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MELINDA MYERS: Create Your Own Backyard Paradise

You don’t need a plane ticket, tank full of gas or train ride to enjoy a bit of paradise. Create your own in a small alcove, large patio, or deck in your own backyard.

Start by visualizing what paradise looks and feels like to you. A table and chair surrounded by beautiful plants makes a wonderful space to relax, read a book and enjoy some alone time.  For some, it means a patio or deck filled with colorful planters and surrounded by ornamental grasses, vine covered trellises, flowering shrubs, and evergreens. These will help define the space, provide privacy, mask unwanted noise, and provide a great space for entertaining.

Don’t let a lack of space, patio, or deck stop you from building a backyard getaway. Look for those underutilized areas. Perhaps it is a back corner of the yard, space next to the garage, side yard or a spot under a big shade tree. A vine covered arbor, piece of indoor-outdoor carpet and a few planters can turn any space into a backyard retreat.

Once you identify the space and desired function, think about the ambience you want to create. For a tropical escape, include leafy plants like elephant ears and bananas in pots, wicker furniture, a water feature and colorful flowers like begonias, hibiscus, and mandevilla. Don’t overlook hardy perennials. Plants like big leaf hostas, variegated Solomon’s seal, crocosmia, cassia and others help create the look and feel of the tropics. Continue this theme by using bamboo, wicker, and wood for any needed screening.

If it is a visit to the Mediterranean you prefer, include stonework, planters with silver foliage plants like dusty miller, and sage and a few evergreens. Use upright junipers and grapevines trained on arbors for screening. An urn or topiary make an attractive focal point. Fill the garden space with herbs, blue oat grass, calendula, salvia, and alliums.

For a casual visit to England, craft yourself a cottage garden. Construct a narrow path leading through an archway at the entrance to your secret garden. Create an informal collection of flowers, herbs, and medicinal plants. Use a birdbath, piece of garden art or water feature as your focal point.

If it’s the north woods you prefer, make a firepit the focal point, add some rustic furnishings and complete the scene with native plants. Or let your personality shine with a colorful bistro set, garden art, and flowers of orange, red, and yellow.

As your vision comes into focus, it is time to start putting your ideas on paper. A simple sketch will help you define the space, arrange the plants, and identify the appropriate furnishings and building materials. It is much easier to move items on paper than once they are set into the ground.

Always contact your local underground utility locating service at least three business days in advance. It’s free and as easy as calling 811 or filing an online request.  They will contact all the appropriate companies who will mark the location of their underground utilities in the designated work area.  This reduces the risk of injury and inconvenience of accidentally knocking out power, cable, or other utilities as you enhance your landscape.

Because this important step is often overlooked, August 11th has become National 811 Day. It’s a reminder to include this important step when undertaking any landscape project, large or small. And remind others to do the same.

Once complete, you’ll simply be able to step out your back door and enjoy your slice of paradise.

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including The Midwest Gardener’s Handbook and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally-syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Her web site is


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