THE BACKYARD IDEAS POST! 26 TIPS & TRICKS FOR CREATING A BEAUTIFUL BACKYARD.

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My name’s Karen.  I do stuff.  Pretty much everything.  What I don’t do is, relax. I’m bad at it.  Like really bad.  Complex math bad.

It’s an affliction.

But the fact that I don’t relax in my backyard is good news for you because I’ve become a bit of a backyard building expert!

Over the past 10 years I’ve packed as much into my tiny backyard as is humanly possible, and I did it on a budget.  I mean it was a huge budget because I’m extremely rich, but still it was a budget.

Just kidding.  I’m not poor and I’m not rich.  I’m ordinarily wealthy.

I have learned a LOT doing this backyard.  A lot of the right ways to do things and a lot of the wrong ways.

I’ve learned what makes a great backyard and what makes what could be a great backyard, a total miss.

A great backyard evolves over time, it doesn’t happen overnight.  Even if you’re rich, it takes time to do stuff.  Those backyard makeover shows where everything is done in a weekend?  Those are lies. I know because I hosted those show like that.

Whether your backyard is almost great or not even close to great these ideas will help you make it better.  And by better I  mean a place you actually enjoy and relax in.

  1. DIVIDE IT INTO ROOMS

Just like a house, your backyard will become infinitely more useable if you divide it up into “rooms”.

This is an overhead look at my backyard and how I have it broken up into 3 main sections.

The chicken coop, the pizza oven area, and the eating/pond area.

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wide-shot

Every area has a section and every section has a purpose.  This is what my backyard looked like at the beginning of the summer before the perennials had filled in.  It’s nice … but it could use something else to divide the areas.  Either big potted plants or screens or a pergola.  Which I’ll be doing in July.

2. SUNNY BACKYARD? PUT IN A VEGETABLE GARDEN.

3. SHADY BACKYARD?  HOSTAS, ASBILBE AND BOSTON FERNS.

 

4. DO RAISED PLANTER BEDS

Raised planter beds are one of the fastest, cheapest ways to add structure and interest to your backyard.  I’m writing like someone from the Family Handyman magazine right now for some reason.  But it’s true.  Raised planter beds are easy to build and totally transform a backyard because a) you’re adding another height and b) you can make them whatever shape you want.  So if you have a plain, rectangular backyard, you can jig and jag your planter beds in any way you want to create a backyard that’s an interesting shape. not just a plain rectangle.

 

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These beds are poured concrete and completely change a plain, rectangular backyard instantly.  O.K., not instantly, probably weekstantly or monthstantly … but still.

I built my raised beds out of pressure treated wood and they outline the entire backyard. You can see them below.

backyard-makeover-retreat

(those lounge chairs are long gone because even though they looked great, they too were uncomfortable. This is the area my dining table and chairs are now.)

5. Gas BBQ?  Buy an extra propane tank so when one runs out you have another to replace it with.

6. Can’t be bothered to water? Your hose probably isn’t convenient.  Move it.  Don’t want to have it professionally moved?  Just add a splitter and an extra length of hose and hang it where it’s most convenient.

7. FORGET THE FLOWERS … FOCUS ON FOLIAGE.  A backyard filled with only green is calm and relaxing.

8. WATER FEATURE

Whether it’s just a big pot with a small fountain and aquatics in it or a full on pond with waterfalls like the one I built, having the sound of some type of moving water instantly relaxes you and makes you feel like you’re somewhere else.  Costa Rica maybe.

To build my pond (in the photo below) I used the bits of leftover slate that had started to crumble in my backyard.  (I then replaced the shaley slate with flagstone which is much better for my climate).

backyard-makeover-pond

9.  BY THE GRILL. Keep big potted herbs by your BBQ.

10. A TREE.  A backyard needs a tree.  Any tree.  No tree?  Plant a tree.  Ornamental trees like Japanese Maples planted in big square planters are especially nice and you don’t need a huge backyard for them.

11. SMOKE ‘EM IF YOU GOT ‘EM.  Put a smoker in your backyard and you can do the world’s best ribs PLUS you have to tend to it for several hours, forcing you to hang out in the backyard.

 

12.  OVERHEAD LIGHTING.  

Get some NICE outdoor lighting.  Because if you can’t see outside after dark chances are you aren’t going to spend any time out there.  Because you’ll be bumping into things.

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These patio globe lights are the “Pinterest” thing to get right now.  They really do look great and even though I sometimes cringe at how much control Pinterest has over our tastes … I might give in and buy some.

 

13. AMBIENT LIGHTING.  Like solar spot lights, deck lights and my world famous outdoor orbs.

14. MUSIC.  Add weather proof outdoor speakers.  These ones rate well, plus they’re only $86 US for the pair so  I’m considering them.

15. BUY OUTDOOR FURNITURE NOW.  Crap backyard because there’s nowhere to sit?  Patio furniture starts getting drastically reduced in July.  You still have a good selection right now too … by August or September stores will only be left with the ugly stuff.

 

16. ADD A PIZZA OVEN.

You can buy one, but they aren’t cheap.  If you’re even remotely handy with a few of weekends on your hands you can build your own like I did for around $100 out of clay, straw and sand.

pizza-oven

I have never had so many people desperate to come and visit.  It’s mayhem in the summer with lineups out the gate.  Like Studio 54 without the cocaine and gold lame.

 

17. FUN AND GAMES. Add an element of fun.  Bocce balls, horseshoes, badminton, croquet, putting green, sandbox, bean bag toss (cornhole … but good God I don’t like that name, lol).

18. FOR THE BIRDS.  Bored? Add birdhouses and watch them flit and flirt.  Put out birdfeeders or oranges for orioles and add a birdbath.

19. WHITE FLOWERS.  If you absolutely MUST have flowers in your backyard plant white ones.  White flowers will show up past dusk and into the night where those super-cool black Petunias will completely disappear.  

 

20. HANG A HAMMOCK.

I’m convinced the reason I don’t relax more in my backyard is that I don’t have a hammock. If I had a hammock I’d surely relax all day all the time.  The Mayan Hammock is apparently the hammock to buy …

 

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It also comes in neutral too for those of you who have more refined tastes.  I kindda like the bright one for some reason which is very unlike me.  Clearly I’m not as refined as I thought.

21. BUILD A GROWN UPS TREEHOUSE. This is the one to aspire to.

22. HAVE YOUR MORNING COFFEE OUTSIDE.  This one little thing involves nothing more than changing your routine.

23.  ADD A CLOTHESLINE.  Cut down on hydro costs, the freshest sheets you’ll ever sleep on, PLUS it forces you outside to hang and take down the clothes.

 

24. PUT UP A PERGOLA. 

This is one I’ve been doing a lot of research (browsing Pinterest) on.  I’m thinking my backyard might need a pergola over the sitting area by the pizza oven.

 

Mid-Century Modern Renovation
Something simple and contemporary like the one above is nice, but adding sides like the one below really makes you feel like you’re in a separate space.

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See?  It’d go right here over the furniture …

backyard-side

 

25. HIDE THE JUNK.  Recycle bins, garbage pails, shovels in plain site?  Hide them behind gates or screens.

26. BUY CHEAP FOOD SCREENS.  Nothing ruins a nice backyard dinner like shit flies in the potato salad.

27. FAKE A BREEZE.  Plugging in a fan outside will cool you off plus keep mosquitos away at dusk because they can’t fly through a wind.  Stupid little mosquitos.

 

28. CREATE A PATHWAY.

I’ve always loved pathways made out of plain strips of wood.

 

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But if you have trees that have come down you can make this sliced log pathway like Summer of Doing Stuff participant Sandra is making (and currently weeding).

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29. USE YOUR WALLS.  Use your house walls to add more dimension to your backyard. Hang old picture frames, window boxes, sculptures, potted plants or whatever else you can think of.

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30. ADD SOMETHING SCULPTURAL.  Your backyard is big so it can handle bigger things than your house.  Huge pots, Buddha heads, ladders or statutes give you something to focus on.

26. PULL THE CHAIRS OUT.

This one is so easy it probably seems stupid.  But a lot of outdoor furniture is bulky and heavy.  So don’t push your chairs all the way into your tables.  Keeping them pulled out enough that you can slip in will make you way more likely to actually sit down on them.  Honestly.  I know it seems ridiculous but this tip is one of the best.

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Does that help?

If these ideas got you excited to polish up your own backyard it might be time to do something about it! Wouldn’t you love to have a backyard that makes you sign instead of cry?

July is the time to do it because July is ‘CREATE A BACKYARD RELAXATION STATION” month in The Summer of Doing Stuff!

You can sign up for the July backyard challenge now!

July was originally to just going to be the “Relaxing” month, but that idea evolved into me helping you create the most swoon worthy, relaxing, I want to spend time out there, backyard possible!  

It took me 10 years to get my backyard the way I like it but you can do it faster than that because you now have me and a whole community of other Summer of Doing Stuff Challengers to help you.

June’s challenge to “Eat the Frog” in The Summer of Doing Stuff was a huge success.

This challenge and this group of like-minded people have pushed me to complete those projects I just couldn’t bring myself to finish. Support, humor, compassion and most importantly friendship has made my Summer of Doing Stuff much more fun! ~ Kari

I have several huge “things” that have taken up room in my brain for years and they are gone, vanished, replaced by friendly frog eaters of all sorts. I just loved this class. ~ Mary

This group has helped me tremendously because it has helped me move the things I want to do from the theoretical to the concrete. I love seeing the progress others are making and it helps me to remember that I’m not the only one trying to eat a frog here. ~ Veronica

 

Look at what people accomplished!

They made outdoor potties!

potties

 

And carved wood for the first time in years …

carving

 

And built HUGE sheds …

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And moved hay …

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One woman even tackled her frog to make her own bra!
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As a member you get workbooks that will will help you get organized!

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And build a beautiful backyard!

This backyard challenge is for everyone!

You might need plant recommendations!

Or advice on how to lay pavers.

Or opinions on your design.

Or support from a whole community of like-minded backyard builders.

Each week you’ll get homework send to you along with my personal recommendation for a way to reward yourself for all your hard work that week.

We’ll have a Skype call during week 2 to help  you through the trouble spots and I’ll tour you through my own backyard.

PLUS you’ll get to walk through the chicken coop with me on the video call.

By the end of week 4 you’ll have improved your backyard, learned a few relaxation techniques and will celebrate all you’ve accomplished in your new digs with a BBQed meal from a menu (with meat and vegetarian options) sent out by me!

Join in the fun (and it IS fun) now!

78 Comments

  1. j says:

    So A++ it makes me dizzy! Me I’ve been pulling weeds, and dealing with outdoor creatures. My furry girls love to supervise-Woof Woof. And nobody has been bitten by outdoor creatures, yet. Thanks for sharing! My goal for July is using defoliant on poison ivy, and maybe learing to spell better!

  2. Jules says:

    Please tell the wood carver to stick with it, practice makes perfect an’ all that. 😉

    • Karen says:

      Ha! I know, she’s SO good. But she’d stopped for 7 years! And the June challenge was enough to boost her back into doing it again, which I’m very, very happy about. 🙂 ~ karen!

  3. Catherine says:

    I am bowled over by the bra – those are some serious skills! Karen, do you ever cover your pizza oven? Lots of the ones I’ve seen have a little roof over them which I don’t like nearly as much as yours.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Catherine! I used to have to tarp it but that was before I added the lime plaster coat to the oven. Lime Plaster protects it from the elements. At the end of fall I do cover it because you don’t want it to get any wetness in the cracks and then freeze because it’ll completely crack and ruin the oven. That’s could be why people have covers over theirs. It’s the freeze/thaw that’ll ruin it. ~ karen!

      • Catherine says:

        Thanks Karen! I’m still very keen to make one once I get a good site for it, but I’m so glad to know there’s a way to avoid the little chalet on the top, yours looks so authentic without. Much more Mediterranean!!

  4. Rita says:

    You forgot a hot tub. You’ve got to have a hot tub to force you to relax at the end of hard day’s DIY. We picked up our Layzee Spa for under £200 a year ago and it’s totally the dog’s bollox (That means it’s fabulous in case you were wondering. Bollox by itself means rubbish. The added dog makes all the difference ) Granted the inflatable spa looks a bit ugly but you could tart it with a bit of reed screening or wings from newly captured fairies. The beauty is you can pack it all away during the cold Canadian winter. You know you want one.

  5. Marna says:

    First photo is so gorgeous, as is the tree all lit up! You have done an awesome job! My yard is a mess since I can’t do as much as I use to, still plugging away at what I can. I know the bees love my flowers, probably the only ones for a mile or so. Good luck to everyone working on your yard. Also will you be adding to your shop, the things I like seem to be sold out. Thanks 🙂

    • Karen says:

      I will Marna! I’m working on a summer collection of things to add right now and there’s a VERY special thing that will be added and announced on Wednesday. 🙂 ~karen!

  6. Liberty says:

    I actually find Pinterest to be extremely helpful and in no way does it influence my taste just as your blog does not influence me. BOTH offer great inspiration and resource materials. We each have different styles and ways of doing things. I adapt things I see to reflect my personal taste. Pinterest has been a wonderful source of information in the restoration of my 1920s Craftsman style bungalow. Keep up the great work! I do enjoy ‘stealing’ ideas from you.

  7. Ronda says:

    Our yard isn’t nearly as big as yours, but we’re part way there! The patio stones are all laid, with 4 tons of gravel and a couple of tons of limestone screening below. Oh, and a small potty area for the dog to do his business. Next are fences on two sides so our dog doesn’t freak out at the neighbours. And training the dog to use the aforementioned potty area! And furniture! I just KNEW it would be going on sale soon! Thanks for the timing tip!

  8. Catt in Kentucky says:

    Seriously. Best post yet! Love your truly fab backyard….everything is perfect.
    The bigger, better made old-fashioned patio lights are cheaper at Costco (than the Amazon lights) here in the United States. We have been working on our yard for years so that experience makes me really appreciate all that you have done…the gray/black color palette, the cohesive and tasteful design. You did great! Now relax would you ?

  9. Anna Lee says:

    I agree with you on everything except the part about flowers. I’ve been working on installing and expanding a native plant (to the mid-Atlantic region) garden in my yard and LOVE sitting on my patio watching the bees, butterflies and hummingbirds working and eating all around me. It may have to do with climate too – we get HOT by mid summer and the bright colors add some beauty to what would otherwise be a very drab and dried out landscape (our water bills are expensive here so not keen to try to prop up non-native plants that need more water than is naturally available). That said, if you want to go all white or all green – you can still do that with natives… I just love that my flowers give sustenance to so many creatures all year round. On another subject – my husband is halfway through his summer pizza oven project… we can’t wait!!

    • Rita says:

      The idea of a garden without flowers is like having a rainbow without colours. I agree with you entirely! A garden isn’t a garden without flowers.

      • Karen says:

        Well sure it is, lol. Greenery and leaf shape are things you learn to appreciate after you’ve run the gamut of flowers. 😉 ~ karen!

  10. monique says:

    You’re amazing.there really is nothing you cannot do..and you do it all so well.

  11. Valerie says:

    Gorgeous yard Karen! Kudos to you, what a tremendous amount of labour!

    My suggestions to add to today’s post.

    * Re: the bird bath. If you don’t have one yet but are thinking of acquiring one make sure there is a ridge around the perimeter otherwise the birds won’t use it as they require the ridge upon which to perch.
    * Many garage sales often have mirrors which are an interesting addition. Their placement is vital. Under an eve or overhang is a good idea otherwise the back silvering may wash away over time.
    * If grass or weeds coming are up between pavers and you don’t want to use the Round Up exterminator then take your electric kettle out side and when it boils pour the boiling water on the unwanted green and it will disappear for awhile. Household strength vinegar in a spray bottle also is effective.
    * I love the lights overhead in your yard. ( Mind the extension/water/rain combination here though.) Solar lights ‘seemed’ like such a good idea when they became available years ago but the fact of the matter is that they die completely dead after a short time and even the more expensive ones are not useful for folks with shady back yards.
    * Rather than having to haul in the seat cushions ( many are big, bulky and awkward) when rain is in the forecast purchase very small tarps. ( Examine the measurements carefully on the package as it is difficult to locate smallish ones.) If you have a windy environment you can get one package of 1/4 inch elastic at a dollar store and run it quickly through the grommets and tie in a simple bow to keep them in place.
    * Add a clock somewhere; even though this may be your relaxing space you may appreciate knowing the time occasionally.
    * Wind chimes. I received a gong type chime a few Christmas’ ago and it is lovely – it doesn’t clang – just a nice subtle sound from time to time.
    * Sisal mats rather than ones from material as sisal dries quickly. Also crumbs fall in between the spaces!

    • Pam'a says:

      More great ideas!

      I have a couple. Birdbaths are great. But don’t get a metal one if you live where it’s hot. The poor birds won’t be able to stand it. Also, place it someplace with sheltering foliage nearby, and clear space on the ground around it. This way they can watch for predators and escape to a bush when threatened. Keep the water clean.

      I used to have a decent looking “estate,” but I can no longer physically keep it up and have no yard boy, dang it.

  12. Elaine says:

    You made your own pizza oven????!!!! Wow!! Is there anything you CAN’T do?

    Your backyard is so beautiful. I love the paint colors, the ferns everywhere (that’s all I buy for my condo balcony), love the separate rooms and your wooden table. I once belonged to a garden club; each June, they had a weekend tour of various members’ gardens. Your table instantly reminded me of a gorgeous backyard I visited years ago. The owner had the very same table (must have been painted in an enamel paint as it sat out all year they said), accompanied by folding chairs (the kind you see on a pea gravelled patio in movies like The Godfather), modern planters (with ferns!!), and two wicker love-seats placed in another sitting area. Her hubby had built a small shed where she went to relax; she furnished it with an iron daybed, a few mirrors and a chest of drawers that was topped with some old suitcases; the interior was painted a creamy white. I never forgot that backyard and while yours is more sleek, your table brought back that fabulous garden!

    Sorry for rambling on, Karen, but I also must remark on your raised planters … they are such an important and attractive addition – I was trying to imagine your backyard without them – they really add the finishing touch!! You should be very proud of your sophisticated and beautiful garden!

    PS: I always bought white flowers for the very reason you stated. If you buy white Nicotiana (Tobacco Plant), they emit a lovely scent as the sun goes down. Other colors (of the plant) don’t have the same scent; just the white ones.

  13. Wendy says:

    Oooh. I am so excited. I have a love/hate relationship with my backyard. I love the idea of being there . . . and then I actually hate being there.
    It’s too big. It’s rambling. It’s full of weeds. What seemed like a good idea 10 years ago (a wild, rambunctious garden) now feels stressful.
    I crave straight lines. I crave repetition. I crave a hammock.
    Help please.

  14. Jenny says:

    We’ve been sitting on our front porch in bag chairs for three years, idly talking about when to finally cave and get patio furniture. This might finally be the summer. 🙂
    We have also been talking for three years (can you tell when we bought our house?) about adding a pergola to our back porch for some shade (and maybe a better way to hide from our overly chatty neighbors). This is NOT the summer (too much other stuff going on) but I can’t wait to see what you do with yours!
    And I had to laugh about watering/hose placement. We don’t water our plants because we subscribe to survival of the fittest (ok, ok, AND our hose placement is inconvenient). Our house came with a bunch of flower beds, all of which are overflowing with mutant Godzilla hostas, irises and daylilies. They do so well on their own that our main concern is trying to reduce the jungle, not encourage it. ^_^

  15. nanabobana says:

    I would love to have your backyard, Karen, so cozy and neat. MY problem is, I have TOO MUCH backyard!! I can’t focus! Here are recent pics… http://imgur.com/a/3U9JA … We have been here 6 years and we have built a garden, a deck, and a firepit area (soon to have a shelter house cover) and we really can’t think of another improvement that we can make. I hate all this grass but I’m 64 and I really don’t want the work that comes with MORE flowerbeds and features. Whenever I downsize, I’m going to use some or all of your ideas. I can feel myself relax looking at your yard!! 🙂

    • Karen says:

      I’d kill for all that yard! It’s a thing of beauty! Love the espaliers. (grapes or apples?) If it were my yard there are two things I would do. Make your patio area bigger to be more in keeping with the scale of the yard. And instead of going to the trouble or beds with more flowers etc. if you want to create a bit more interest do that wandering path I mentioned. Either with slices of tree trunk or the wood path or flagstones. It would give your eye something to follow but not create any more work other than laying down the actual meandering path. Or … just leave it like it is, lol. 🙂 It’s a stunning backyard. ~ karen!

      • nanabobana says:

        Haha, thanks, wanna trade? Those are concord grapes on the fences.

        The whole thing is a 2-acre rectangle, only the middle of it shows in the pics. The previous owners had dogs so the first thing we did was rip down all the inside-the-fence fencing and take out sections of rail for easy access.

        The Hub is actually making a winding path between the deck, his workshop, and the firepit, but he’s digging it and filling it with screenings and cement paving blocks. NOT my choice, but he needs it easier to shovel, we cook over wood in the winter, or just have a fire, as much as we can. We talked about making the patio bigger but since he dug that, too, his choice was to dig the path first. We LOVED having everyone over for the grad party in the pics, but it rarely happens. usually just us 2 fogies puttering around. Such a waste of a neat space! 🙂

  16. Kristina says:

    We’ve been working on the pool yard (we are on a farm, so front/back are sort of abstract concepts) , where we have a 35′, sinuous mosaic bench that a friend just completed (think Gaudi). Now the plants need to go in. Irrigation is a necessary component here in hot central CA, where it’s supposed to get over 100 degrees today. So that’s what’s holding up the project. Maybe this can be my kick in the pants. Then I can make time for the berry patch I hve planned for out by the chicken house….

  17. Kim K. says:

    love it — beautiful. That beautiful hydrangea in the lower right corner of your first pic is REMARKABLY similar to the one in post #27?? heehee

    • Karen says:

      Oh that’s funny! I didn’t even notice that. They’re Pinterest images and I (think) I’ve linked to the original sources. Although I know people/magazines do it all the time. Shift stuff around for photos. 🙂 ~ karen!

  18. Nanette says:

    Beautiful pictures! I’m tempted to try this challenge. I love being outside. My big problem is that I’m on the corner of a cookie cutter subdivision and my neighbor’s grandson moved in with his loud ramped up Charger. It’s really hard to relax when he is out revving his car. Any ideas for noise blocking?

    • Karen says:

      Hmm. No suggestions other than noise cancelling headphones. Good news is if it’s bothering you it’s probably bothering the grandparents too and will likely stop. 🙂 I highly recommend whipping your backyard into shape whether you do it officially through the challenge or not. You’ll be so glad you did it. ~ karen!

  19. Linda in Illinois says:

    Your backyard is my dream back yard. I’m working on getting mine to look like yours. You inspire me. I love it, Thank you

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Linda! I’ve just taken on another big stupid project for it. Something so stupid I’m gonna keep it to myself for a little while, lol. ~ karen!

  20. Brenda says:

    I can’t do a darn thing about relaxing in my backyard until the moles have been completely evicted!
    Boy do they know how to destroy a yard!

  21. I want that multi-colored hammock, but your link took me to the boring one! New link, please!

  22. Mandy says:

    My favourite thing I’ve installed outside was to hide the ugly view of the inside of my garage inconveniently located next to my sitting area. I gagged about for ages looking for outdoor art of the right size but it’s soooooo expensive!
    I bought a shower curtain with a fabulous picture (husband disagrees he’s not so keen on my flamingos!) and stapled it onto a frame I knocked up out of scrap bits of pressure treated timber.
    Result – weatherproof and cheap outdoor artwork 🙂

  23. Alice says:

    Wonderful post! All are very doable and not hugely expensive. Been looking at this all morning, enjoying each and every idea.

  24. Mark Harrison says:

    Tiny typo in top tip three, I think? Should “asbilbe” have been “astilbe”?

    And for those of us with shade… ferns, yes… hostas – only, if you can make the commitment to become the ancient superhero “Destroyer of Slugs” who goes out nightly, torch in hand, to battle the mighty foe. In my back garden (I’m too English to have a backyard) the slugs appear to be pellet, nematode, and beer-trap resistant.

  25. Alicia Cappola says:

    Karen,

    What is the square footage of your back yard? It looks like it must be massive to make all of those spaces happen!

    • Karen says:

      It’s not Alicia! Not at all. Each area is quite small. I’m not sure of the dimensions but each specialized area is around 10’x10′ with a few feet in between each section. It’s all about planning, spacing and delineating. 🙂 ~ karen!

  26. sledwell says:

    Great ideas! I have a retractable clothesline which means I get all the benefits without having to look at the clothesline in my small Toronto backyard.

  27. Amy in StL says:

    I bought my house almost four years ago. It came with 1950s era brick edged flower beds along all the edges (which are all shade) and a concrete patio with no cover. Then an enormous 100′ x 30′ lawn. Oh and one back corner has a cracked concrete parking pad and the other has enormous overgrown bushes that are taller than the garage. I have no idea how to break it up into rooms so I just hang out on the concrete benches on the concrete patio until the mosquitos drive me in – usually in about 15 minutes. I keep hoping I’ll win a yard design contest because I really bit off more than I could chew with this yard.

    • Karen says:

      You aren’t doing too badly actually Amy! Kind of like a blank canvas. Of course I’d have to see it, lol. BUT. The lawn is easily broken up with flower beds. A border on the outside and a bed on the inside. A cracked concrete parking pad is THE perfect place to put a pizza oven because you have a nice sturdy base to build it on! If it’s super-gross you could just put a timber border around it and then fill it in with pea gravel. (the border is to keep the pea gravel from falling out into the lawn). Trim the bushes or just haul them out. K. Those are my initial thoughts. 🙂 ~ karen!

  28. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    You do need that second pergola above..Lights for evenings would look nice too..My place came with raised beds along the back of the house with a wood board path (I call it the boardwalk) through it…I also have a big yard which is a waste as I have table, chairs and other seating out at the driveway right now!…I also have a movable table type fire pit..in need of something (cheap) to put down in back yard to sit these things on so that they don’t all have to be moved for lawn mowing which is done with a riding mower…Have thought about just putting down boards like a boardwalk for this also..Do you think it would work…I would love to enjoy my yard as there is my beautiful weeping willow tree I planted about eight years ago and a small stream running through..I would also like to do separate areas…Love, love your yard Karen..

  29. Heather (mtl) says:

    I love your backyard! Funny thing: when I thought of the layout, I had it all 100% backwards. Your choice of colours and plants is soothing- what do you do with the ferns over winter?
    Here in Co-Op land, the balconies are being redone. Groan. What this means is my balconey has been completely stripped and will be so until mid August, even though they haven’t even begun on mine, yet. Waaah, no flowers, no sitting out, no blinds to repel that ball of sun and, most importantly, no AC in the living room. Holy cow it’s hot! They will begin on mine shortly, so add migraine to the list.
    I’ll be going back to look over your great ideas and am anxious to do the new balconey as I’m already tired of storing everything in the dining room 🙁

    • Karen says:

      I let the ferns die a dignified death heather. They’re too big to keep inside and try to keep alive. ~ karen!

      • Maggie Pitts says:

        I planted a couple ostrich ferns in my New Brunswick backyard, and they spread in a really lovely way you might appreciate (green, lush, calm, finely toothed). Also, they are the edible type of “fiddlehead” you eat in spring. Some people might tell you they only grow in wet areas, but they lie.

  30. Mindy says:

    Is that an astroturf rug?

    • Karen says:

      Yes. Yes it is Mindy. And I LOVE it. Actually it’s two of them shoved together. They’re on year 3 now. ~ karen!

  31. Maria says:

    Why would someone build a pottie for their back yard? Is this a term for something else?

    • Karen says:

      No, lol. Not a term for something else. Because she lives on acres and acres of wooded property and often takes people for walks through it. Men pee behind a tree, women end up peeing behind a tree on their own feet. The potty solves that. 🙂 ~ karen

  32. Pam says:

    I want your backyard, Karen! To be honest this apartment dweller wants any backyard, please. 🙂 (Preferably with a hammock.)

  33. Pam'a says:

    From my years working on my yard and at various nurseries, this might help someone who needs a cheap visual barrier. I’ve had marvelous results creating a “wall” by stringing up some netting between poles and growing non-woody vines on it. My favorite is moonflower (ipomoea alba)– They’re huge, white night bloomers with big, heart-shaped leaves, and the smell is a knockout (fresh, not cloying). Each blossom only lasts one night, but they abound, and you can almost see them open up. They do need sun.

    If you have a great patio but feel like you’re in a fishbowl, putting a barrier like this up close to you (rather than trying to build a 10′ fence around the perimeter of your yard) works wonders!

  34. Paula says:

    I love this post, wonderful ideas. I haven’t read all of the comments so I might be repeating someone else’s comment, however; a couple of other great shade perennials are: Heuchera (Coral Bells) and Lady’s Mantle. Also “I hosted those show like that” 🙂

  35. Jody says:

    Well I’m feeling pretty chuffed with myself right now. Most of your list is already in my garden and I have been thinking I need lights in the backyard to make it see-able. I was also just contemplating how to build a grounded tree house for a summer sewing room

  36. Shauna says:

    Oh my gosh, how funny, I actually began tackling this 3 1/2 weeks ago – with my healing broken ankle no less. We had been letting the chickens free range for so long, the backyard was no longer enjoyable. So, for a father’s day gift, I stripped and painted the patio and started cleaning up the backyard. While it’s definitely not finished, it looks a lot nicer and we were able to have a bbq on Father’s Day. We have a big plan drawn up for our backyard, so it’s a balancing act between not spending too much money and time on it right now and yet still making it so we want to be out there.

  37. Ruth Vallejos says:

    I’m blaming my lack of progress on not grasping the climate I’m in. I have this non-functioning cycle that goes something like this: I plan on pruning in January. It slips a few weeks. By February the geraniums are blooming and I think – nah, they are so pretty! Pretty soon the nasturtiums are blooming everywhere and I think “Really? I need a vegetable garden? They are so pretty!” So now that summer is in effect, the nasturtium vines are getting thin and yellow, the geraniums are still going gangbusters, and because of the drought the lawn is brown and full o’ mole holes. Yay! Back yards are so fun.

    Were I to finally stop looking at gardening magazines based on other climates, I’d prune in December and build the raised planters in January, encouraging the nasturtiums to grow elsewhere.

    Meanwhile, Himself and me and our cats Pinky and Nibblette hang out on the veranda* in cheap plastic chairs wondering “What is that odor?” (*The veranda is the shady concrete patio back by the compost, recycle and garbage cans.) So, we just borrow a clothespin for our nose, turn on the radio, grab a cold beverage and a book – it’s all good.

  38. Ian says:

    Love this back yard post, and I love me some Karen just in general. I finally finished my ‘Urabn Backyard’ and I may have to add some of your ideas. Many times I feel like a mini-karen because you are living my dream! Before becoming any more creepy, I digress. Check out my back yard! I feel like I made my teacher proud!

    • Karen says:

      Very nice Mr. Creepy. I like he overhead shot! You managed to get a lot into that patio of yours. Do you use it a lot now that it’s fixed up? I mean I liked the whole single broom look too, but this one is probably more functional for people other than witches and such. ~ karen!

  39. Maryanne says:

    Love this post! Especially the tip about the fan. Thank you.

    P.S. There seems to be a lot of bolding going on in this post…

  40. shawna says:

    Hi Karen,

    Where did you get the plans to build the raised bed that encompasses the perimeter of your backyard? Every time I look up ‘raised bed’ I either get a square garden structure or a retaining wall built out of stone. I want exactly what you have!!:) Yours is a backyard that looks tidy but also creative and interesting.

    Thanks, Shawna

    • Karen says:

      Hi Shawna. I didn’t use any plans, I just started building them. You wouldn’t really have plans for that sort of thing because everyone’s backyard is shaped differently. Try googling planter beds instead. ~ karen!

  41. I love and agree with every one of your backyard ideas. Especially since I think I have just about every one of them covered – even before I found your blog. That makes me feel insanely smart! We have a kitchen (BBQ area), dining room (eating patio), living room (fire pit area with adirondack chairs), and a bedroom (chaise lounges under an umbrella in a shady spot near the pond), and a water feature with the same type of “waterfall” that you have! We love spending time here and I DO drink my coffee out there every day in the summer. A great way to start the day!

  42. Chris says:

    Hi Karen – love your backyard! Especially your idea for a pergola- pergolas are lovely, especially love the modern black one.

    Those outdoor “potties” – yikes, seriously? Maybe they look better with plants?

    I do have a question – why is it so hard to find reasonably priced outdoor furniture? Our house is Scandi-modern and I just can’t find things that a) we can afford (DWR is a dream but way too expensive) b) look good. Where did you get all your great black furniture?

    Tks and keep “relaxing” in that stunning backyard.

    • Karen says:

      Hey Chris! I love those outdoor potties! She lives on a farm on a LOT of land and would go out for walks for hours and needing to pee. A man can stand and pee. If a woman crouches to pee, she just … pees all over her feet. And I have NO idea why outdoor furniture is so expensive but it makes me crazy! Oddly Canadian Tire (in Canada) has a really nice midcentury modern inspired set that’s beautiful and not that expensive. I’m making my own right now and just making the cushions is going to cost $1,000 between the foam and the fabric. yes. Seriously! And I’m not even using the good outdoor foam. That would have tacked on an extra $1,500!!! That’s for one large sectional and a chair. :/ ~ karen!

  43. Leisa Joan says:

    I guess I’ll have to wait til next year…we like to call our backyard the 5 year project. It needs work, but it’s getting better. thanks for the great advice.

  44. Mariella says:

    Hi Karen,

    where did you get your dinning room table and chairs….? I just did a back patio myself ( you inspired me! ) but now I am struggling to buy the furniture…

    Thanks,
    Mariella

    • Karen says:

      Hi Mariella. I got them at Ikea! It was a couple of years ago so I’m not sure if they still carry the line or not. I hope you’re happy with what you’re doing in your backyard! 🙂 ~ karen!

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