Designing for Outdoor Living

One of life's small pleasures is enjoying the great outdoors from your backyard. Here are 23 ways to make your garden a nicer place to visit.


1. Umbrellas.
A large sun umbrella is a must-have in gardens that lack shade trees. Stand-alone umbrellas can be moved where needed -- to shade a lounge chair, for instance -- while table umbrellas generally stay put. Tilt to deflect the sun's rays at any time of day, and fold up when not in use.

2. Awnings.
If you think of aluminum window shades when you hear the word "awning," think again. Long popular in Europe, deck and patio awnings are gaining favor here, too. They extend living space outdoors and provide protection from the elements. When positioned over an east- or west-facing window, they also do a yeoman's job of keeping a house cooler. Retractable awnings can deflect the sun when needed and can close when the warmth of fall and winter sunlight is sought.

3. Shelters.
A shelter can be anything from a small, solid-roof arbor for reading to a large gazebo for entertaining. There are also portable shelters -- tentlike structures that give the protection of a covered gazebo at a fraction of the cost. Some even have side curtains to deflect wind or mosquito netting to intercept thirsty bloodsuckers.

4. Hammocks.
Swinging gently in a hammock while suspended in midair -- there's true comfort in being cradled! A fine choice of material is used for the netting, allowing cool air to reach you on all sides. Tie one between two trees, or use a self-supporting hammock that can be moved wherever desired.

5. Seating.
Sitting on a large rock or log has a certain back-to-nature attraction, but for longer sojourns, you'll want support for your back. Adirondack and sling chairs allow you to stretch out, stools offer the opportunity to put your feet up, and weather-resistant cushions soften the hardest surfaces.

6. Fire.
Since the dawn of time, humans have been attracted to fire. It's not just something to keep us warm or to cook our food, it's also a beacon for social interaction or personal introspection. Candles create a warm and inviting mood, while a lighted fire in the garden is every bit as enticing as one indoors. To hold that fire, you have the choice of a permanent fireplace, portable outdoor hearth, clay or iron chiminea, or fire pit. You can choose between wood-burning and gas-fired units, and some even come with attachments that allow you to grill.

7. Lighting.
Outdoor lighting has a dual personality: It's great for adding sparkle and ambience to the night, but it's also important for safety. After all, you don't want to be tripping over things in the dark. Torches and candles set a casual mood, whether they're lining a path or standing sentinel around a patio. But if you go for artificial lighting, it doesn't have to look artificial. There are many ornamental fixtures available. Pair them with lightbulbs that cast a warm glow, and you have magic.

8. Fragrance.
Retailers learned long ago that certain scents make good sense. The same flowers and herbs that go into potpourri, causing you to linger at the gift boutique, can be grown in your garden. Why not put them to use near your favorite seating area? Lilacs, roses, peonies, and many other plants will make dillydallying a common occurrence.

9. Plants.
Nature is a good source for mosquito repellents. You could try planting black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) -- it's a natural bug repellent. But its pungent flowers might chase you away, too. Better choices are lemon-scented citronella grass (Cymbopogon nardus) and pennyroyal. Plant basil in containers near your seating area to repel flies, and include tansy in nearby beds to keep away ants and flies.

10. Screening. 
There's nothing like a screen porch for keeping you safe from the insect world while you're in the lap of the great outdoors. An 18x16-mesh screen will keep most insects outside where they belong. An alternative to a screen porch is to draw mosquito netting across a gazebo or other structure.

11. Inhibitors.
It seems that scientists have left no stone unturned in their quest to outsmart mosquitoes. Inhibitors are a chief weapon. Some confuse mosquitoes by using carbon dioxide as a decoy. Others scare mosquitoes by mimicking the sounds of dragonflies and male mosquitoes -- two enemies feared by impregnated mosquitoes, the ones that bite.

12. Repellents.
There are a number of commercial mosquito repellents on the market. Citronella candles and torches are a mainstay, as are foggers. Lotions and body sprays can also be used, but spray your clothes, too. Otherwise, mosquitoes can pierce the fabric to reach their meal. Many sprays contain DEET, a chemical insect repellent.

13. Personal Repellents.
In addition to applying various lotions and sprays, you can wear your protection. One personal mosquito repeller clips to clothing or attaches to the wrist. Another repeller the size of a credit card attaches to belts, pockets, or backpacks. Both emit sounds (inaudible to humans) that frighten mosquitoes away by mimicking the sounds of their enemies. And how about aroma-diffusing jewelry? There's now a line of sterling-silver earrings, necklaces, pins, and anklets that can be filled with a blend of citronella, mint, and lemongrass oils to keep bugs at bay.

14. Wind chimes.
The soft, harmonic tones of wind chimes can be an enjoyable, even therapeutic, addition to the garden. Masking distant noises, the tinkling chorus of chimes may even make you feel cooler. Psychologically, the sound underscores that a cooling breeze is blowing. Sounds vary considerably among available metals and woods, so test out several chimes before buying.

15. Music.
Does music belong in the garden? Most definitely: It has the ability to make the garden experience more intriguing. Lush orchestral arrangements set the tone for a classy garden party, while modern jazz playing quietly in the background speaks of lazy Saturday afternoons spent with your favorite novel. Whatever your preference, you can hear it clearly on a variety of outdoor speakers (and they don't look like bullhorns anymore, either). You'll find outdoor speakers that masquerade as rocks or do double duty as containers for planting.

16. Water.
Something about water soothes the soul. Maybe that's why ponds are so popular. In addition to enjoying the sight of water, you can relish the sound of it. Whether it's from a large waterfall or a small fountain, the sound of splashing immediately puts hearts and minds at ease. Trickling fountains are an important part of many gardens designed for reflection. Larger, more powerful water features are louder -- which is good if you're trying to drown out less-pleasant sounds, such as nearby traffic or your neighbor's 15-year-old testing out a new set of drums!

17. Heaters.
You know those little heaters that everyone used to keep in cottage bathrooms? Well, they've been transformed into outdoor accessories. But instead of keeping your toes warm, outdoor heaters warm up a radius of 20 feet or more. They'll extend your outdoor season, allowing you to stay comfortable when cool nights arrive on the scene. Outdoor heaters are typically gas or electric.

18. Misters. 
Ever notice how much long-distance bicyclists enjoy the fine spray of a garden hose as they pass through towns on bike tours? You can achieve the same cooling sensation with a mister. Misters range from battery-operated handheld units with pump sprays to freestanding fans connected to garden hoses. They can reduce the temperature in the immediate vicinity by more than 20 degrees.

19. Shade trees.
Anyone who's ever enjoyed the protection of a large maple can vouch for the fact that shade trees are part of the comfort zone. For quickest cover, try poplar (Populus spp.), maple (Acer spp.), black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), or hackberry (Celtis occidentalis).

20. Refreshments.
Relaxing in the comfort zone means having some refreshments close at hand. An insulated cup holder will help cold beverages keep their chill, while an insulated bottle will keep hot drinks warm. When drinking beer or soda from a bottle or can, keep the opening covered with your thumb or a flip-top lid so bees don't find their way in.

21. Privacy.
No matter how sociable you are, you're likely to enjoy some private time. What better place to find it than in the gardenHedges, thickly branched evergreens, and rapidly growing tall plants all provide privacy for your world. You can also use structures such as fences and lattice-covered pergolas and arbors.

22. View. 
Make sure you have a "room with a view" by positioning your seating area by the best vantage point -- overlooking a cityscape, facing a flowerbed, nestled in the seclusion of some trees and shrubs. Also, be sure to include a focal point -- a place to direct the eye -- such as a specimen plant or an attractive piece of garden art.

23. Convenience.
Finally, there's the matter of convenience. Make your retreat easily accessible from the house with a path. Include a stool for your feet and a table for your drink. Locate it near the barbecue if you like to cook or entertain. The more convenient it is, the more you'll find yourself entering the comfort zone.

Enlarge Image Sweet Basil can be used as a natural bug repellent.

1. Plants. Nature is a good source for mosquito repellents. You could try planting black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) -- it's a natural bug repellent. But its pungent flowers might chase you away, too. Better choices are citronella grass (Cymbopogon nardus), a lemon-scented grass, and pennyroyal. Plant basil in containers near your seating area to repel flies, and include tansy in nearby beds to keep away ants and flies.

2. Screening. There's nothing like a screen porch for keeping you safe from the insect world, while you're in the lap of the great outdoors. An 18x16-mesh screen will keep most insects outside where they belong. An alternative to a screen porch is to draw mosquito netting across a gazebo or other structure.

3. Inhibitors. It seems that scientists have left no stone unturned in their quest to outsmart mosquitoes. Inhibitors are a chief weapon. Some confuse mosquitoes by using Carbon Dioxide as a decoy. Others scare mosquitoes by mimicking the sounds of dragonflies and male mosquitoes -- two enemies feared by impregnated mosquitoes, the ones that bite.

4. Repellents. There are a number of commercial mosquito repellents on the market. Citronella candles and torches are a mainstay, as are foggers. Lotions and body sprays can also be used, but spray your clothes, too. Otherwise, mosquitoes can pierce the fabric to reach their meal. Many sprays contain DEET, a chemical insect repellent.

5. Personal Repellents. In addition to applying various lotions and sprays, you can wear your protection. One personal mosquito repeller clips to clothing or attaches to the wrist. Another credit-card-size repeller attaches to belts, pockets, or backpacks. Both emit sounds (inaudible to humans) that frighten mosquitoes away by mimicking the sounds of their enemies. And how about aroma-diffusing jewelry? There's now a line of sterling-silver earrings, necklaces, pins, and anklets that can be filled with a blend of citronella, mint, and lemongrass oils to keep bugs at bay.

Enlarge Image Use wind chimes to add soft music outdoors.

1. Wind chimes. The soft, harmonic tones of wind chimes can be an enjoyable, even therapeutic, addition to the garden. Masking distant noises, the tinkling chorus of chimes may even make you feel cooler. Psychologically, the sound underscores that a cooling breeze is blowing. Sounds vary considerably among available metals and woods, so test out several chimes before buying.

2. Music. Does music belong in the garden? Most definitely: It has the ability to make the garden experience more intriguing. Lush orchestral arrangements set the tone for a classy garden party, while modern jazz playing quietly in the background speaks of lazy Saturday afternoons spent with your favorite novel. Whatever your preference, you can hear it clearly on a variety of outdoor speakers (and they don't look like bullhorns anymore, either). You'll find outdoor speakers that masquerade as rocks or do double duty as containers for planting.

Enlarge Image Water fountains are great additions to any garden. The water is soothing and enjoyable to watch.

3. Water. Something about water soothes the soul. Maybe that's why ponds are so popular. In addition to enjoying the sight of water, you can relish the sound of it. Whether it's from a large waterfall or a small fountain, the sound of splashing immediately puts hearts and minds at ease. Trickling fountains are an important part of many gardens designed for reflection. Larger, more powerful water features are louder -- which is good if you're trying to drown out less pleasant sounds, such as traffic or your neighbor's 15-year-old testing out a new set of drums!

Enlarge Image Use fans to protect your home from heat, insects, and smoke.

1. Fans. Outdoor fans serve a variety of purposes: dispersing smoke and insects, maximizing air circulation, and, of course, cooling those seated near them. Most come with multiple speeds, so you can choose the amount of relief you want. Some have light attachments as well. In addition to ceiling-mounted fans for gazebos and porches, there are portable, freestanding overhead fans that can be placed over tables or lounge chairs.

2. Heaters. You know those little heaters that everyone used to keep in cottage bathrooms? Well, they've been transformed into outdoor accessories. But instead of keeping your toes warm, outdoor heaters warm up a radius of 20 feet or more. They'll extend your outdoor season, allowing you to stay comfortable when cool nights arrive on the scene. Outdoor heaters are typically gas or electric.

3. Misters. Notice how much long-distance bicyclists enjoy the fine spray of a garden hose as they pass through towns on bike tours? You can achieve the same cooling sensation with a mister. Misters range from battery-operated handheld units with pump sprays to freestanding fans connected to garden hoses. They can reduce the temperature in the immediate vicinity by more than 20 degrees.

4. Shade trees. Anyone who's ever enjoyed the protection of a large maple can vouch for the fact that shade trees are part of the comfort zone. For quickest cover, try poplar (Populus spp.), maple (Acer spp.), black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), and hackberry (Celtis occidentalis).

Enlarge Image Remember to stay cool with a tall glass of lemonade.

1. Refreshments. Relaxing in the comfort zone means having some refreshments close at hand. An insulated cup holder will help cold beverages keep their chill, while an insulated bottle will hot drinks warm. When drinking beer or soda from a bottle or can, keep the opening covered with your thumb or a flip-top lid so bees don't find their way in.

2. Privacy. No matter how sociable you are, you're bound to enjoy some private time. What better place to find it than in the garden? Hedges, thickly branched evergreens, and rapidly growing tall plants all provide privacy for your world. You can also use structures such as fences and lattice-covered pergolas and arbors.

3. View. Make sure you have a "room with a view" by positioning your seating area by the best vantage point -- overlooking a cityscape, facing a flowerbed, nestled in the seclusion of some trees and shrubs. Also, be sure to include a focal point - a place to direct the eye - such as a specimen plant or attractive piece of garden art.

4. Convenience. Finally, there's the matter of convenience. Make your retreat easily accessible from the house with a path. Include a stool for your feet and a table for your drink. Locate it near the barbecue if you like to cook or entertain. The more convenient it is, the more you'll find yourself entering the comfort zone.


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