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How to Design a Functional Outdoor Area

Just a few extra elements will turn an ordinary patch of grass into a relaxing backyard retreat and outdoor area.

  Photo by Joe Hilliard


To love timber home living is to love the idea of infusing natural elements into your home’s interior. But what about outside those gorgeous timber-framed walls? Outdoor enjoyment is as much a part of your dream home as those coveted timbers and trusses

Creating a designated area that’s a small portion of your property — as opposed to full-on backyard landscaping — can be hugely valuable as a way to add a little low-cost/high-impact sanctuary to your space. Here are some tips for making it happen:

Focus on reflection, not activity

When a small parcel of land is considered a sanctuary, it often feels like a meditative garden or quiet wooded area. Resist the temptation to load it up with activity-focused features like a BBQ grill, outdoor games or children’s playground.


Create a path

Some homeowners like their backyard oasis to have a spiral walkway, which they use as a meditation tool. You also can create a winding path made of materials like flat river rocks.


Get Made in the Shade

Planting canopy trees will create cover from the sun. Can’t wait for the trees to mature? Simple arbors engulfed in climbing vines will provide sunblock in short order. Place a bench beneath the shade and you’ve got a tranquil outdoor reading nook.


Work with the land, not against it

Trying to flatten a hillside or eliminate water with tons of soil (literally) could make your space feel artificial. Instead, consider playing with the contours of the land and making the most of what’s already there. For example, if part of the space tends to flood because it’s lower, that seems like the perfect spot for a reflection pool.


Go for low maintenance

As much as possible, choose native plants, particularly grasses and wildflowers. No matter your region, native plants are often great for conditions ranging from drought to flooding and will keep your landscape healthy. Flowers will attract pollinators, bringing butterflies and honeybees, as well as smaller critters that are fun to watch, into your sanctuary.


Keep in mind that an oasis should be about enjoyment and peace, not a bunch of work on top of other landscaping chores. Make it a place that you look forward to visiting, and it will be a true outdoor oasis.


See also 7 Low-Maintenance Landscaping Tips

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