Cultivating Eden: 10 Ways to Beautify Your Outdoor Space

By Stacee Sledge
Log Home Living, July 2004

The sun and the moon, the grass and the trees. The beauty out your back door may be intoxicating, but if you don’t have the proper setup to enjoy it—or worse, you’ve created an outdoor living area that detracts from nature’s bounty—you’re missing out on half the reason people build log homes.

The idea is to design the same inviting atmosphere outside that you did in your great room, kitchen and sunroom. So experiment with these tips to treat your outdoor space as thoughtfully as you do your indoor rooms, and turn your surroundings into something special.

1. Run for Cover. A covered, outdoor sitting area adds another dimension to your retreat. After all, what’s more perfect than relaxing outdoors with a cup of coffee, a good book, and the soft morning rain pattering overhead?

2. Sit Pretty. Even with spectacular views surrounding your log home, unattractive furniture can detract from its overall ambience. Pitch the past-its-prime plastic patio furniture and invest in a few upscale pieces to punch up comfort and aesthetics. Wood and metal seating options lend a more artful and natural touch. Still pining for maintenance-free plastic? New resin designs offer colorful, sturdy seating that will put your plastic perches out to pasture. If you’ve decided on stone or wood benches, add a splash of color and comfort with patterned cushions (Choose padding that can be removed and stored to protect them from rain and other harsh elements.)

3. Go With the Flow. If your property isn’t near a stream or lake, install a water feature to complete the charm of your bucolic setting. Fountains, waterfalls, small ponds and other aquatic elements add beauty, as well as the pleasing sound of flowing water and a habitat for fish and birds.

Even if you’re nowhere near the wet stuff, you can create your own waterfall. Install an underground cistern that will recirculate water that cascades over strategically placed cobblestones.

4. Screen Out Eyesores. Today’s modern log homes often come equipped with an unsightly outdoor air conditioning unit. To disguise this unnatural eyesore, hide it behind a decorative screen. Build a simple lattice structure that you can train vines to climb for a traditional and elegant garden. For a rustic atmosphere, create a folding screen from discarded shutters or old doors hinged together.

5. Get Decked Out. Decks are a popular way to create more outdoor living space and can be decorated easily with furnishings, planters and garden art. Traditionally, decks were constructed of long-lasting cedar or redwood. Now, plastic and wood composite decking materials have grown in popularity as a low-maintenance alternative.

6. Keep It Simple. Resist the temptation to overdo your planting areas. Expansive plantings are out of character surrounding a log home, according to Paul George, landscape architect and owner of Cascade Design Group in Bellingham, Washington. A few well-chosen plants go a long way to provide color, texture and interest.

You should select plants that can adapt easily to your home’s locale, and you should consider aesthetics as well as regional climate and terrain. If you’re in a woodland setting, dwarf conifers add interest without overpowering the setting. Ornamental grasses such as Miscanthus are a logical choice for a seaside setting.

7. Grow Wild Things. Utilize another abundant natural element to add interest to your yard—invite the wildlife to drop by. Incorporate native plants such as azalea and butterfly bush to attract birds and butterflies.

You can also put out the wildlife welcome mat by installing decorative bird and bat houses. These visitors offer nature’s best way of keeping mosquitoes, moths and beetles at bay, while their homes add architectural detail to your environs. To keep unwanted scavengers (think raccoons, mice and bears) out of your yard, move garbage cans to a shed and avoid setting out food. This means hanging bird feeders up high.

8. Light the Way. Guide the way and add a touch of drama with outdoor lighting. A low-voltage lighting system creates ambiance as well as a safe passageway at night. A few well-placed spot lights also will highlight interesting shrubs or trees, as well as your home’s architecture.

9. Map Out a Path. Most people focus on landscaping when dreaming of how to decorate their yards, but hardscaping is equally important. Paths, retaining walls, and patios define planted areas, look pretty and are functional.

Crushed gravel walkways edged with native rocks are perfect for a rustic setting. Flagstone for a path or a patio is equally popular. Set the stones on a bed of sand and gravel and plant moss or fragrant thyme between them.

10. Trim With Art. When you think of garden art, do concrete gnomes or plastic pink flamingoes come to mind? Think again! Today’s variety garden ornamentation is far more sophisticated—from detailed sculptures to simple sundials—and provides a personal touch to your yard. Select object d’art that appeal to you; if you like it, you can make it work in your landscape plan. But remember that it’s best to use a light hand: An abundance of garden art can distract from your yard’s overall appeal.

When decorating your outdoor retreat, have fun and be creative. The ideal setting is one that is a comfortable resting area for you and your family while enhancing the sights, sounds and smells of the surrounding landscape and local fauna. This is your private outdoor sanctuary, so try something new to enjoy all that nature has to offer.



Cookin’ Out

Can’t take the heat? Then get out of the kitchen and move your gastronomical gear to the great outdoors.

Al fresco kitchens are all the rage and can be as simple as a crumb of counter space above drawers that hold cooking gear next to the grill, or as elaborate as your indoor setup, with a grill, gas burner, warming drawer, deep fryer, refrigerator and sink.

Today’s hybrid barbecues and grills mean you don’t need to choose between gas and charcoal; these stainless steel beauties have both. Splurge on a high-end model that includes a pit/smoker and three-burner gas grill (take your pick of infra red, H-type, or pressure burners with up to 40,000 BTU of cooking power). A slide-out drip pan makes clean up a snap.

Consider a side burner that lets you boil water, sauté vegetables and complete other cooking tasks that enhance a meal. And don’t forget a sink for easy cleaning; choose stainless steel, which won’t corrode.

Tuck a mini-fridge conveniently below a weather-resistant masonry, slate or granite countertop, keeping all your cold ingredients close by. Like other outdoor kitchen appliances, the mini-fridge is specifically designed for use outside, with stronger compressors to combat summer’s sweltering heat and tighter seal so wildlife can’t sniff out food or pry doors open. Consider installing a pair to double your cold storage capacity.

Be sure to keep the eating area near the cooking station for easy transport from grill to table. The set up can be casual barstools pushed up to a high eating counter or a sprawling table covered with linens and protected by an oversized pergola.

Finally, consider other accessories that make outdoor cooking more convenient and fuss-free. Stainless steel, tilt-out trash can bins keep refuse (and odors) hidden. An outdoor pantry, made of stainless steel and stored below the counter, holds paper goods, spices, dishes and other culinary gear for easy access.

Stacee Sledge is a professional writer who shares her culinary opinion in a weekly restaurant review column for the Bellingham Herald, in Washington State.

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