backyard sanctuaryWe all need a backyard sanctuary. Contemporary American life is lived in overdrive. People spend their days hurtling from one obligation to the next, always hoping to catch up.

Stress is a constant companion, to the point of depriving about half of the U.S. population of much needed sleep. Haunted by an ever-expanding to-do list, Americans work harder only to look up one day and wonder where the time has gone.

Your Backyard Shouldn’t Distress It Should De-stress

With all the best intentions, people may join health clubs or gyms in the hopes of building de-stressing activities into their routines. But the travel time required to reach a port of refuge makes it less desirable, and often those memberships go unused. Placing the sanctuary right outside your back door makes it much more likely that you will visit it often, as it is always there when you need it. You will be able to personalize your backyard sanctuary to suit your specific needs. Here are 10 simple steps to take:

Take Note Of What You Already Have To Work With

Take note of what you already have to work with. If you’ve neglected your backyard, it will be all the more gratifying to transform it. Are there permanent features, such as a sun-baked concrete patio? This can be softened by surrounding it with a carpet of lush ground cover, or by placing a fountain or sculptural element at the center. Your taste will determine if it should be a statue of St. Francis of Assisi or a more abstract form. Notice the textures and range of scale already present. Is there an abundance of smooth and no rough?

Too much tall and not enough short? Think of plantings and furnishings that can balance that out. 
Next, chart the path of desire, which is the shortest way from one place to another. Perhaps there is a worn diagonal line on the lawn. Find creative ways to redirect traffic, such as installing a serpentine path defined by scented shrubs.
Are there areas that invite relaxation? If not, create one or more versatile spaces that can be used both for single meditation or sharing your sanctuary with loved ones. Encourage moments of quiet and introspection by providing outdoor seating, such as a rocking chair or bench.

Personalize Your Backyard Sanctuary

No two sanctuaries will be alike. Some people enjoy outdoor activity, replacing the bygone gym membership with lots of mowing, clipping, shearing and pulling. Others simply want to loaf, a place to momentarily forget the unfinished to-do list. It’s important to choose plants accordingly. Some landscape elements are high-maintenance, and satisfy the need to dispel stress. Some well-chosen plants require nothing more than occasional watering and mulching to keep down weeds.

Choose A Theme For Your Own Backyard

From the formal constructs of a French garden to the riot of flowers in a butterfly garden, theme gardens can be great fun to design and they provide a template for creativity. Look to ancient wisdom for a spiritual approach to designing your sanctuary. Buddhist prayer flags can provide a starting point. They are blue, white, red, green and yellow, symbolizing sky, wind, fire, water and earth.

A string of prayer flags can provide a festive focal point in your sanctuary. Or choose from the five elements of Feng Shui. Fire, earth, metal, water and wood are represented by red, yellow, white, black and green. Use an energy map to understand which elements in your sanctuary need to be enhanced.
Your theme may simply be relaxation, which will also generate plenty of inspiration. Choose symbols of tranquility, such as a hammock strung between two trees, or a outdoor porch rocker.

Design Your Paradise With With Sound

Enhance your sanctuary by adding an audible dimension. Wind chimes, tinkling fountains, even the gentle rustling of native grasses, will take the visual experience deeper, so that you receive cues to relax on more than one level.
If music is part of your ideal sanctuary, consider installing speakers in the trees, adding ambiance for entertaining on the patio, or gardening with Mozart as your companion.

Invite Nature Into Your Backyard Oasis

Nothing is more relaxing than watching busy bees and birds at work. Invite them in by landscaping with their needs in mind. Bright colors attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Zinnias, nasturtiums, trumpet vines and butterfly bushes will ensure your sanctuary is humming with positive energy. Birds will flock to a bird feeder, or feed them naturally with fruit bearing shrubs and trees.

Creating nesting sites will ensure that your visitors don’t just eat and run. Hummingbirds prefer trees with branches that come together in a narrow Y-shape to hold their delicate nests. Some birds build their homes in leaves, and some prefer eaves, so decide what songbird family you would like to host, and create their ideal habitat. There is even butterfly housing, which consists of a block of wood with narrow slots for shelter.

Provide Comfortable Seating, Too

You’re more likely to linger in your sanctuary if you have a comfortable place to sit. Whether it’s a bench in a cozy nook, a rocking chair next to the bougainvilleas, or a cafe table and chairs on the patio, an investment in quality furniture will provide years of enjoyment.

Chart The Sun and The Stars

Design your sanctuary so that it can be used both day and night. Many flowers, such as moon flower and evening primrose, are nocturnal bloomers. At the end of a hectic day, imagine how restful a moonlight walk through a fragrant garden would be. 
Notice the patterns of the sun. Design settings where you soak up solar rays, such as in the morning while facing east; or place a shield against west facing areas by positioning a pergola or umbrella. A ceiling fan on a porch is a simple way to recreate a soothing breeze in hot climates.

Add Scents In Layers

Flowers delight with their bold sweetness, but herbs contribute a complex and intriguing undertone that stimulates the senses. Rosemary, sage and oregano do well in free-standing pots. Mint prefers to have its feet wet in a shady spot by the hose spigot. Basil comes in a multitude of varieties, from lemon to lime to cinnamon, tickling the nose and the taste buds.

Create a Welcoming Glow

Extend your backyard sanctuary’s usable hours by installing an outdoor fireplace, where you can lose yourself in thought while contemplating flickering flames. A portable fire pit or chiminea will do the job as well, and allow flexibility. 
Tiki torches bring an exotic flair to garden parties. Or try solar powered lighting that charges up by day and glows by night, including fixtures that resemble rocks, some that mimic candles, and others that are like luminous lily pads that float on the pond or pool.

Play On!

Design physical activity into your sanctuary, so that you never regret that idle gym membership. A large lawn will invite group activities such as horseshoes, croquet, or throwing a Frisbee. Patios are perfect places for jumping rope. And a covered porch will house an exercise bike or weight set. Then again, a simple stroll around the garden may suffice. Exercise releases endorphins in the brain, and increases the sense of well-being.
Don’t Defer Delight

When life seems nothing more than an endless treadmill, it’s time to seek refuge in your backyard sanctuary. Indulge your senses and feel completely alive as you relax in a paradise of your own making.

If you live in a house that has a large porch adorned with a wood porch rocker, then you’ve got something special. Loving the outdoors and relaxing in your own backyard paradise, contemplating the world from your rocking glider.

Learn the value of slowing down and enjoying life to the fullest.