By Kimberly Aardal

In our haste to tackle everything on our to-do list, we often forget the profound affect our immediate surroundings have on our well-being. The backyard, in particular, can become overgrown and neglected, a nagging symbol of chores yet to be done. It’s easy to overlook the potential for calm and tranquility that the backyard offers. With a minimal investment of effort and expense, a weed-infested wasteland can be transformed into a sanctuary. Studies show that Americans suffer from the effects of stress on an unprecedented scale. Now more than ever, we all could use a backyard paradise.


Backyard Designs To Relax, Recharge, Reset

It’s a paradox that relaxation is necessary to work efficiently. Some people take an exotic two-week vacation that’s meant to compensate for a year’s worth of stress. Instead, it’s important to unwind frequently, detoxing from the information overload that comes with modern life. The best place for daily unwinding is right out your back door. Follow these simple steps to transform your backyard from an eyesore into a sanctuary.

1. Make a Master Plan

Start with a clear picture of the end goal in mind, and you’re more likely to get there. Close your eyes and visualize your idea. Do you see a cottage garden overflowing with flowers? Or is your mental picture a lush and well-tended lawn with neat flower beds at the edges?

Now open your eyes. Overlay your idea onto reality. What features would you like to keep, and which ones must go? Could the unused patio be transformed with some large urns full of flowers and herbs, maybe a table and chairs at the center? Would rocking chairs on the back porch make it more welcoming? Are there overgrown hedges that could be shaped – perhaps even whimsically?

While you’re brainstorming, let the ideas rush in. You can always discard them later.


2. Define Relaxation

Next, think of how your backyard paradise will be used by you and your family. Perhaps you would like to enhance it with akitchen garden full of exotic vegetables and spices. Or maybe you’ll finally get around to developing a new hybrid rose. Here’s your chance to define what relaxation means to you.

If your yard is a weathered patch of dirt, chances are you either don’t care much for yard work or can’t find the time. Here’s your opportunity to build relaxation into your garden’s design. Put in low-maintenance plants and install weed-blocking fabric under new paths. Make your yard do the yard work for you.


3. Colorscape

Paint your new paradise, using a backdrop of green leaves with accents of bright flowers. Which palette suits your taste? Do you like flowers of every color, or would you prefer a monochromatic color scheme? White gardens are elegant, combining all types of light-colored plants that look as stunning by day as they do by moonlightZinnias are cheerful in reds, oranges and yellows, and also have the advantage of being easy to grow.

Take existing colors into consideration, such as the color of your house. What will look good next to it? Next, think of your outdoor furnishings – hammocks, benches, tables and chairs. Are they in good shape, or do they need replacing? Would a few throw pillows do the trick? Try using combinations of complementary colors as you visualize: blue/orange, yellow/purple, red/green.


4. Soundscape

Sound sets a mood, so use it purposefully, as if creating a staged production. Ponder what sounds come to mind when you think of relaxing. It might be the breeze tickling a wind chime, or the splashing of a fountain or waterfall. You might like to pipe music into the trees. Or perhaps the wind rustling through pampas grass is your definition of a relaxing sound.


5. Wildscape

Use plants to invite the natural world to take up residence. Songbirds can be enticed with fruit bearing shrubs or bird feeders. Encourage birds to stick around by installing nesting boxes and planting their favorite trees. Butterflies andhummingbirds prefer bright flowers filled with nectar. Plant it and they will come.


6. Use Sentimental Furniture

So much garden furniture is infused with nostalgia: the porch swing, evoking first kisses and simpler times; the hammock, reminiscent of beach houses and tropical retreats; and the rocking chair, conjuring up images of quiet moments and contemplation. Make an investment in good quality outdoor furniture, and set a standard of absolute comfort.


7. Fun in the Sun and the Shade

Your backyard paradise should be a retreat at any time of day and most of the year. Create shady retreats as a respite from the sun, and bright areas to enjoy your mornings. Use umbrellas, pergolas and shade trees accordingly. Install plants that will have “winter interest” offering striking silhouettes to be admired from the warmth of a covered porch during the coldest months.


8. Scentscape

Place plants strategically so that a stroll along the garden path becomes a narrative of aroma. Rather than the shock of discordant fragrances, design a natural flow that spans the heavy perfume of jasmine to the pungent spice of basil andthyme. Try lavender and chamomile, sandalwood and sage. Create an aromatherapy walk that will wash away your cares.


9. Fan the Flames

Create a fascinating focal point with fireplaces of all kinds – from permanent installations to portable chimineas and fire pits. Tiki torches evoke island celebrations, and candles always add a touch of class. Dancing flames are mesmerizing to watch and will add a contemplative dimension to your retreat.


10. Sportscape

Whether you enjoy games like horseshoes, croquet and bocce ball, or more active sports like volleyball and badminton, be sure to allow plenty of space in your backyard for playtime. Exercise is good for the soul and works wonders at washing away stress and mental cobwebs.


Daily Unwinding in the Backyard = Mini Vacations

With regular infusions of relaxation, you’ll find yourself feeling more centered and able to handle the stress of your work-a-day world. Knowing you’ve taken a moment to smell the roses will make you less anxious about the passage of time. You’ll keep things in perspective and remember what’s important while enjoying your backyard paradise.


Kimberly Aardal, Publisher of loves the outdoors and relaxing in her own backyard paradise on her new river rockers. Kimberly lives in the mountains of Colorado with her husband Jon and yellow lab Ginger. In the summer, the three of them spend a great deal of time in the mountains, hiking and exploring the small mountain towns in their beautiful state. In the winter, they admire the view from their indoor wooden rocking chairs, and also enjoy skiing and snowshoeing.