Backyard pleasures

The living is easy ... even as summer winds down


Home is a place of refuge. Now more so than ever, we’ve rediscovered the pleasures of our abodes to entertain, relax and otherwise “chill out.”

We learned as we endured the coronavirus pandemic that moving our living spaces to the outdoors — with many of the creature comforts of indoors — has so many benefits. It’s something we’ll continue to enjoy to fullest in the seasons — and years ahead.

Your backyard is the ideal location to create summers full of memories for you, your family and friends, which will easily continue through fall. Easy to access? Check. Affordable? You bet. Able to accommodate all sorts of activities? Absolutely.

Your backyard’s potential is really only limited by your imagination and willingness to roll up your sleeves to create a sensational space. Plus, you can get the whole family involved in the process — from start to finish.

“Home is not where you live your life – it’s how you live your life,” says food stylist and consultant Wendy Perry.

Today’s outdoor vocabulary includes words like al fresco (in the fresh air), patio (Spanish for back garden), lanai (Hawaiian covered room), veranda (open-walled roofed porch) and portico (covered walkway with columns supporting it).

“We’ve all been practicing our ‘backyarding’ skills for the last few years, taking our indoor lives out into the green space around us,” says Kris Kiser, president of the TurfMutt Foundation. “Now’s a great time to turn your yard into the ideal outdoor room.”

She cites a recent poll commissioned by the TurfMutt Foundation and conducted by The Harris Poll, that reports more than three-quarters of Americans who have a yard (76 percent) say the family yard space is one of the most important parts of their home. 

Backyards can become your personal oasis. Fire pits, now all the rage, can be used for warmth on a chilly fall night. Overhead awnings can be used to shade you from the hot sun. Careful landscaping can turn a stone walkway into a tempting journey.

You might want to consider the approaching Labor Day weekend as an opportunity to get all hands on deck to begin the process of giving your yard a facelift. The first step to establishing a fun zone is to work with what you have. Think of it as a pre-fall cleanup. Clean out flowerbeds. Clear the yard of debris. Spread a fresh layer of mulch around trees and bushes. And keep the grass mowed.

See what additional trees, shrubs and plants might be needed.


List all the fun you want to continue to have outside

Identify activity zones for games, entertaining and relaxation. Can your lawn lure your kids away from their screens and into the great outdoors for cornhole bocce ball, croquet, or a giant checkers board game? Do you have a patio table or deck where family game nights can be held? Have a swimming pool where you can plan a “dive in” movie night, and invite your neighbors to bring their favorite pool float? Not to mention a memorable family “staycation” in your own backyard with camping, parties and more.


Bring learning outdoors

Learning is, of course, a year-round process. Keep “summer slide” at bay by setting up an area for outdoor learning, like a space under a shade tree where your kids can do summer reading. Create games and do experiments outdoors.


Don’t forget Fido

Pets are part of the family, too, so think about what backyard improvements you can make to ensure they fully enjoy their outdoor time. Add a water feature for them to cool off. Plant some bushes for napping in the shade. Use a row of hedges to separate their “business” spot from the rest of the backyard activity areas. Just remember when planting to check the ASPCA’s list of toxic and non-toxic plants.


Make outdoors as inviting as indoors

Think about ways to make your outdoor living area just as comfortable as your indoor spaces. String lights add a warm glow. That fire pit is great for toasting marshmallows.


Consider the good you’re doing

Whether putting in a vegetable garden, planting pollinator-supporting shrubs and flowers, or creating activity zones, your family yard can do a lot — all at once, both for your family and the environment. A grassy area is not only a field for play, but it’s also an excellent carbon-capturing and oxygen-producing space.

Planting shrubs and flowering plants feeds our birds, bees and butterflies. A leafy tree is a perfect perch for a relaxing swing in a hammock, and it provides shade to combat the heat island effect. It also produces oxygen and captures carbon. A garden where you can grow some food for the family gets you digging in the dirt, proven to be good for our immune systems and happiness. (Soil is the new Prozac, after all.)