Daily paces being what they are (hectic!), it’s nice to have a retreat where you can hide. Away from the phone. Away from the keyboard. Away from the clatter and clutter of everyday Texas.
That’s why God made back yards. They’re our refuges, and how we design them determines how well they’ll help us reach inner peace and serenity. Your retreat doesn’t need to be expensive, and it doesn’t need to be complicated. But it does require a bit of planning beforehand.
Matters of privacy
Tall shrubs can screen you from neighbors’ views from their second-floor windows, but you do need adequate space for the plants to grow and develop. Nellie R. Stevens hollies are my personal go-to tall screens. They grow to 12 to 16 feet tall and 8 or 10 feet wide, so they require a fair amount of ground space. If you don’t have quite that much, consider Oakland hollies. They’re slower, but they’re also more pyramidal. Both hollies will grow well in both sun and shade.
If you have more room and need something taller, consider a short, evergreen tree. Little Gem magnolias grow to 30 feet tall and 20 feet wide. Teddy Bear magnolias are smaller still, to 20 feet tall and 12 or 14 feet wide. Avoid Italian cypress. Although their vertical habit would be appealing since they require little lateral room in your gardens, Seridium canker, a fatal fungal disease, has ruined thousands of them in North Texas this year alone. And avoid redtip photinias. Entomosporium fungal leaf spot has rendered it useless. In spite of what some may claim, there is no control for the disease.
A fence or wall could provide good privacy and security, and you could plant vines to grow and tumble over it. Best here: Carolina jessamine, crossvine, and for larger areas, wisterias or Madame Galen trumpetcreepers. Having shrubs or vines involved in your privacy screen helps deaden sound pollution much more than simply a fence or masonry wall.
Fragrance and flowers
You’ll enjoy your hours spent relaxing if you incorporate fragrant plants in your plantings. Many of our flowering trees, shrubs and vines have delightful aromas. Mexican plum, elaeagnus, Texas mountain laurel, wisteria and Carolina jessamine are some of my favorites, but you’ll have your own. Dozens of annual and perennial flowers and herbs will bring their own sweet smells into play. Concentrate, especially, on night-blooming types, even if they don’t provide fragrance. Moonflowers, moonvines, four o’clocks and tropicals brugmansias, night-blooming jasmine and night-blooming cereus are all great candidates.
Sounds and motion of water
Garden ponds and fountains are fabulous additions to the landscape on warm summer evenings. Whether it’s a “plug-and-play” tabletop fountain or a lovely waterfall or pond you’ve built into your plantings, water conceals off-site sounds and provides refreshing “white noise” to the setting.
If you’re unsure of how to proceed in constructing a pond or installing a fountain, start with a visit to a local water garden supply house. Talk to their designer and ask about the equipment and supplies that you’d need. They may have books to help you design it, or you can find many helpful videos online. The store may also sell to landscape contractors, and if so, they may be able to refer you to a company that can offer you a turnkey installation.
All of this assumes, of course, that you don’t already have a pool or spa in your backyard. If you do, landscape it handsomely to create your own special retreat. Use a wide variety of textures, leaf sizes and growth forms to create a tropical look. Contrast bananas, cannas, elephant ears, and palms with ferns and mannerly ornamental grasses. Bright colors of bougainvilleas, tropical hibiscus, begonias, caladiums and coleus show well at night.
All the luxuries of indoors
Outdoor kitchens have become quite the rage. Landscape contractors and kitchen appliance stores can both help in the process. How elaborate your outdoor facilities might be should be predicated on how many people you entertain frequently. If you have large pool parties often you’d want a different arrangement than if you’re just planning for intimate evenings as a couple or family. Either way, there are some fabulous options just waiting to be installed at your house.
Light up the night
This is the finishing touch. Landscape lighting creates settings and moods. But lighting requires careful planning. It’s easy to overdo it when there’s no other light source around. Small fixtures positioned high up in trees can add glow to a garden without washing out all the details. New LED fixtures run on mere pennies and they last many years. Special fixtures can also be added to highlight beautiful tree trunks or waterfalls, and lighting can help as you walk through your gardens.