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We all love our outdoor patios, but sometimes a courtyard can be an awkward space. Typically surrounded by 2-3 exterior walls, it can be hard to know how to use it, and so we tend to forget about these lovely little outdoor spaces. But maybe it’s time to give it an overhaul. It will add value to your home and just might become your new favorite hangout.

Here are the top ten ways to give your courtyard a new look and make it a part of your home that you can be proud of:

1: A good clean up. An untidy courtyard offers little in the way of stylish comfort and relaxation. Weedy garden plots, neglected plants and grubby tiles will all respond to a little loving care. This may be all you need to get your courtyard on the way to glory. If there is clutter in your courtyard, you can hide it out of sight in storage space disguised as seating.

2: Disguise the ugly spots. It’s easy to hide unattractive brickwork. You can put up a trellis and train flowering climbers to grow over it, or you arrange trees and shrubs in elegant pots to hide it. If you don’t want too much greenery to look after, try a mural painted on the brickwork or on a weatherproof board. Bamboo makes an excellent disguise for ugly bricks – either grow it against the wall or use bamboo screens.

3: Make an outdoor table setting. Courtyards are meant to be used, and there is nothing better that enjoying coffee in your own outdoor café setting. You can choose from a wide range of tables and chairs to suit your décor, from wrought iron to sleek modern designs. If your courtyard has no shade, you can add a wide umbrella to keep the sun off. Set a couple of pot plants near the table setting for extra chic.

4: Choose a theme and follow your dream. Perhaps you long to live near the beach, wallow in a tropical oasis or live in a country cottage? While you are waiting, let your courtyard reflect your dream. A mural can give you an ocean view, and you can fill your courtyard with shells and other treasures that remind you of the ocean. Used bleached wood for seating and decking, and decorate with white ropes and driftwood. Fill your courtyard with lush palms and delicious tropical flowers for your oasis, and add coconut matting and a palm frond umbrella. For a country cottage look, build up flower beds or pots with good soil and grow beautiful English flowers, Decorate with old fashioned garden ornaments like sun dials and bird baths.

5: Add a water feature. Your imagination is the limit here. Do you want one wall to become your water feature, lit up at night so the rivulets sparkle, or would you prefer a fountain, or a small pond with gold fish? A water feature will give a city courtyard the feeling of the outdoors, and adds tranquility and movement to your outdoor space. Plan the rest of your courtyard around the water feature and you will have the perfect spot to escape the city’s bustle and relax when you come home.

6: Furnish for comfort and style. You should regard your courtyard as another room and furnish accordingly. A deep hammock piled with cushions might be just the ticket for relaxing with a book, or perhaps you would prefer a day bed under a shelter or gazebo, where you can lounge with a bowl of fresh fruit and a pile of magazines? Weatherproof fabrics make luxurious furnishings an easy choice for the modern courtyard. If you want to keep it simple, deck chairs and banana lounges will suit a small space and can be folded up when you need more room.

7: Create sound. Hang wind chimes in the branches of any tree, or from your pergola or gazebo. Bamboo cut at different lengths and hung from another piece of bamboo with fishing line makes a stunning wind chime. Old spoons and other pieces of cutlery, shells, lengths of aluminum and crystals can also be used to make wind chimes that will fill your courtyard with tinkling sound.

8: Entertain a lot. Have a BBQ installed, and a small bar. If you want to keep it simple, you can have a hibachi, or a Chinese steamboat. The steamboat gives a great party atmosphere where guests can dip pieces of meat, shellfish and vegetables into steaming hot broth to create their own meals. Nothing makes your courtyard more attractive than the laughter of friends.

9: Think of your décor. Don’t just crowd stuff in, plan your courtyard carefully as you would a room in your house. Get paint swatches from the store, leaf through catalogues, block out your design elements on graph paper. Choose a color scheme that complements the room that leads out to your courtyard, or that provides the right setting for your chosen features, such as plants, water feature or furniture. Remember that the courtyard will be exposed to the elements, so be sure to choose materials that will survive all weathers.

10: Make it productive. Even a small courtyard can hold an herb patch, a couple of fruit trees and a little vegetable plot. Climbing beans and peas are excellent vegetable choices for courtyards, fruit trees can be grown in pots, and strawberries and herbs can spill out of hanging pots. One of the nicest things you can do is pop outside to gather a handful of fresh ingredients for your kitchen, and herbs will not only add fragrance to your courtyard, they will help keep insects at bay if you choose the right ones.

Gail Kavanagh 2007

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Starting a Farmer’s Market Business

If you’re looking for a way of both giving back to the community and supplementing your income, consider operating a booth at your local farmer’s market. With minimal investment, you could be on your way to becoming a successful small business owner with the help of a skill you already have and the support of your friends and neighbors. Whether you know how to make fruit preserves, bake a tasty rum cake, prepare homemade soap, or any other number of trendy products that are meeting a growing demand for local production, contact your area’s farmer’s market management today to learn more.

The first thing to check is whether or not your state has a Cottage Food Act. From California to Illinois, states with this regulation system allow anyone who meets certain requirements and passes a food handling class to make products in their home and sell them at local markets. Although the details vary from state to state, a Cottage Food Act is the best way of introducing yourself to the market. It also provides ways for the business to expand in the future and eventually use commercial kitchen space to prepare products for retail shelves, if there is an appropriate demand.

If there is no legal reason standing between you and your farmer’s market aspirations, the next step is figuring out how much money you’ll have to invest to get off the ground. Depending on the product you are planning to produce, as well as your general schedule through the summer months, it may be possible to use each week’s income to buy fresh ingredients to prepare for the next week. Otherwise, you’ll want to be sure you can stockpile enough products to last the entire season. This is also a crucial time to determine other costs, such as your booth itself. Many market vendors choose to use a canopy style event tent, which generally costs around $200.00. You’ll need a table or two and probably a chair, as well as convenient methods of transporting your goods.

Beyond the basics, think about your brand. Having business cards made up with an eye-catching logo can keep you on the minds of your consumers, and decorating your booth with tasteful fabrics or other decorative items will leave a lasting impression. There are also the operating costs of being at the farmer’s market, though these are usually very small, sometimes as little as $10.00 per week or even less. If you have several markets in the area, consider registering for multiple markets and maximizing your availability. However, be sure you’re not impeding on other’s business. Many markets try to keep only one of any given type of vendor to avoid unneeded competition.

The last thing to think about is advertising. Although the great thing about a farmer’s market is that many people will be coming to look at all the vendors and stock up for the week, increasing awareness of your specific booth is always recommended. Local papers are often looking for interviews with small business owners. Setting up a Facebook page or other social media website allows customers to connect directly with you, as well as spread your message to their friends and contacts. Giving out coupons incentives encourages people to come spend money and get to know your products better. It’s also possible to work together with other vendors at your local farmer’s market to create special deals that combine both of your customer bases.

Getting more involved with your community, as well as making some extra money, has never been easier than by starting a farmer’s market business. It’s easy to produce local products that meet a demand, and, if done wisely, costs can be kept very minimal. If you’ve been thinking about it, there’s no better time than right now to get ready for this summer’s market season. Besides, just being a vendor allows you to build connections with other vendors and often purchase products at a discounted price or even trade your homemade goods for others. There’s no reason not to start your road to farmer’s market success.

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