About the author: Chris Long has been a Home Depot store associate in the Chicago suburbs since 2000. A contributor to the Home Depot blog, Chris writes on outdoor and backyard topics, ranging from composite decking to swing sets for children.
Many homeowners want a well-maintained yard, but if you want to create a true backyard retreat you will need to dig a little deeper. The ideal backyard paradise blends many elements to create the ultimate escape. Incorporate items from each of the categories below, to make over your backyard in time for summer.
1.) Base: Select your “base” (anything from a grassy area, to a garden, to a well-designed deck) to establish your backyard’s foundation. Vary the base heights for a strong, layered feel, and consider enclosing your yard with a fence (picket, vinyl, split rail, or decorative metal fences) to match your home’s exterior style. As you embark on your backyard makeover, choose from a combination of the following base elements:
- Deck/Patio: Incorporate greenery by including planter boxes into your deck plans, or outfit your brick/stone patio with planter groupings.
- Planting beds: For a mature, natural look, mix plants with a variety of textures, colors, and sizes. Leave an open semicircle within one planting bed and add two outdoor chairs to create a private hideaway.
- Raised garden beds: Interested in growing edible plants? Add a square-foot garden for easily accessible fresh-grown herbs and produce.
- Pathways: Add a pathway alongside the lawn and through your garden. As an alternative to a flagstone walkway, consider using native stone surrounded by groundcover or small gravel.
2.) Shade: Create pockets of shade (natural or manmade) to increase the functionality of your backyard by combining several of these cover-up concepts:
- Trees: Capitalize on a mature shade tree by placing chairs or a bench beneath its branches. Apply shredded leaves or mulch around the base to prevent weeds and water competition from other plants.
- Pergola/Gazebo: For the ultimate in privacy, add wooden lattice to the sides of a pergola and train vines to climb towards the sky. Want a more sophisticated feel? Opt for swaths of outdoor curtains instead.
- Umbrella: Umbrellas that can be tucked into stands or a table make a lovely addition to smaller yards in need of shade. The expansive selection of available outdoor fabric options gives you creative license to incorporate a splash of color and patterns.
- Retractable awnings/Covered porch: Incorporating a shady space alongside the home creates a nice transition from indoors to out and provides a simple boundary for displaying outdoor furniture.
3.) Recreation: Once the basics have been completed, it’s time to bring in the toys! Because what good is your new backyard retreat without the company of friends?
- Cooking equipment: Outdoor cook spaces can be as simple as a basic charcoal grill or as elaborate as an exterior kitchen complete with built-in grill, vent hood, refrigerator, or even a dishwasher!
- Swing set/Playhouse: Aside from the “fun factor” one of your biggest decisions should be groundcover. Cedar chips are lightweight and bug/weather resistant, while pricier rubber mulch is long lasting and eco-friendly.
- Porch swing: Take advantage of shade and a cool breeze while catching up on conversation, sipping a cold drink, taking in a sunset, or enjoying a good book.
- Hammock: Even if you don’t have two mature trees, you can still string a hammock between two sunken posts.
- Adult recreation: The kids aren’t the only ones looking for backyard activities! Include a sand-filled bocce pit, a small putting green, a horseshoe pit, an oversized patio chessboard or an on-deck shuffleboard court.
4.) Fire and Water: For the final touch, incorporate two classic elements to enjoy when the sun goes down:
- Fire pit: Whether you construct a built-in copper bowl or purchase a small clay chimney, one of the most important things to remember is seating. Ideally, chairs and benches should be situated about three feet from the fire, close enough for warmth but far enough for safety.
- Candlelight/Torches: For soft lighting, outfit your table with candlelight (try tea lights tucked into Mason jars for a casual aesthetic) and line your pathways and porches with torches (fill with citronella oil for a bug barrier). Turn to gas lanterns for a more formal feel.
- Lights: If you have little ones running through the backyard, you may not feel comfortable incorporating open flame. A canopy of party lights strung over the patio provides festive drama in a child-friendly format.
- Fountain: Whether you create your own fountain from a pot and pump or purchase a ready-made model, the sight and sound of bubbling water attracts relaxation, as well as wild birds. Remember, stagnant water can attract unwelcome pests, so it’s best to include features that keep the water flowing.
What will you include in your backyard to turn your neighbors green with envy? Are you looking for a new home to create your own backyard escape? Start your search here.