Backyard Vacation

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Make your home more inviting during the summer months by creating an outdoor living space. You don’t need to invest in fancy furniture or an expensive landscaping plan. Start with a few simple pieces, strategically placed, and build from there. If you’re planning to vacation at home this summer rather than travel, adding extra living space outside will make being home feel like vacation every day.

Before you start, think about whether you want your space to have a theme or look. It’s tempting to imagine something completely different from your interior scheme: English country garden, Southwest, Mediterranean or Asian. But keep in mind that if you carry the same theme and style from indoors to outdoors, whether it is clean and sleek or shabby chic, your outdoor space will seem more like an extension of the inside.

Start with a central focal point. It can be a grouping of strategically placed furniture arranged to draw the eye and the crowd or something that occurs naturally in the landscape, such as a pond or perennial garden. Depending on the size of your space, you may need only one focal point, but if your area is large, several are appropriate.

The most visually pleasing way to arrange your focal point(s) is by clustering items in small groups, mimicking the random way elements occur in nature. Don’t spread items out too evenly or in geographic shapes. Use the same basic principles as indoor decorating. Instead of pushing all the furniture against the wall of your house, create groupings where guests can face each other. This will make family and friends want to linger longer.

Another effective treatment is to create a contrast between a naturally occurring element (such as a tree) and a purchased piece (such as a swing or hammock). Birdbaths, trellises and arbors are excellent additions. Decorative propane heaters can extend the life of your backyard a few months in the spring and fall. You could place a patio umbrella near a bench for shade, anchoring it with a weighted stand, then transfer the umbrella to your table if you need shade while dining. To add dimension and interest, consider painting an old bookcase with weatherproof paint and filling it with interesting pottery and plants.

Some of the most popular outdoor accessories offered by Hy-Vee are swings, says product specialist Isaac Wiese. Hy-Vee offers two- and three-seat swings in a variety of styles, perfect to create a shady spot. Color trends this year focus on burnt reds, cool blues and warm earth tones.

Hy-Vee also offers benches that can be grouped with potted plants or water features. Eucalyptus is a popular wood for outdoor furniture, Wiese says, because of its durability. When choosing wooden furniture that can withstand the elements, look for a dense wood that is high in oil, he advises.

If you don’t have a patio or deck, you can use paving stones to create a “floor” for your living space. The flooring doesn’t necessarily need to be nestled up next to the house; you can create the space out in the middle of your yard, perhaps under a shade tree or in a hidden corner. Lay stones diagonally to make the space seem larger, then add a weatherproof rug for color and focus. Tie it to your landscape by using similar stonework along flower borders or around trees.

Other popular elements are arbors, which create a natural entrance or exit to your space. And a privacy fence offers triple advantages: it creates sight and sound barriers, acts as a natural end to your lot and serves as a backdrop for blooming plants and decorative touches.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Your outdoor living space doesn’t need to be finished today, this weekend or even this year. Set realistic goals and take it one step at a time. And remember to stop and smell the roses. After all, you’re creating a space to enjoy.

Hosting Outdoors

By the pool or on the patio, gathering out of doors for drinks, a casual supper or full blown party is fun. Invite neighbors, friends or family for an impromptu bring-your-own-meat grill supper. Add sides, drinks and condiments to finish the meal. Or, host a themed party, such as Hawaiian, Jamaican or Southern BBQ and serve foods that go with the theme.

Special lighting makes any occasion feel like a party. String white mini lights or lanterns under a canopy or umbrella. Candles also add festivity. Use caution with open flames by placing them in containers that can’t be knocked or blown over, such as pretty pots filled with sand or rock. (Caution: Do not leave candles, grill or fire unattended by an adult.)

Buffets work best if you are planning to serve 10 people or more. Use a resin folding table covered with yard goods or a table cloth for the buffet. Invert garden pots to support platters of food and accent the table with food-safe flowering plants and candles. For fewer people, use a garden or tea cart or a large tray to transport items to and from the kitchen.

Comfy seating placed throughout the yard encourages intimate conversations. Two- or three-seat swings, benches or clusters of chairs tucked into quiet areas add small group seating—perfect for cocktails or after-dinner coffee.

A well-kept lawn discourages insects but to help your evening be pest free spray the yard with an insect repellent (follow product directions) and use citronella torches or candles.

Feather Your Nest

Inviting birds, butterflies and other creatures into your outdoor space is only natural, and it adds year-round enjoyment. But before you install bird feeders and baths, think carefully about how you plan to use the space. While it’s interesting to watch birds up close, they can be messy. You and your guests won’t want to be eating and drinking where birds have spilled their dinner.

Place feeders in a quiet area where birds won’t be spooked. Hang them in a location that is low enough for refilling but high enough to keep out other critters. Birds feel more comfortable feeding near natural habitat, such as bushes and trees, but keep feeders away from branches that are large enough to be a launch pad for squirrels and predators. You might also consider a birdbath for your feathered friends. A birdbath heater will keep them coming year round.

The Hy-Vee Garden Center features a selection of feeders and seeds, including some designed for finches and hummingbirds. To attract colorful finches, use niger or sunflower seeds in your feeder.

The Garden Center is also full of plants that attract a variety of birds. The blooms of sunflowers, asters, bee balm, larkspur and coneflower attract birds during summer months. If you leave them standing, the seed heads will keep birds coming back during winter months, too.

Brightly colored plants are also popular attractions for butterflies. The butterfly bush, which thrives in the Midwest, lures butterflies and hummingbirds. If a new tree is in your plans, consider the flowering dogwood, a favorite of many species of birds, including hummingbirds. Plants and shrubbery containing berries, such as sumac, provide natural food sources.

To attract hummingbirds specifically, start with plants they love. Focus on red tubular blooms, such as azalea, trumpet vine, honeysuckle and fuchsia. A hanging basket incorporating these plants placed near your feeder will keep these tiny birds buzzing around long enough for you to enjoy their amazing energy.

Recipe for Hummingbird Nectar

With a ratio of one part sugar to four parts water, boil the water, then add sugar. Let cool and store any excess in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Do not add food coloring, honey or artificial sweetener. Hummingbird feeders are usually red in color, so the nectar you use doesn’t need red food coloring added. Clean and refill feeders twice weekly in hot weather.

Your bird feeder should be cleaned out at least once a month. The National Audubon Society recommends rinsing with one part vinegar to four parts water. Instead of detergent, which can harm birds, add a few grains of rice to the vinegar solution to help scrub off debris.

Source: Hy-Vee Seasons Garden 2010.

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