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make your own backyard paradise


Our friend Kimberly Aardal forwards the following short article on easily and inexpensively remodeling your backyard into a stress-relieving retreat:

Your Backyard Can Be Your Paradise – In 10 Simple Steps

It's probably no shock to learn that stress levels have increased dramatically in the lives of most Americans these days. But what may be a surprise is the fact that moderate stress levels affected over half of the population in the last year. Even our much-needed rest has been impacted by this phenomenon, with studies showing nearly 50% of Americans losing sleep as a direct result of stress.

A Simple Remedy for Stress

As is often the case in life, the simplest solutions can be the best. And they frequently are right under our noses. Relaxation is critical to good health and can be found in many places. However, one logical place to start is one's own backyard. It's a defined private space, free from the pressures of the fast-paced world beyond. A well-arranged backyard can offer us the peace and tranquility that allows our mind to relax and our body to heal a bit. Here are ten steps to transform your backyard.

1. Start with the Big Picture

Any landscape architect will tell you that balance is the most important consideration when undertaking a site project. Before embarking on remaking your backyard, familiarize yourself with the positive elements that are present in your backyard, taking note of textures, colors, even the scale of trees and shrubs. Regardless of the scope of your project, remember that the eye seeks the balance that we find in nature. Areas of your backyard that are flat and straight (a concrete walkway for example) can easily be complemented by curved planted areas or a border of colorful ground cover. In the case of small yards, creating the illusion of more space is not difficult. By installing serpentine pathways rather than straight ones, the perception is one of a deeper environment. Break up sight lines with plants and trees and encourage variety. This will ensure that a stroll through your backyard is not just a walk from one point to another, but also a sensory experience. Be on the lookout for locations where outdoor wood furniture might be placed to invite a quiet moment of relaxation or reading. Itís always wise to carve out a seating area large enough for two to enjoy.

2. Define What Relaxation Means

To some, the most pleasurable form of relaxation in the backyard is actually quite active: donning gardening gloves and maintaining a vegetable garden, mowing the lawn or sculpting the hedges. To others, the thought of leaving their rocking chair and working up a sweat is anathema to the whole point of a backyard paradise. Know your preferences and your ultimate goal before embarking on a new design. If the yard is to be shared with a loved one or the whole family, build their needs into the equation. Should yard maintenance be seen as a burden, be clever about your selections when buying plants and ground cover. If appropriate vegetation is chosen, your quality time wonít be dominated by chores.

3. Color is the Key

When planning your new backyard layout, remember the importance of color. Itís a given that any yard with a lawn or trees is going to provide an abundance of green. But what other colors should you introduce into your new environment? What changes occur as the seasons change? Is there a dominant color already in the environment, such as a house or painted fence? As a helpful starting point, reference Feng Shui colors. The energy map will point the way to which of the five elements - fire, earth, metal, water or wood – is most appropriate for achieving harmonious balance in your new configuration. The colors you choose for plantings, furniture and raw materials are the key to ensuring a sense of calm. Comforting colors allow us to relax and unwind without distraction. Even the choice of a fabric color for pillows in a rocking chair nook should take nearby foliage into account. The most successful backyard arrangements are seldom achieved by accident.

4. The Element of Sound

For a backyard to be a truly sensory experience, consider the importance of sound. Sometimes what we call blissful silence in a backyard is actually defined by the soft whisper of a summer breeze or the tinkling of a fountain. Peace can be found in a well-placed wind chime or even in our favorite tunes, emanating from hidden speakers throughout the yard.

5. Back To Nature

Even the most formal backyard design will benefit from airborne visitors attracted to the tranquility, the fragrance and the colors of your new paradise. They should be welcomed as honored guests. Butterflies, birds and bees are essential to the balance that keeps plants flourishing and flowers blooming. They add sound, color, motion and they enhance the experience of relaxing outside. Encourage your visitors by selecting flowering plants that attract them. Try buddleias, bougainvilleas, azaleas, petunias or any others that are appropriate for your planting zone. Remember that low bushes or trees with Y-shaped branches create prized nesting locations for hummingbirds.

6. The Furniture Element

Comfort and durability should be the watchwords when picking out furniture for any backyard environment. It's essential that a well-planned layout include a quality table and chairs. For spots with a great view, explore benches and swings. Hammocks are traditionally suspended from trees but can be purchased with a stand and are suited for tanning under the sun or gazing at stars. Rocking chairs and gliders are perfect in an alcove, beside a garden or anywhere else conducive to napping or meditation.

7. Consider the Time of Year

The effects of the sun on your new backyard paradise depend a great deal on your location, terrain and the time of year. However, certain things are universal. In the spring, the lounging areas should face east or south. Direct sunlight, when itís a bit too hot, can be countered with the use of outdoor umbrellas or pergolas. The charming tradition of a covered porch allows for more substantial protection from the sun while affording a cooling breeze as well.

8. The Taste of the Outdoors

Yes, aromas and even tastes are vital to the outdoor experience. We are soothed by the scent of pine trees, the herb garden growing nearby or flowers in bloom. Your backyard should incorporate these elements as you lay out your planting areas. Movable pots with basil, mint or lavender can function as easily moved elements on a patio, deck or along a flagstone path. Relaxing aromas of chamomile and sandalwood can be incorporated into the lawn or mixed into a garden where the breeze can carry their heady fragrance. Try essential oils and candles as well. They can be introduced into a seating arrangement to enhance the sense of complete relaxation.

9. The Warmth of a Fire

As daytime moves toward evening or as summer moves to autumn, the backyard environment can still remain comfortable with the installation of an outdoor fireplace. On a deck or patio, this important addition to your plan will ensure pleasurable evenings of conversation, outdoor cooking and stargazing. The traditional clay chiminea and freestanding fire pits can do much the same and have the added advantage of being portable. For less warmth but more light, try tiki torches. They can be installed just about anywhere and they create a wonderfully festive addition to all evening activities in your backyard.

10. Let the Games Begin

As part of the essential balance of backyard design, donít forget to allow room for romping on the grass. Space for playing lawn games like bocce ball, badminton or horseshoes is as important to your new plan as the quiet seating areas and curved walkways. It's important to include a comfortable play area, a place to toss a Frisbee or roll around with the dog. It's all part of the process of relaxing.

Paradise Found in Your Own Backyard

A sublime solution to the problems of a stressful world, your backyard sanctuary will allow you to relax and breathe. The enjoyment you'll get from a place of your own, where all your senses are enriched, will improve your life. Kimberly Aardal, Publisher of loves the outdoors and relaxing in her own backyard paradise in her favorite white rocking chair. Kimberly lives in the mountains of Colorado with her husband Jon and yellow lab Ginger and has learned the value of slowing down and enjoying life to the fullest. When Kimberly is not sharing information about wooden rocking chairs, the three of them spend a great deal of time in the mountains hiking, skiing, snowshoeing and exploring the small mountain towns in their beautiful state.

cc-licensed photo by Tracie Hall