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Backyard Makeover – Self Sufficiency and Mental Health Combined


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“Prepare For Summer With A Backyard Makeover”.  I think “backyard makeover” needs a new spin – your yard is where you can relax, regain mental health and maybe even create a supplemental source of food.  For many of us 2020 and 2021 have seen us staying at home where we might previously have gone on holidays or visited beaches or public entertainment areas or socialized with big groups of friends and relations.  Now summer is on its way we can make staying at home attractive, fun and productive.

Here are some thoughts for a backyard makeover to maximize the pleasure/utility you can get in your existing outdoor area, without breaking the budget! Some changes can be made in the course of an afternoon but for others (usually involving plants) you will need about 8 weeks to really see the benefits.

An article like this cannot take into account everyone’s existing backyard space but read on and you should find some ideas for revamping a balcony or roof-top space or making a whole garden more productive and appealing. Look at the headings below and allow your creativity to flow on how you can apply that heading in your backyard space.

Which Part Of The Yard To Use?

If you are making use of a balcony as your growing space then you will have to scale your efforts to match the available area.  But consider that even a few pots of herbs or a tray of sprouts can add interest and nutrition to meals!  Also consider the use of indoor spaces for growing – see article on Survival Gardens.

tomatoes in urban garden

If you have a bigger space see what possibilities there are for creating an attractive/functional outdoor area that you might not have explored before.

Maybe you always sit out on a front porch but there is a lovely tree just outside the backdoor that could become the center piece of a new outdoor area.

It is obviously convenient to have your outdoor area close to the house for ease of carrying food and/or drinks in and out. But do not neglect the possibility that a spot further away from the house could provide a view or other attractions that you have not exploited before.  Observe conditions in different area to see if you can make use of a microclimate – a sunny wall generating warmth for tender plants nearby for example.

Maybe the area you have in mind is big enough to divide into two or more types of space.  By creating different seating areas for different purposes you can make your outdoor space seem bigger.  Balance small, intimate spaces with areas that feel spacious and expansive.  Make use of vertical space to grow plants, combining growing area with screening.

Think of a cozy nook for morning coffee, a quiet, private place for your morning meditation or yoga practice, a pair of lounge chairs for watching the sunset, and a patio table for an evening meal with family or friends. Wander around your space and let your imagination provide different scenarios.

What Surrounds My Space?

Are you overlooking an area that you do not find attractive? Are you being overlooked by tall buildings around you? Is your space hemmed in by a tall, ugly wall? Is there always a sharp breeze coming from a particular direction?  Consider the possibilities in overhead structures to screen you from being overlooked or to block undesirable overhead views.

Look at your space with new eyes, excited about overcoming what you previously thought of as disadvantages. Think about what you can do with fencing, trellises or other light-weight screening. (Eventually such screening can carry any one of a number of attractive creepers.)

What could you achieve with an awning or a freestanding gazebo to increase your privacy? Can you or an artistic friend paint a mural on a wall to make it into an artwork? Is there a plant that could be moved to improve your view?

Maybe you have an area that has not be worked on for a while – see below – the end product has been made into a herb garden that is both attractive and productive.

garden before
Garden before makeover
garden after
Garden after makeover


What If It Gets Too Hot?

We tend to spend winter longing for the sun but not many of us want to be out for very long baking in direct sunlight in the summer. You might be lucky enough to have the natural shade of well-grown trees but otherwise you will want to create shade to allow you to relax in your outdoor area, even in extreme heat.

A pergola can be the answer and can provide shade, privacy and a definite sense of luxury. Consider creating your own canopy of mottled light and shade with reeds over a light framework.

Another option is that type of swinging bench that comes with a built-in awning. This can be attractive and comfortable – and easily be moved around the yard as you continue to make upgrades to your outdoor living space.  At the very least supply yourself with an outdoor umbrella!

Rose trellis over bench

What If It Gets Cold?

Can you manage a fire pit? With seating around it so that people can toast their knees and marshmallows in the event of a cold snap? There are also out-door tall-standing heaters available. Or a multi-purpose barbeque outfit?  Also take into account your plants getting cold!  There are mini greenhouses available in which to overwinter plants.

What Will Be Under Your Feet?

Do you have existing decking? Does it need scraping down and refreshing after the last few seasons? This might be a good time to get that chore done.

Apart from decking there are all sorts of options for the ground level of your outdoor area – paving of all sorts, gravel, mulch, stones, lawn and even, (most daring), outdoor carpet. If you are revamping a small space you might want to combine a couple of different floor textures to add to a sense of space.

What Furniture Do You Have Available?

If your existing furniture is comfortable and suits your circumstances you might want to just give it a lick of paint to freshen it up. Grey is a good neutral color as a background for all sorts of summer-colored upholstery fabric and accessories like cushions, table cloths and throws.

Speaking of throws, if you feel that this is not the time to have the upholstery recovered you can  liven up furniture that is a bit shabby with a throw.

If you are short of seating space remember that bench style seating is the most efficient use of space. Or you could make yourself a daybed with stacked pallets. And then there are the attractions of a hammock for lazy afternoons (you can even buy hammocks with self-supporting stands if you do not have a handy tree).

Plant Ideas

The popular image of a desert is blazing heat and no vegetation – and that is the opposite of what you want in your backyard entertainment area!

Some people are fortunate enough to have lush plants surrounding their outdoor area, well-grown shady trees, vigorous shrubs and lawn. But most of us must pack into our space as many plants as possible, not forgetting to go vertical with window boxes, hanging baskets, racks for banks of plants in containers, and creepers.

Adapt all sorts of containers to hold plants. Take advice on what is likely to give you loads of vegetables and flowers in your area.  Mix plantings of vegetables and flowers for an unusual effect that will also feed your family!  Think about plants that smell good and will scent your backyard oasis.

Lighting At Night

Draped strings of fairy lights provide attractive pinpoints of light, suggesting stars. But the larger areas also need a few strategically placed conventional light sources that do not shine in people’s eyes but give the scene a little warmth and make it possible to see where one is going, what one is eating and how full a glass has been filled.

What About Water?

When it is very hot, every outdoor area is improved by the presence of water in some form, from a table-top fountain playing on a balcony to a full-sized in-ground swimming pool full of joyful kids.

There are many attractive and affordable options in between to suit your budget and your space. Small children can be endless entertained in an inflatable plastic paddling pool. Bigger children and adults can have hours of fun in the sort of stock tank, above-ground type of pool.

If you are not going as far as providing swimming opportunities for your family and friends there are a number of ways of achieving a fishpond surrounded by lush water plants, especially if it can be combined with the sound of falling water in the form of a little fountain or waterfall.

This is relatively easy to achieve with a container of water (like a hard plastic kid’s paddling pool or a purpose designed pond from a garden shop) buried in the ground or concealed in some way, materials to provide several “basins” held one above the other and a small pump (also obtainable from a garden shop) capable of lifting water to the top basin from where it trickles down the levels to the pond to be re-circulated.  (Even one raised basin will give the height to have a trickle of water).  If you want to make a radical change – consider aquaponics to produce fish!

dyi waterfall

Eating Outside

There are many times in the course of a glorious summer where it is fun to eat outside – but not everyone enjoys eating on their lap. If at all possible you want to provide a table and chairs where at least two of you (on a balcony) or more can sit down to eat in easy, comfort and companionableness. Think of a group of friends sitting round a candle-lit table over the remains of a lovely meal, talking way into the night.

Cooking Outside?

You can cook in your kitchen and carry the food out to your backyard table – but how difficult would it be to organize to cook outside when you feel like it? A free-standing barbeque? A gas-powered barbeque? A brick-built barbeque area? Or you could go the whole hog and install a full-on little kitchen under a shelter, complete with working surface, crockery and cutlery and a refrigerator (ok that is not the budget version!)

Lawn Games

Depending on your tastes you could complete your yard makeover by setting up lawn games such as croquet, bocce ball or ladder golf, and bucket ball, to provide immediate outdoor fun for you and your family


Expand your living space into your outdoor space and add a new dimension to your life.

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