The Backyard Ideas Post! 26 Tips & Tricks For Creating A Beautiful Backyard.

Let’s face it. What else are you going to do?  Ideas to get you inspired to make your backyard a place you want to self isolate. 

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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 nice backyard and what makes what could be a nice 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 and for plants to grow.  Those backyard makeover shows where everything is done in a weekend?  Those are lies. I know because I hosted shows 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.

Backyard Ideas

  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 even true (maybe especially true) if you have a small backyard.

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

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

The backyard is small but it feels big.

And more than just feeling big, it feels useful. 

 

 

 

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Every area has a section and every section has a purpose.  This is what my backyard looked like several years ago before I built my Restoration Hardware sectional and chair.  It’s at the beginning of the summer before the perennials had filled in.  

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 not talking about the kind of utilitarian raised beds you’d use to plant vegetables in (although those are good too) but rather the kind you see surrounding the perimeter backyard.

 

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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The beds above 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 which I stained black. 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 and usually less maintenance.

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 were the “Pinterest” thing of the moment a few years ago. I was sure they would have run their course by now but NOPE. They’re still everywhere.

 

Including my own backyard. (see above)

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

14. MUSIC.  Add weather proof outdoor speakers.  

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 years of research 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.
 
I’m not sure why I’m even discussing this. It’s been years that I’ve been looking at these options and I still haven’t built a pergola. Clearly I’m never going to.
 

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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.

 

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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 sigh instead of cry?

 
 

→Follow me on Instagram where I often make a fool of myself←

 

107 Comments

  1. emily says:

    Oh my gosh thank you for posting this! I just bought my first house, and my backyard is a blank slate, minus my deck. I dug out a vegetable garden (aka a cabbage moth Disney World), and was looking for inspo for the rest of it! I have my neighbour’s tree that casts deep shade and I think I’ve got some wonderful ideas. Thank you! :)

    • Karen says:

      That’s great Emily! Good luck with the backyard and maybe think about charging the cabbage moths admission to the theme park. ~ karen!

  2. Deena McManus says:

    Okay, but where did you get those HUGE white/glass orbs from? I want them so much. I’ve read all your posts over the years, but don’t recall you ever mentioning them?
    To reiterate…I WANT THEM SO MUCH!!!

    • Karen says:

      Sorry Deena but I found them in the garbage one day when I was out for a walk! One of my neighbours had them at the curb for garbage. They’re actually plastic. I believe they’re huge lightpost shades. ~ karen!

  3. I am thinking of a project that could help me past the time during this period. Glad to have found your website and suggested ideas. :)

    • Karen says:

      I *just* hung a new set of lights in my backyard last weekend. When facing dire circumstances always react by hanging fairy lights, lol. (and eating cookies) ~ karen!

  4. Chris says:

    Hi Karen,
    I am currently working from home in England during lockdown caused by Covid-19. I have an issue with spindly rhubarb and came across this site with all the useful tips how to remedy the problem. The comments on the blog were from 2013! What an interesting and informative site this is full of great tips and lovely people. I have spent the last hour flicking through the various sections and it has been a treat. I have subscribed as wish to follow the comments made on the many topics, but now need to get back and do some work.
    Thanks very much as that has been the best lunchbreak I have taken in quite a while. Take care and keep safe to you and your readers.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Chris! Thanks so much for taking the time to let me know that. And yes, I’ve been blogging for a longggg time, lol. I update and rewrite the older posts regularly. K. You’d best get back to work now! ~ karen

  5. Carol Marthens says:

    Beautiful and wonderful ideas. I struggle with adjusting wonderful ideas like this for my home in Santa Fe NM. It is really hard to find ideas for the desert SW. Water is such a premium and the wind!!!! I have to find ideas to adapt in adding sunshade cloth to block sun and wind, and try to not block the views. Your pictures give me grand ideas for my blank slate backyard.

  6. Erika says:

    Sorry if you already answered this- I tried to find answer in comments. Where did you get the patio couch and chair? Love all your ideas and have implemented a few! I am in Scottsdale so the heat kills so much…..but lots of trees help also. Thanks for your inspiration!

  7. Christine says:

    Hi Karen! I LOVE your backyard and all the awesome ideas in this post. Have you ever done a post specifically on how you built your perimeter planter boxes? I love them. And I’d like to do something similar but my carpentry skill are limited!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Christine. The only post I have on them is incidental, with some photos. It’s the post on “How I built my Backyard”. I redid the backyard a year or two prior to starting my blog so didn’t document everything. ~ karen!

  8. Katharina Hille says:

    Hi Karen, the outdoor couch and chair look fabulous! Did you use deck posts 4×4 to make them? And do you have a how to on how you made them in an older post? Love reading your blog, very inspiring!

  9. Wilma says:

    Tip #20 is 100% true! I know from experience. And that’s a fantastic hammock. You get good air flow through the weave.

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