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A pergola or other structure helps delineate a space.


If you’ve got a scrubby patch of backyard just dying to become a glorious garden retreat, then read on!

We just love a beautiful backyard. In fact, everyone we know loves a beautiful backyard. It can be a serene place to relax; or a gorgeous place to entertain. It can expand your living space to contain a cooking, dining and “family room” space for chatting and relaxing; and it can contain delightful little hidden places, whimsical and even magical touches.

The days of a big square backyard with a barbecue on a concrete patio next to the house are over — and thank goodness for that. Today’s backyard is both stylish and functional. Think of it as a series of outdoor “rooms” or spaces.

Aside from the traditional backyard areas that were mentioned, there are also other types of outdoor spaces, depending on you and your family’s interests. You might choose to include a gardening shed, a vegetable garden, a tree house, a screened gazebo, a reading bench, a flat place for a backyard ice rink in the winter and badminton in the summer, a rocky “spa” hot tub set among your flowers and plants, or a pool.

Water features with soothing sounds such as ponds, waterfalls or fountains are hot in backyard design these days, as are spas with jets for massaging tense muscles. Overhead shade structures that support vines and baskets are also popular. They can even support curtains or fabric roofs of canvas or other weatherproof material for a lovely tent effect. The look of contrasting surfacing material, such as river rocks nestled up against wood or composite decking, is also popular.

The possibilities are endless. You can go from simple solutions that require varying levels of elbow grease, to more complicated scenarios that require a considerable financial commitment and a reputable contractor.

The bottom line is your backyard should reflect the uses you want in your outdoor space. Of course, your choices should fit both your budget and the size of space you have. The last thing you want is a feeling of congestion and busyness.

Draw out your plans, and decide on a style or look — wicker country style, Tuscan style, contemporary, Japanese garden, Hawaiian tiki garden, or whatever your heart desires — but be consistent with the style you choose.

Also think about whether you’re good with maintenance or not, and plan accordingly, with fewer plants and bigger areas of surfacing. Separate functional areas by plants, lattice or other dividers, and connect them with winding paths, so the “discovery” of a new function (for example, a private spa area hidden in a lush corner) is a pleasant little surprise.

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