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.
- 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.
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.
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.
(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).
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.
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.
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.
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 …
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.
See? It’d go right here over the furniture …
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
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!
And carved wood for the first time in years …
And built HUGE sheds …
And moved hay …
One woman even tackled her frog to make her own bra!
As a member you get workbooks that will will help you get organized!
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!