How to create your own outdoor oasis

As temperatures warm up, nature calls us to linger outdoors

Courtesy photos

Define Your Space

“Designing back yards and patios is really about determining what works for you, if you’re a family with young children or an older couple that likes to throw parties,” says Mark Rynearson of The Rynearson Company in Goffstown. “The first aspect of designing is asking, ‘How do you want to use this space?’”  

Jennifer DiNovo of Design Works in Hudson agrees. “The first step is to decide what ‘oasis’ means to you. One client turned the entire back yard into a Japanese garden with walking paths that lead to several outdoor rooms. For another client, the oasis was a simple patio created off of their walkout basement to hold a table and chairs and hot tub, all enclosed within a wooded and very private back yard. Everyone’s oasis is different.”

Use plants as a border, add furniture or put up a structure like a pergola to help you portion off  “rooms” or areas of your yard. “Pergolas are a great architecture element and they help to define the space. They offer an innately satisfying feeling of being ensconced in the area,” says Rynearson. Gardens, latticework, stone walkways and fire pits are also ways to create defined areas. “I like to put fire pits off at one end of the yard to create a destination,” Rynearson adds.

Plan It Out

Planning is essential to creating a space you can relax in. “Dreaming about projects can be exciting, but all too often we have a lot of great ideas and not enough knowledge about our specific site. It’s important to recognize your constraints,” says DiNovo. “Work with a landscape designer to organize your goals and be practical about budget constraints and time.” Eric Buck of Terrain Planning & Design in Bedford adds that people often don’t think of sizing their outdoor space. “In order to be sized appropriately, you need nine square feet per person. So if you are planning to host parties or include big family get-togethers comfortably, then you need to define the space taking that into consideration.”

Planning also helps you think about the layout of your home. “Think about your accessibility in and out of the house,” Rynearson advises. “If you are going to do a patio or an outdoor kitchen, then you want to put it near the kitchen. Then try tying it in to the rest of the house.” Buck agrees: “There are a lot of functional things, like if a patio is off the house, how will the water from the roof drain on to it? What will the maintenance of the patio be with the materials you use? It’s also important to match the style of your home — whether it is contemporary or classic — to your project too.”


Good lighting is one of the most important elements in creating an oasis. “Lighting is so important, not only for safety, but you can use the light to cast shadows of plant or to accentuate the focal points of the garden during the day,” says Buck. “The best lighting design is one where you don’t see the lighting, it just creates an ambiance or a glow.” Rynearson advises that lighting helps extend your oasis. “Lighting gives you the ability to use the space earlier and later in the season. Even in the middle of winter, up-lit trees and shrubs let you partake of the three-dimensional view in your back yard, rather then having a black wall during those months. It pulls your eye into the woods.”

Plants for All Seasons 

When thinking about plants, Rynearson says to keep it simple. “Think in terms of using more of the same kind of one plant as a base. People try to use too many different kinds of plants. Start out small and see how they grow. People also really want low maintenance. Using plants in groups lowers maintenance since you can let them grow together. Fewer types of plants that are slower growing are your best bet.” 

Buck encourages clients to think about plants in all four seasons. “We have four to five months of great entertainment time, but think about how to create winter interest, like plants with interesting growth or bark color. Winter flame dogwood has an interesting orange stem that really stands out against white snow. Aromatic plants like the Japanese katsura tree has a cotton candy smell in the late fall.”

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