8 Things Every Backyard Needs This Summer, According to Landscape Designers

You're never going to want to go back inside.

<p>Antonina Potapenko/Getty Images</p>

Antonina Potapenko/Getty Images

While you might feel confident in decorating the inside of your home, designing the outside can feel a bit daunting. After all, competing with the elements isn't easy, and there’s more to backyards than simply buying furniture and a few accessories.

Whether you have a small suburban plot of land or acres of open space, don’t worry—we’ve tapped two designers to share everything you need to create the backyard you’ve always wanted.

Outdoor Lighting

Sure it’s nice to enjoy the summer sunshine, but backyards aren’t just for enjoying during the day. A good dose of outdoor lighting allows you to maximize your enjoyment no matter the hour. However, according to Brett Kessler, founder of Brooklyn-based landscape design firm Tract Workshop, choosing the right outdoor lighting for your backyard goes beyond utility. “Lighting can be used to create a mood and to highlight elements of your landscape,” she says. “For a classy look, less is more. Shine uplights on multi-stemmed trees and place path lights where additional light is needed for navigation. Make sure path lights are at least six inches apart.”

If your goal is to create a festive mood, Kessler suggests using string lights, such as vintage-inspired Edison bulbs.

While installing lighting sounds like a major undertaking, Michael O’Brien, founder and owner of Hommes + Gardens suggests the contrary. “DIY kits are readily available and often require no specialized skills beyond basic electrical knowledge. Solar-powered lights are particularly convenient and cost-effective, requiring no wiring at all.”

A Mosquito-Repellent System

There’s nothing that quite ruins a lovely time outdoors more than a swarm of mosquitos. Kessler says a system to repel these pests is essential for every backyard. Sure, it’s easy to douse yourself in bug spray or burn a citronella candle, but a system like Thermacell is a game-changer, according to Kessler. The brand offers a larger installed system as well as portable options that cost less than a summer’s worth of itch-relief cream.

Native Plants

While you may not want to share your backyard with mosquitoes, you do want to share it with beneficial pollinators and native birds. “You don't need a lot of space to create a bit of habitat. If you have sun, plant milkweed, coneflowers, mountain mint, and liatris for beautiful blooms. If you have shade, plant heart-leaved aster, foamflower, cardinal flower, and native ginger,“ Kessler recommends.

An Herb Garden

An herb garden is a small feature that can have a big impact. “It's beautiful, you get bountiful fresh herbs all summer long for a fraction of the cost at the grocery store, and the strong scent of herbs can help to repel mosquitoes and other pests,” explains Kessler.

O’Brien is also a fan of herb gardens. “Begin with essential herbs such as basil, tarragon, and dill, planted in charming and practical terracotta pots. Position your pots in a sunny location with well-draining soil, and ensure regular watering to maintain even moisture levels.”

Comfortable Outdoor Living Furniture

Gone are the days of hard plastic patio chairs. Opting for comfortable upholstered pieces such as outdoor sectionals, sofas or even a daybed is the way to go. “You'll be surprised by how much more time you spend in your outdoor space.  Add an occasional table to set food and drinks on, and some fun throw pillows to complete the look,” Kessler says.

She suggests shopping at West Elm, CB2, and Article for well-made, but affordable outdoor furniture and then adding pillows. Her favorites are from Lemieux et Cie.

In terms of materials, Kessler likes powder-coated aluminum furnishings for a lower-maintenance experience, especially for dining sets. While teak is also worth considering, it may require more maintenance.

Furniture Covers

Covers will not only keep your furniture clean, but will also increase the lifespan of your purchase. “I always cover my outdoor furniture between uses. This is especially important in cold or rainy climates,” Kessler advises.


Even if you don’t live in a super hot climate, the summer sun can sometimes make you want to stay indoors. But adding shade to your backyard makes the heat a bit more bearable. “Adding a shade sail, umbrella, or pergola can completely transform your outdoor experience,” says Kessler. “Umbrellas with tilt capabilities are nice because they provide flexibility throughout the day.  I have had a few in my own yard over the years, and my favorite is from Midtown Umbrellas."

A Water Feature

Lastly, a little water can go a long way. However, this doesn't necessarily mean a pool, hot tub, or koi pond (although those things are very nice to have). “Even if your backyard is relatively quiet, the tranquil trickle or splash of a water feature can add an immersive element to your space.  Bonus—they provide clean water to birds and butterflies,” explains Kessler.

A birdbath or small fountain can do the trick. “You don’t need a professional installer for most setups; many come with easy-to-follow instructions and can be set up in a weekend. Ensure to place it where you can enjoy the soothing sounds from your favorite lounging spot,” O'Brien says.

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