HERNDON, Va. – The start of summer means entertaining friends and families, hosting cookouts and barbeques and spending time outdoors. These days, the backyard has become an extension of the family room and kitchen.

According to a U.S. online survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET), spending on decks and patios has been on the increase. Consumers reported they intended to spend 37 percent more in 2013 to hire professional help for patios and other hardscape and specialty services.

The experts at PLANET, the national landscape industry association, offer their top five ideas to transform an ordinary yard into the ultimate retreat, family fun, or entertaining space this summer.

Add an Outdoor Kitchen. Outdoor kitchens have been growing in popularity for years and are often the center of family life in the summer. They can be as extensive as a complete kitchen made of stone, brick or concrete pavers with a stove, stone or brick oven, counters and even a sink or refrigerator, or they can be as compact as a patio with a grill and table. There are a wide variety of options for every space, purpose and price range. 

Add Outdoor Lighting. Outdoor lighting highlights a home’s landscape, special trees, as well as walkways and porches, providing both curb appeal and safety. "Nightscaping" makes gathering spaces usable and enjoyable for entertaining after dark. Landscape professionals can design lighting to complement or highlight important areas of the yard, and there are a variety of basic do-it-yourself options, such as adding a set of solar walkway lights.

Add a Fire Feature. A portable fire pit or chiminea, or building a stone fireplace into the deck or patio extends the time people can spend in their backyards, making a cozy entertaining space on summer nights or well into the fall and winter.

Add a Water Feature. Water features, ranging from small fountains to ponds, streams or water walls, create a sense of peace and calm, help people connect with nature, and may attract wildlife.

Create a Wildflower or Herb Garden. Wildflowers or herbs make great container gardens or ground cover. They are beautiful and smell great. Many home chefs grow their own herbs and many landscape companies now create edible gardens for clients. These gardens are also a benefit for the environment and for wildlife, providing food and safe cover for small animals.

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