It’s April and Minnesotans are ready to get outdoors. After five months of snow blowers, icy roads and winter storm warnings, we can almost taste burgers off the grill and hear the whir of boat motors on Lake Minnetonka. With the start of patio season just around the corner, dinner parties and family nights will soon be moved outside once again. But is your outdoor living area ready for those long summer nights?
Jim Sweeney, owner and founder of the award-winning Mom’s Landscaping & Design in Shakopee, has the knowledge and experience to help Lake Minnetonka readers with their summer landscaping projects. Sweeney is more than just a landscaper—he’s a visionary in outdoor living, which he defines as an outdoor extension of the heart of the house. His finished projects, many of which can be seen in the lake area, showcase a fusion of natural elements that create a “primitive luxury.” Food, water, shelter and warmth are still an essential part of any backyard bliss, but Sweeney believes that these elements will be found in new and luxurious ways in the summer of 2011.
“Outdoor living is growing,” says Sweeney. “We all love being outdoors, but I don’t think Minnesotans have embraced what that can be yet.”
If you want a sure-fire way to enhance your outdoor living, start with your cooking area. Once, outdoor kitchens were synonymous with the family grill. Now, Sweeney considers an outdoor kitchen worthy of any of the conveniences found in its indoor counterpart. Homeowners who want a warming drawer, smoker, pizza oven or rotisserie can include one in their new outdoor kitchen. For backyard enthusiasts looking to spice up their patio area, an icemaker, paper towel dispenser or bar cart are as welcome outdoors as they are indoors. Sweeney encourages grill masters to consider what little conveniences would have the biggest impact on their ability to cook and entertain. Chances are these novelties can be easily included into an outdoor space.
And what’s a summer night without a good fire? Sweeney acknowledges that many outdoor designs have focused on the element of water, but he sees fire as an increasingly important trend this summer. “We are now creating designs that incorporate fire with a more modern element. There is more media within the architecture,” he says.
If you are looking to play with fire, be sure to talk to a local landscape expert. Designers are now able to use a variety of formats and mediums to create unique, useful fires in local backyards. For example, tumbled glass in different shapes and sizes can be included in a natural gas fireplace so the glass looks like it’s melting when in use. Some homeowners have also chosen to have numerous fireplaces within one area of the yard, while others have chosen to build fireplaces with seating areas on two sides of the hearth. With a multitude of new designs, fire reigns as king in backyards once again.
As you begin to consider your own backyard possibility, embrace the unexpected in a new landscape design. Sweeney points to a recent trend of using palm trees in both inside and outside design. “The idea of doing something tropical in Minneapolis dates back decades,” says Sweeney. The inclusion of a tropical plant within a Midwestern setting is eye-catching and peaceful. But it’s also exciting and unexpected, and Sweeney believes that explains much of the plant’s popularity in this unlikely climate. But a palm tree isn’t the only unique possibility for an outdoor space, and local landscapers will be able to guide you in the selection of plants that adds a little zest to your landscape.
Although Sweeney prides himself on his chameleon-like approach to landscape and design, he has one building philosophy that never changes: the use of natural materials in all designs. Real wood and stones are durable and beautiful. “Plus, natural elements almost never go out of style,” he says. Now that’s a trend that’s sure to last through the years.
Here's a short list of other lake-area purveyors.
L & R Landscaping
11421 W. 47th St., Minnetonka; 952.935.0389
15119 Minnetonka Blvd., Minnetonka; 952.475.1229
14624 Woodhill Ter., Minnetonka; 952.933.5777