Backyard Design Ideas to Create an Outdoor Oasis

In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, our backyards often become neglected spaces, relegated to a mere patch of grass or an unused corner. Whether you’re decorating your quaint Twin Cities apartment backyard or renovating your Madison, WI, home’s overwhelming green space, with a little creativity and effort, your backyard can be transformed into a serene outdoor oasis — a place where you can relax, entertain, and connect with nature.

Important note for renters: Before making any landscaping or permanent changes to your backyard, please review your lease terms and verify any plans with your landlord.

Turning your backyard into an outdoor oasis

When warm weather arrives, a backyard is not merely an extension of your home but a sanctuary — an extension of your living space that reconnects you with nature’s beauty. Once you’ve embraced this vision, we can dive into the practical steps to turn your dream oasis into a reality.

1. Think big picture when imagining backyard design ideas

It’s essential to begin this process by identifying how you want to use the space. Do you envision it as a cozy retreat for reading and relaxation, a vibrant hub for social gatherings, or a combination of both? Understanding your needs and preferences will guide the design process and ensure that your backyard oasis reflects your lifestyle.

Dorina Williams, founder of Savvy in the Kitchen, recommends creating separate zones within your backyard to accommodate various activities. “By creating different zones for different activities you can split the backyard into separate sections depending on different things you like doing,” Williams notes. “This may range from an outdoor dining spot to a lounge area where one can relax and even an entertainment place specifically meant for children or pets. Through this, you will add functionality, and your outdoor space looks organized with purpose behind it.”

Dorina also recommends considering an outdoor kitchen when planning your backyard makeover. “You can easily transition from indoor to outdoor living [with an outdoor kitchen]. Making margarita pizza in an outdoor pizza oven, grilling delicious steaks, or mixing up refreshing summer drinks al fresco, are all wonderful ways to entertain family and friends and create lasting memories.”

2. Embrace nature

Harness the beauty of nature by incorporating natural elements into your backyard design. Katie, owner of Cast Iron Idaho, urges those on a backyard designing journey to add more flowers. “You need more flowers, a lot more flowers,” Katie says.

“Try easy self-seeding annuals like poppies, hollyhocks, larkspur, amaranth, and clary sage which will increase in abundance each year in your garden. Support pollinators, plus your own backyard joy, by choosing varieties that bloom throughout spring, summer, and fall. For example, in my area [Intermountain West] penstemon, lupine, columbine, blanketflower, and sunflowers are good choices.”

Candace Godwin, with The Coeur d’Alene Coup, recommends incorporating vegetables to take your garden to the next level. “If your flowering patio pots are looking the same year after year, punch them up by adding a few veggie plants,” Godwin recommends. “It’s a fantastic way to add a variety of new shapes, colors, and textures to your flowering containers and maximize your vegetable garden’s yield.”

Godwin suggests choosing a variety of plants that bloom at different times of the year to ensure year-round interest and vibrancy in your outdoor space. “Select vegetable plants that complement the aesthetic and growth habits of your flowering plants. Similar to flowers, you can find “thrillers, spillers, and fillers” when it comes to vegetable plants. Consider your color palette as well, and choose vegetables or herbs with foliage that will harmonize with your flowers,” Godwin notes.

Garden-Mom suggests considering outdoor decor along with your planting plan, for the ultimate summer aesthetic. “The addition of structures to your backyard has a variety of benefits. Not only will it be eye-catching, but it will also provide a foundation for your plants to grow around,” Garden-Mom shares. “For example, morning glories wrapped around an arbor, a trellis for your clematis or climbing rose, a pergola to sunbathe under, a wall fountain with relaxing running water, or pedestals with urns of boxwoods or topiaries on them to create a Mediterranean feel; the options are endless.”

Garden-Mom also warns that with gardening comes potential wildlife. “Once your backyard ecosystem starts to thrive, you can find rabbits, birds, butterflies, and others wanting to call your backyard their home. For the wanted guest, you can purchase a black wrought iron shepherd hook to hang birdhouses, bird feeders, and hanging flower baskets. You could even add a birdbath. This will most definitely invite the songbirds and hummingbirds to come to your space for a visit,” Garden-Mom shares.

3. Incorporate lighting

Extend the enjoyment of your backyard oasis into the evening hours with strategic lighting. Tazim Damji, with Being Tazim, recommends leaning into lighting to set the tone of your backyard. “Lighting is the key to setting the mood, especially as the sun sets,” Damji shares. “Hang some lights across the patio or pergola to create a magical atmosphere, or place solar lanterns along your pathways for a whimsical touch. Arrange a few battery-powered candles near the seating area to cast a soothing glow after sunset, enhancing the relaxing ambiance of your outdoor space.”

Susan Brinson with House of Brinson, recommends paying attention to detail around lighting when thinking of backyard design ideas: “Lighting brings so much mood to an outdoor space, and with so many solar options available, the installation doesn’t have to be a big project,” Brinson notes. “Think of lighting in three zones: along the ground for paths, mid-level on tables, and above head for lighting like string lights. Lighting has an instant impact. Thoughtfully placed lighting will not only enhance the aesthetic appeal of your backyard but also ensure safety and functionality after dark.”

4. Don’t forget the personal touches

Infuse your personality into your backyard oasis by incorporating personal touches and decorative elements. Display outdoor artwork, sculptures, or pottery to reflect your style and incorporate elements that evoke fond memories or inspire creativity, such as a hammock for lazy summer afternoons or a cozy reading nook tucked away in a shaded corner. You can add colorful textiles like outdoor rugs, throw pillows, and curtains to inject even more personality and comfort into the space as well.

5. Avoid getting too carried away

While it’s tempting to go overboard with accessories and decorations, strive for balance and simplicity in your backyard design. Meredith Spidel, with The Mom of Year, recommends keeping decor and necessities readily available to maintain the wonderful sunshine vibes associated with summer. “Have an easily accessible storage spot for lawn games and outdoor toys. You don’t want this stuff cluttering your yard, but you DO want to use it,” Spidel shares.

“Plan ahead for summer entertaining with plastic dishware and serving ware as well. The goal of any outdoor space is to be well-used, and nothing is less user-friendly than worrying over broken glasses and plates. Invest in an affordable outside set, and thank yourself later.”

Your oasis awaits

Transforming your backyard into an outdoor oasis is a rewarding endeavor that can significantly enhance your quality of life and connection to nature. By following these backyard design ideas and tips from backyard enthusiasts, you can create a tranquil retreat where you can unwind, entertain, and recharge amidst the beauty of the outdoors.

Whether you have a sprawling lawn or a compact patio, there are endless possibilities for turning your backyard into a haven of relaxation and rejuvenation. Take the time to plan and design your backyard oasis with care, and you’ll reap the rewards for years to come.

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