In a few short months, our yards will once again be the place where entertaining reins, and we can’t help but think about the fun backyard projects we want to tackle. Some may call this “wishful thinking,” others might refer to it as “thoughtful brainstorming,” but we’re simply going to call this what it is: A chance to set the stage for alfresco parties as soon as the weather allows it.
“People are looking for a place to relax, reflect, and get away from outside noise,” Rob Jones of Jones Landscapes says. “Besides adding monetary value, investing in your backyard means investing in interactions.” We spoke to landscape designers on the upgrades to make to your backyard this year, and here’s what they had to say.
Carve out a designated lounge space
For those who are staring out onto very little hardscape, it might be time to build a patio. Kristin Glandon, owner of KG Designs Landscape Architecture, thinks that doing so is a chance to get creative and potentially stretch your budget. “There are lots of materials to create patios with, from gravel or decomposed granite to pavers to concrete, so it covers lots of different price points,” she says. “Improving or creating an outdoor patio will always be a good idea, since it gives you flexibility in terms of lounging or dining.” Jones agrees: “Start with a cozy, comfortable place to sit and lounge,” he says. “You basically want an environment that draws you outside.”
Consider a wellness component
Brooks Crawford, the principal of Brookside Landscape Design, has noticed that more clients are requesting backyard areas that let them focus on self-care. “The incorporation of some or all of the following has become the norm: a yoga space, a meditation corner, a sauna, a hot tub, a cold plunge, or a shower,” he says. “Because of the pandemic, people are looking to create greater functionality in these private spaces, which touches on the need to lessen stress.”
Bring on the vacation vibes
Speaking of the ways in which the pandemic has influenced design, backyard trends seem to be increasingly inspired by the outdoor spaces of hotels. “The overall trends I’m seeing are a continuation of the past two years,” Glandon says. “A lot of people aren’t traveling, so they want to bring the feeling of a vacation to their own yards.” This can mean installing a fire pit for year-round use—something all of the experts agree is a low-cost, high-reward addition—or building a covered component for all-weather entertaining. “You want a heat source for comfort and ambiance,” Crawford says. “Fire pits and fireplaces are useful and serve as a gathering spot, while overhead infrared and gas heaters give a great amount of warmth.”
Crawford is also seeing hotel inspiration rub off on greenery choices. “Clients are requesting lush but low-maintenance plants to create a boutique-like feel in their yards,” he says. “There’s a lot of inspiration coming from faraway locations.” If you’re DIY-ing the plant collection in your yard, Jones recommends following this guidance. “Incorporate textures, shapes, colors, and sensory-type plants into your layout,” he says. “And look to native plants for sustainability.”
Hone your green thumb
All of the experts have noticed an uptick in requests for private gardens to grow everything from simple herbs to robust vegetables. And this is definitely something you can do yourself as one of your upcoming backyard projects. “Growing your own fruits and vegetables is surprisingly easy and affordable,” Glandon says. “You can create raised garden beds using cedar or buy galvanized troughs and set them on gravel or bark chips. They can be as big or small as you like and there’s nothing better than walking out of your back door and harvesting your own food.” Crawford notes this is also a fun project for kids, and you’ll undoubtedly get “bonus points” if you share your harvest with neighbors. One more thing to add to your garden? “A water feature,” Jones suggests, as a focal point and added relaxation.
Go for tech conveniences
Solar-powered lighting along a path can be a cost-effective and simple solution for safety, which can be done as a DIY project in an afternoon. But if you can put money toward bigger technology upgrades, Crawford says you should go for it. “I would automate irrigation and lighting systems so they can be controlled by an app—it’s a good way to monitor water and energy use,” he says. “As for entertaining, you can also incorporate wireless technology for an outdoor television and sound system.” If you do, it won’t be long until your home becomes the place where everyone wants to go.