By SUSAN CONDON LOVE
It could be you’re a homeowner, working hard eight to 10 hours a day. All you want to do is relax once home. Or maybe you’re lucky enough to spend as much time as you want in the great outdoors.
Regardless, creating an outdoor oasis is a dream-come-true for many.
The great escape doesn’t have to be expensive to be sophisticated, unique and relaxing. With a little planning and a dash of imagination, your backyard retreat can be the envy of all. Here are some suggestions.
Get down to the basics
First, strip away all the weeds, brambles, and dead plants. Sweep away the dead leaves. Come April, throw some grass seed on dirt patches to create a lush green carpet as early as June.
You know that lawn chair you didn’t bother to store inside during the winter? Get rid of it. It’s probably soiled by dirty melted snow, and faded beyond repair. In fact, look with a critical eye at all your outdoor furniture. It may be time to replace.
If you have a stone patio, power wash it to wipe away winter’s grime. A wooden deck will probably need to be revived with fresh, waterproof deck paint.
Eyeball your fence, if you have one. Does it need minor repairs? Replacing? What about a fresh coat of paint for the “frame” of your future oasis?
Plan, plan, plan
Once you have achieved a blank canvas, start planning. Draw your yard’s dimensions, note sunny or shady spots, think about how you want to use your yard. Do you want to expand your horticultural horizons with a wildflower garden? Is a lawn chair in a shady spot perfectly OK? Are no-work perennials more your style? How about color? Do you want plantings that are primarily one or two colors?
At this stage, you can take the proverbial fork in the road and decide to bring in the professionals. Landscapers will be able to create the look you want, while bringing forth knowledge about how to mix and match plants to achieve the most sophisticated look.
If you choose to go it alone, the best advice is to copy the experts. Buy garden magazines and pick and choose what you like from the photo spreads. Write down what plants are used and how big they may eventually reach at maturity.
Once you have the plants down pat, take the next step, which is ….
Add a water feature
Reflective and soothing, a water feature can mask nearby traffic noises and make you feel you are at a beach or a botanical garden. Waterfalls range in price from downright inexpensive, to “this fountain takes the place of my trip to Europe this year.”
One thought? Please avoid “peeing” little boys or spitting frogs. Please.
A Koi pond, one type of a water feature, requires regular maintenance, but is a favorite of many. Have it professionally installed.
A great water feature is often one that mimics nature – i.e. a hill of stones, with water cascading into a pond.
Add personality to the backyard masterpiece.
Make sure to add a personal touch to your oasis with small sculptures, gazing balls, a trellis with vines or flowers, a stone bench overlooking the water feature, or a path with a footbridge. A pergola (think about adding trailing foliage to its structure) creates a tranquil retreat.
If you are buying new outdoor furniture (what fun!), take your time. Go to several stores – furniture stores, specialty stores, even big-box meccas. Sit on the settees. Are the cushions thick, or so thin you feel as if you are sitting on metal slats? Is the swing rickety and noisy? That’s not relaxing.
Is the couch long enough that you can stretch out to grab a quick nap? Are the chairs comfortable and fit your body like a glove? What about the end tables? Are they sturdy, attractive and a good height for that tall lemonade you will want by your side?
Go cushy with outdoor fabrics, and have a swing on which to use two. Make sure to buy covers customized for all your new purchases. Then use them. There’s nothing worse than sinking into your outdoor couch, only to have the water squish out and soak your shorts.
Make sure you place the furniture either under natural shade, or under a covered pergola or canopy.
The levels of creating an outdoor kitchen are as vast as the Grand Canyon. Want minimal outdoor cooking? Just go with your grill. Want a full kitchen, including a stainless stove with granite counters? Think about making it portable, able to be stored during Northeast Ohio winters.
Make sure you have enough seating and tables for yourself and guests.
From a firepit, to an elaborate stone structure – the options are endless.