A Room In Your Yard
Those blessed (or cursed) with a big, sprawling yard may want to create a smaller and more intimate space within the property that can serve both as focal point and gathering place. Reeves and Beaulieu encourage homeowners to build "rooms" in the yard, using various plantings as building materials. Small trees or rows of shrubs can serve as walls, with a curved, vine-covered arbor forming a kind of ceiling. Floors can be made of paving stones, ornamental brick, or even fine gravel. Add a table and some comfortable chairs, and you've got a fairly inexpensive extra room.

And you don't need a half-acre to hop on the yard-room bandwagon. If your home and yard are fairly compact, an outdoor "room" near the back door can be an extension of the living space, especially in climates with low humidity and minimal insects.

Going Native
"As a landscape professional, I've been dragged kicking and screaming into the world of native plants," says Lerner. Home­owners are doing the dragging in what seems to be a genuine grass-roots (no pun intended) movement.

All over the country, yardophiles are going native for a number of reasons. For some it's a philosophical choice akin to the boom in natural foods, while for others it's strictly a matter of saving time, money, and effort. "Some people think that with natives, they'll never have to water, prune, fertilize, or mulch, because the plants will just take care of themselves," Lerner says with a laugh.

That's not quite true, of course. All plants (except those unkillable weeds) require at least some minimal maintenance, but choosing shrubs and trees that are already well-acclimated to an area certainly means less work and less worry about diseases and weather damage.

Another concern driving the native-plant boom is that some imports are invasive, choking out native plants and dominating the landscape. A classic example from the American South is kudzu, the vigorous Asian-born vine that smothers native plants and can even topple trees. Beaulieu points to the purple loose strife, a beautiful marsh plant that is choking out natives all over New England. "And if you lose the native plants, you lose the birds and animals that feed on them," he warns.

While the native-plant movement continues to gain followers, some gardening experts aren't fully converted. "I hear people say that if it's a native plant, it's a better plant," notes DIY's Reeves."That's just not true. That's why we have plants that are bred to have bigger flowers and better berries. I don't hesitate to recommend carefully chosen non-native plants."

If you're interested in native plants, most large urban areas have numerous garden centers where specialists can advise on local trees and shrubs. Or go to any web search engine and enter your state's name and "native plant society."