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My Favorite Tips for Drought-Tolerant Landscaping

Here in California, where my husband Tarek and I do most of our house flipping, we always have to think about the weather when we plan our landscaping. We never want to spend money on landscaping that’ll look great for a week and then wither and die if it doesn’t get a ton of watering and maintenance.

With the ongoing drought in our area, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about landscaping designs that don’t need much watering but can create a cool, low-maintenance, high-curb-appeal look for buyers. Here are a few of my favorite tips.

Don’t give them a golf course

First of all, buyers today aren’t necessarily looking for homes with front yards that are covered in uniform grass, and that’s good news for you as a house flipper. The golf course look takes a lot of watering and maintenance to keep up.

A front yard with less grass and more water-wise landscaping can save buyers money on their utility bills, and it can save them time on mowing, too. Not only that, but they won’t have to worry about their lawns dying if their area is under a water restriction.

Small changes can make a big difference

You don’t have to completely get rid of grass or go with some crazy landscaping design that looks totally out there. Even the smallest water-saving changes can make a huge difference.

For example, plant a few water-conserving shrubs around the front of the house and in an island in the yard, then lay mulch around them so your buyers have less grass to mow. A stone garden can do the same — and it’ll save even more water since rocks don’t need any moisture.

Use water runoff for thirstier plants

Everyone loves to see greenery and blossoms in their yards, so I’m a huge fan of this particular tip. Take a look at the yard and find the places where you get the most water runoff. Do you have a low corner of the yard, or does the lawn slope down to the sidewalk?

Plant your shrubs and flowers here, surrounded by a bed of mulch or gravel. And be sure to group thirstier plants together in the lowest spaces so that they can soak up the most moisture.

Don’t forget the architecture of the house

As you start to choose plants, mulch, gravel, and other details, don’t forget about the design of the house itself. Choose landscaping elements that match the architecture of the house and highlight its features.

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Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

You want to have a front walk and entryway that flow and draw people in, so you may want to plant a couple of bushes at each end of the walk or along each side leading up to the house. Landscaping details should create borders and edges along the walk, yard, and house to draw attention and make the property look cohesive and attractive.

Create a park-like backyard

Of course, your front yard won’t be the only place you’re landscaping. You also have to think about the backyard, and how you can make it really inviting to your buyers. People love having a park-like backyard where their kids can play, and they can have friends and family over on weekends and special occasions.

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Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

You don’t have to plant a bunch of water-thirsty trees and shrubs to get this effect, though. I’m a big fan of adding a patio and/or some hardscaping instead of traditional landscaping with plants.

For example, you could place a fire pit in the middle of a circular area where you lay gravel, then edge that gravel with bricks or flat stones. The effect is cozy and attractive, and it doesn’t require any watering at all. Plus, it gives your buyers a place to gather and enjoy each others’ company.

Always think of families

Family is really important to me and Tarek, and not just because we have two great kids who we love to watch playing in the yard. We’ve created a space in our backyard that’s a huge hit with our extended family when we have them over on Sundays.

When I worked with our landscapers to design our backyard, I considered shade and seating, space for the kids to play, and an overall aesthetic that’s warm and inviting.

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Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

You can do the same with your flip-house backyards if you consider a few important factors:

Where is the traffic in the yard?

Wherever you have people walking through a yard, you’re going to have worn down, ugly grass unless you plan for that traffic. Look at the paths people will be using in the yard and create water-conserving landscaping solutions around them.

This could mean having a paved or gravel walkway from the back patio or deck to the fire pit. It could also mean planting sturdier, heartier grass in your high-traffic areas, then planting drought-tolerant decorative grasses, like Japanese bloodgrass, along each side.

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Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

Will the buyers have pets in the backyard?

Next, consider how the yard will look if the buyers let their pets hang out in the yard on a regular basis. You can’t predict whether someone’s dog will dig holes all over the yard or not, but you can avoid choosing really delicate plants that will get ruined when the family cat decides to chew on them or take a nap on them.

Other animals in the area

Speaking of animals, your buyers’ pets aren’t the only ones to worry about. If the area where you’re flipping in has moles, rabbits, deer, or other wildlife, you should take a minute to get to know what they eat and what they’ll avoid. In a drought, these animals are going to come looking for food and water, which means you could be creating a haven for pests if you put in a water feature or a lot of thirsty plants.

Instead, do some research on plants that repel animals and bugs. For example, did you know that mosquitoes hate lavender? It’s a beautiful plant with a sweet smell that most people like, but it’s a natural pest deterrent. Sounds like something you might want to consider planting around the patio, doesn’t it?

Consult a landscape architect, contractor or local garden center

You don’t have to figure all of this out on your own. If you plan on having the pros do your landscaping, talk to your landscape architect or contractor about droughts, thirsty plants, and other factors.

If you’re doing the landscaping on your own, ask the people who work at your local garden center for advice. They have a lot of knowledge about this kind of project, and they can help you make the right choices for attractive front- and backyards that won’t guzzle a ton of water every week.

Good luck and happy landscaping!

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5 Tools Every Gardener Should Splurge On

I’ve both tried and disposed of a lot of garden tools over the years, but I only use a handful of unusual-looking ones. These chosen few are so handy that I rarely use a shovel, cultivator or string trimmer anymore. I hope they’ll be just as useful for you.

DeWit serrated trowel

DeWit Garden Tools’ unique take on a common trowel is everything you could possibly want in a garden tool. Its comfortable handle is constructed of long-lasting ash wood, while the business end is nothing but solid hand-forged steel. The real beauty of this trowel is its sharp, serrated edge, which cleanly cuts through any roots or stems in its path.

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Use it to rip out weeds, dig in congested soil, or even as a knife for dividing perennials. Of all my tools, this is the one that I carry everywhere.

Warren hoe

I bought this arrow-shaped variant of the common garden hoe on a whim, simply because it looked like it had to work — and it does. The pointed tip neatly rips out weeds in my vegetable garden without damaging my plants, and it makes nice furrows whenever I’m planting seeds.

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The long handle makes it easy to reach into beds from outside, preventing soil compaction, muddy feet and a sore back. Mine is made by Union Tools and retails for about $22.

Fiskars clearing hook and billhook saw

Fiskars’ new clearing hook and billhook saw have totally changed the way I do lawn work. Each resembles a serrated machete with a hooked end, and they’re unlike anything else on the market.

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I use mine to clear out woody weeds with little more than a tug, to rip out weeds growing in the cracks of my driveway, to edge my lawn (it’s a workout, but so rewarding), and to quickly break ground on new garden beds.

Each tool comes with a scabbard that conveniently fits over your belt, and it’s a good thing. These things are hardcore, especially if you sharpen them first. The Fiskars clearing hook and billhook saw each retail for about $30.

Fiskars clearing machete

This machete has essentially replaced the weed-whacker in my lawn work routine since it makes short work of areas that my mower won’t reach. Between the billhooks and machete, I’ve found myself using the string trimmer less and less.

Courtesy of Fiskars.

Courtesy of Fiskars.

Like the other land-clearing tools from Fiskars, the machete comes with a durable scabbard for safekeeping. It’s also useful for cutting back and harvesting sugar canes, bamboo, lemongrass, bananas and the other big tropical plants in my garden. For even bigger jobs, spring for the machete axe (approx. $55).

Pick mattock

I have a shovel, but haven’t used it much since I bought a mattock. If you have to deal with tree roots, rocky soil or tough sod and weeds, do yourself a favor and buy a mattock before you exhaust yourself with a shovel or spade.

A mattock looks like a pickaxe and is used like one, but it has a flattened end that works like a garden hoe on steroids. Heaving a mattock takes a bit of upper body strength, but the tool is quite versatile once you get the hang of it.

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Courtesy of Northern Tool + Equipment.

I even use the flat end to pull up weeds with long runners — both fragile ones like those of the dollarweed, or brutes like those of the torpedo grass that once filled my vegetable garden. The brand name of my mattock has long since faded from the hardwood handle, but if you’re purchasing your own, look for one made from forged steel and hardwood.

Flexzilla Water Colors hose

While hoses wouldn’t normally be considered garden tools, hear me out. Cheap, kinky and leaky hoses cost more in the long run, and make watering chores a major hassle. Take it from someone who accidentally leaves the water on and leaves his hoses outside all year.

At the time of writing, the only working hoses in my garden are Flexzilla hoses, because every other one has broken by now. The best ones are from the P. Allen Smith Water Colors Collection and cost about $75 (steep, but it’s money well-spent).

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Courtesy of P. Allen Smith.

Ignore the pretty colors – they’ll fade in time. Get this premium rubber hose because its kink-free, drinking water safe and even has a rugged swiveling grip to make watering easier.

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House of the Week: A 216-Year-Old Bridgehampton Estate

Affectionately known as the Whale House, this classic Bridgehampton treasure offers a great deal of history and an elegant summer home or year-round escape. Originally built in 1800, the updated and expanded estate sits on just under three acres and encompasses 6 bedrooms, 4.5 baths and 4,559 square feet — all for a listing price of $7.995 million.

Clad in wood shingle siding that offers a gentle nod to the past, this dwelling occupies the peaceful grounds of a one-time farming community.

The stately, open kitchen is a charmed space to host family meals, with exposed beams, a kitchen island and direct access to a cozy living area complete with a fireplace. The home’s old plank wood flooring remains, and several rooms boast personal fireplaces and bold wood fixtures, while arched ceilings provide a cathedral feel.

Skip Lynch, one of the co-owners, says his fondest memories are of spending time there with loved ones. “It’s been in the family a long time, since 1945,” he said. “There’s a great tranquility about the house. Many people think the house has healing properties, and it is a great spot to be. It was the source of many great outdoor activities.”

Along with plentiful outdoor space and many odes to Bridgehampton’s past, the property was the site of many family gatherings and boasts a summer cottage. Lynch notes that he will “miss the space and the light.” Growing up, “it was a wonderland — beaches to swim in, open space.”

Offering various places to delight in nature as well as calm spaces to enjoy the sea-salt air, this estate provides a great opportunity to merge the excitement of the future with the delights of the past.

The listing agent is Barbara Brundige of  Douglas Elliman Real Estate.

Photos courtesy of Douglas Elliman Real Estate

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3 Favorite Outdoor Spaces for Summer Fun

Summer is our favorite time of the year to work with clients. Whether we’re curating an outdoor kitchen or styling a beautiful new deck, something about the warm weather makes us want to blur the lines between the indoors and outdoors with thoughtful design and fashion-forward functionality.

Here are some of our favorite ways to create an inspirational outdoor space this season.

The rooftop deck

Those of us who aren’t blessed with the square footage to have a backyard, need to get clever to find other solutions. If you live in a townhouse or apartment in the big city, don’t hole yourself up in the living room. Head to the roof!

Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

Rooftop decks are making a comeback with stylish sunproof fabrics and durable appliances perfect for an outdoor soiree or afternoon sipping cocktails. With a smaller area to work with, every detail counts, right down to the trim on the cushions.

Each piece should speak to your style, whether you’re going for a Hamptons retreat or Miami Beach-inspired entertainment area. Make sure you have plenty of seating with umbrellas available for an afternoon siesta.

We love the way bright citrusy colors and patterns help brighten outdoor decks made of concrete or stone. Add a summery vibe with plenty of greenery potted in patterned vases, and flowers on every bistro table to greet your guests.

The California room

Here in California, we can’t imagine a home without a space that easily transitions into the great outdoors. Enter the California room: a space perfectly situated just outside a sliding glass door with transitional elements like interior furnishings and exterior fabrics.

Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

This space usually consists of a small outdoor kitchen and dining area for nights when the weather is too beautiful not to enjoy. The California room is often home to an entertainment center like a television for the big game, or speakers to enjoy relaxing music.

The key to creating the perfect California room is to keep it fluid. Use gauzy curtains and outdoor fabrics to maintain a soft vibe while also adding elements usually found indoors like couches, chaise lounges, and coffee tables for an interior-inspired look.

The outdoor kitchen

Last but certainly not least, the outdoor kitchen is the epitome of an inspired space. Whether you’re enjoying a dinner for two or a summer-themed fete, an outdoor kitchen is key to keeping your guests happy all evening long.

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Courtesy of Bruce Clodfelter Associates

An outdoor kitchen usually consists of a few major components. First, you need a grill and complementary appliances. We love a great stainless steel grill with multiple features for when you’d rather serve fish than burgers, or vegetable skewers instead of tri-tip. Equally stylish and useful features could include a built-in wine fridge or drink cooler, a sink, and a food prep station.

Next, pick materials that are both durable and fashion-forward like stone and quartz to help make after-meal cleanup that much easier.

Finally, choose accessories that help create a dining area suitable for families and guests like placemats, centerpieces, and plenty of lighting.

What are some of your favorite ways to style your outdoor space?

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