While his neighbors pack up their cars for out-of-town vacation treks, Scott Reynolds retires to his backyard for an instant vacation escape, where he can relax by a fire and listen to a waterfall's soothing melody--without the commute time.
Scott's Twin Cities yard serves as a showroom of his work as a landscape designer. While his outdoor living area is more elaborate than most in a region with famously short summers, you can use his ideas on a smaller scale to make any backyard a vacation-worthy destination.
A vacation calls for water. Invoking beach getaways and lounging by the seashore, water in motion adds an aural sense of escape. Reflective and soothing, it can even veil the sounds of nearby traffic or too-close neighbors. Scott installed waterfalls to bring the benefits of water to his yard, left, but you can use a self-contained fountain for a similar effect at less cost.
Tuck an intriguing piece of garden art where it can be seen only from the patio, or position the patio itself through an arbor or around a corner or the curve of a path so it feels like a discovery. Loop a garden walkway around your yard so guests can stroll.
In Scott's yard, left, a tucked-away footbridge leads to an intimate seating area overlooking the pond.
Just like at a resort, your backyard escape should offer nice touches. Though hard benches and flat stones make good short-term perches, a retreat invites lingering. Go cushy with outdoor fabrics, and have a swing for two. Include side tables that make it easy to park a drink or grab a book.
A great escape will be especially popular in the evening, so plan soft landscape lighting, twinkle lights or candles. Citronella candles do double duty by helping keep bugs at bay. Illuminate paths so guests can safely travel back to the house after dark. Top off your area with music by mounting outdoor speakers nearby.
Scott landscaped his whole yard, but you can also get great results in less space. Give a nook a sense of escape by creating privacy. Frame it on two or three sides with hedges or fences (or put the patio against a shed or house wall) to shield it from neighbors. Also use shrubs or fences to screen unwanted views.
In Scott's yard, left, a softly curved arbor and a hedge of evergreens provide privacy for the main patio.
Native stones can make your backyard feel more natural and soothing. You can use just a few stones to add visual interest in plant beds or go all-out with stone walls and paths. Durable and dramatic, stone can also help tie together different living spaces around your yard when placed strategically. Scott used local stone (mainly from Minnesota and Wisconsin) for retaining walls and flooring.
Scott's stone-rimmed raised patio, left, hides a circular nook for firewood.
As with an indoor kitchen, a well-designed outdoor kitchen lets guests hang out comfortably near the cook without being underfoot. "Just like in the home, that's always the biggest gathering area," Scott says.
Scott's outdoor kitchen, left, includes a cafelike sprinkling of tables and chairs, plus a cooking area that has an undergrill fridge and cabinets to keep plates and utensils handy.
Your outdoor cooking space, though, can be as simple as a freestanding grill, a table and chairs. Just allow plenty of room for guests to relax. Small touches such as sun umbrellas can go a long way toward adding both color and comfort.
A fire pit will give your yard an after-hours vacation glow and keep guests cozy into the evening. You can build a permanent version or purchase one of a wide variety of portable types, including gas and propane models. Just check your local ordinances before you invest--some cities limit the size and use of fire pits.
Flowers provide an instant vacation feel to any setting. Put out pretty containers in your backyard seating areas and grow flowering, fragrant favorites. The container pictured at left in Scott's yard has pink begonias, red impatiens, gold-leaf fuchsia and English ivy. For more ideas, click on "Beautiful Container Gardens" in the Related Links box below.
If your yard is large enough, design it with several seating areas instead of just one. Scott has a large main outdoor living area, but he enhanced the vacation aura by creating other resting spots (such as the weathered lawn chair at left), reached through a series of paths that reveal only a little at a time.
Elements such as blooming plants or a special view tempt visitors to wander. "Tables and chairs at each destination with flowers on the table make you want to go grab a glass of wine and sit down," he says.
Your backyard retreat may look lovely in summer, but what about those long Midwest winters? No problem, says Scott--it's easy to winterize.
Hardy plants such as hosta, Huechera and Vinca minor (supplemented each spring with fresh annual container plantings) will survive to flourish another season. In Scott's yard, even the fish (left) hang around, thanks to a floating heater that prevents the main pond from turning to a block of ice.
Scott wouldn't think of trading his backyard getaway for his neighbors' treks to the North Woods, come winter's snow or summer's legendary bugs. "I don't have a boat or the things most Minnesotans do," Scott says. "But I just walk out into my backyard, and I've got my 'Up North' right here."