost always encourage a water feature of sorts to create a relaxing atmosphere, whether that be a smaller fountain or pond-less water feature, or a constructed waterfall, stream or pond! Even the simplest water feature will have a beneficial effect for wildlife. Birds seek shallow waters to bathe in, dragonflies will lay eggs in water and eat mosquito larvae, and a pond allows for a wonderful aquatic habitat at home!

Fish pond with constructed waterfall (not shown) brings a tranquil habitat to your landscape.
This pond-less basalt bubbler is easily switched on or off and adds a delightful trickling sound to your yard! (Honeysuckle will eventually cover the shadow box in rear, this photo is post planting!)

 5. Invite Pollinators and Wildlife

Time and again we receive feedback from our clients about how vibrant and alive their landscape is – always buzzing with bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, songbirds, frogs, the list goes on! Once you have a yard that attracts wildlife and pollinators, you’ll never want to go back to the foreign, sterile plants of traditional landscapes.  We invite you to find serenity in the suburbs by reconnecting with the natural world, taking time to observe the visitors in your garden, and recognizing the importance of the critical habitat you’ve created on your property. Learn more about Designing for Biodiversity and Designing an Organic Pollinator Garden on our previous blogs!


Contact us about your landscape design project, or call us at 914-560-6570.

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