In our haste to tackle everything on our to-do list, we often forget the profound effect our immediate surroundings have on our well-being. The backyard in particular can become overgrown and neglected, a nagging symbol of chores yet to be done. It’s easy to overlook the potential for calm and tranquility that the backyard offers. With a minimal investment of effort and expense, a weed-infested wasteland can be transformed into a sanctuary. Studies show that Americans suffer from the effects of stress on an unprecedented scale. Now more than ever, we all could use a backyard paradise.
It’s a paradox that relaxation is necessary to work efficiently. Some people take an exotic two-week vacation that’s meant to compensate for a year’s worth of stress. Instead, it’s important to unwind frequently, detoxing from the information overload that comes with modern life. The best place for daily unwinding is right out your back door. Follow these simple steps to transform your backyard from an eyesore into a sanctuary.
1. Make a Master Plan
Start with a clear picture of the end goal in mind, and you’re more likely to get there. Close your eyes and visualize your idea. Do you see a cottage garden overflowing with flowers? Or is your mental picture a lush and well-tended lawn with neat flower beds at the edges?
Now open your eyes. Overlay your idea onto reality. What features would you like to keep, and which ones must go? Could the unused patio be transformed with some large urns full of flowers and herbs, maybe a table and chairs at the center? Would rocking chairs on the back porch make it more welcoming? Are there overgrown hedges that could be shaped – perhaps even whimsically?
While you’re brainstorming, let the ideas rush in. You can always discard them later.
2. Define Relaxation
Next, think of how your backyard paradise will be used by you and your family. Perhaps you would like to enhance it with a kitchen garden full of exotic vegetables and spices. Or maybe you’ll finally get around to developing a new hybrid rose. Here’s your chance to define what relaxation means to you.
If your yard is a weathered patch of dirt, chances are you either don’t care much for yard work or can’t find the time. Here’s your opportunity to build relaxation into your garden’s design. Put in low-maintenance plants and install weed-blocking fabric under new paths. Make your yard do the yard work for you.
Paint your new paradise, using a backdrop of green leaves with accents of bright flowers. Which palette suits your taste? Do you like flowers of every color, or would you prefer a monochromatic color scheme? White gardens are elegant, combining all types of light-colored plants that look as stunning by day as they do by moonlight. Zinnias are cheerful in reds, oranges and yellows, and also have the advantage of being easy to grow.
Take existing colors into consideration, such as the color of your house. What will look good next to it? Next, think of your outdoor furnishings – hammocks, benches, tables and chairs. Are they in good shape, or do they need replacing? Would a few throw pillows do the trick? Try using combinations of complementary colors as you visualize: blue/orange, yellow/purple, red/green.
Sound sets a mood, so use it purposefully, as if creating a staged production. Ponder what sounds come to mind when you think of relaxing. It might be the breeze tickling a wind chime, or the splashing of a fountain or waterfall. You might like to pipe music into the trees. Or perhaps the wind rustling through pampas grass is your definition of a relaxing sound.
Use plants to invite the natural world to take up residence. Songbirds can be enticed with fruit bearing shrubs or bird feeders. Encourage birds to stick around by installing nesting boxes and planting their favorite trees. Butterflies and hummingbirds prefer bright flowers filled with nectar. Plant it and they will come.
6. Use Sentimental Furniture
So much garden furniture is infused with nostalgia: the porch swing, evoking first kisses and simpler times; the hammock, reminiscent of beach houses and tropical retreats; and the rocking chair, conjuring up images of quiet moments and contemplation. Make an investment in good quality outdoor furniture, and set a standard of absolute comfort.
7. Fun in the Sun and the Shade
Your backyard paradise should be a retreat at any time of day and most of the year. Create shady retreats as a respite from the sun, and bright areas to enjoy your mornings. Use umbrellas, pergolas and shade trees accordingly. Install plants that will have “winter interest” offering striking silhouettes to be admired from the warmth of a covered porch during the coldest months.
Place plants strategically so that a stroll along the garden path becomes a narrative of aroma. Rather than the shock of discordant fragrances, design a natural flow that spans the heavy perfume of jasmine to the pungent spice of basil and thyme. Try lavender and chamomile, sandalwood and sage. Create an aromatherapy walk that will wash away your cares.
9. Fan the Flames
Create a fascinating focal point with fireplaces of all kinds – from permanent installations to portable chimineas and fire pits. Tiki torches evoke island celebrations, and candles always add a touch of class. Dancing flames are mesmerizing to watch and will add a contemplative dimension to your retreat.
Whether you enjoy games like horseshoes, croquet and bocce ball, or more active sports like volleyball and badminton, be sure to allow plenty of space in your backyard for playtime. Exercise is good for the soul and works wonders at washing away stress and mental cobwebs.
With regular infusions of relaxation, you’ll find yourself feeling more centered and able to handle the stress of your work-a-day world. Knowing you’ve taken a moment to smell the roses will make you less anxious about the passage of time. You’ll keep things in perspective and remember what’s important while enjoying your backyard paradise.
Kimberly Aardal, Publisher of EveryDayRockingChairs.com loves the outdoors and relaxing in her own backyard paradise on her new river rockers. Kimberly lives in the mountains of Colorado with her husband Jon and yellow lab Ginger. In the summer, the three of them spend a great deal of time in the mountains, hiking and exploring the small mountain towns in their beautiful state. In the winter, they admire the view from their indoor wooden rocking chairs, and also enjoy skiing and snowshoeing.
With a bocce ball court, fire pit and minimal plantings, this water-wise Austin, Texas, backyard by is primed for parties. String lights around the perimeter illuminate the court at night and add to the ambiance.
2. Small on Lawn, Big on Play
A central rectangle of lawn offers comfy play space for little ones without giving over the entire backyard to grass. Surrounding the center green in this design are cement and gravel paths leading to a fire pit, covered seating area and deck.
This small San Francisco backyard was transformed from a jumbled mishmash of potted plants and wonky brickwork into a flowing space ideal for relaxing with friends. An outdoor living room positioned at the highest point in the yard provides a lookout over neighboring Bernal Hill, while the Cor-Ten steel fire pit creates a welcoming spot to gather in the evening.
Artificial turf forms the centerpiece of this small city garden in London, where a real lawn would be challenging to care for. Surrounding the artificial turf with real plants and trees, as seen here, is a good way to help the fake stuff blend in.
5. Private Putting Green
For a golfer, having a private putting green may just be the ultimate backyard accessory. A seating area next to the artificial turf green allows spectators to lounge in comfort.
This Alabama backyard may be small but it still manages to pack in tons of features, from the raised deck dining area to the office shed. A hanging chair, gas fire table and mini-lawn area provide nooks to explore.
7. Room for Entertaining
This luxurious yard was designed with entertaining in mind, with a series of outdoor rooms spanning the length of the yard. Shown in the foreground is a comfy outdoor living room zone with ample seating for a crowd. A path meanders by a small green space and ends at an outdoor fireplace and dining table.
Enjoy leisurely alfresco feasts on your own Mediterranean-style patio. Here, a long table sits between two rows of olive trees with an outdoor kitchen and fireplace on one end. The arrangement is ideal for preparing — and savoring — a meal.
Unthirsty plantings and a hot tub nestled into a flagstone patio give this Southern California backyard a lush look. At the opposite end, a rustic stone fire pit continues the naturalistic look.
Who wouldn’t want to enjoy dinner and a movie outdoors when it looks this good? Crisscrossing string lights overhead boost the ambiance and wide doors provide easy indoor-outdoor flow.
Tell us: What fun feature would you most like to add to your backyard? Share your thoughts in the Comments.
If you’re not sure where to begin with your backyard remodel, why not start with a deck or patio? This feature will instantly give your yard major appeal, and it adds resale value to your home. Lay down a concrete patio with this easy DIY project or build a wooden deck that you can adorn with cute chairs.
Above: Brook created a cohesive look with a backyard patio of stone pavers “grouted” with pebbles.
Consider covering an unsightly concrete patio with a thin layer of pea gravel. Or, if there’s just dirt or a patchy lawn, lay some inexpensive concrete pavers to create an affordable patio. (You’ll first need to dig down about two inches, to make the pavers flush with the rest of the yard.) If you’re up for some heavy lifting, it’s easy to lay a flagstone patio, which doesn’t require perfection. Alternatively, dress up a concrete patio or roof terrace with artificial turf or an outdoor rug. (You don’t want pavers on a roof, because of the weight—and hard edges that could damage the membrane.)
Always finding your children at your feet in the kitchen? Bring the kitchen outdoors as spring arrives by reusing (and having an excuse for new) pots and pans. Let them create the best mud stew ever to be created all while enjoying the beautiful outdoors and sun.
This is a great opportunity to let them explore mixing solids and liquids and making the best “foods” around. Letting your kids explore the outdoor environment and non-household items is a great way to let their imagination sore. Pinecone pie? Don’t mind if I do!
The owners of this small yard in the San Francisco bay area hired KL Designs to redesign their outdoor space to accommodate raised wood planters in which they can grown vegetables and herbs. Building raised beds allows the plants to grow in quality soil, keeps them away from city-dwelling critters (squirrels, mice), and provides easy access for maintaining the vegetables.