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Question: How can we make a big backyard cozy?

There’s a backstory to this question. It was asked by my friend, Cathy, during a small dinner gathering in my own backyard. It was one of those perfect evenings where we all paused to appreciate the moment. That is, two of us had not seen each other in over a year because of the pandemic and two of us had only seen each other while conducting essential business. We had first planned the dinner during August’s heat wave thinking it would be over by a certain Saturday. Then came the wildfires and polluted air so we postponed three more Saturdays in row.

To be sure, I do not describe this scenario with an ounce of complaint. On the contrary, we were feeling enormous gratitude. Grateful to finally be together. Grateful to be safe. Grateful for the clean air and perfect temperature. Grateful for the sweet, garden tomatoes and teriyaki pork loin that I managed not to overcook.

By profession, and by nature, my friends are the kind of people that help others, especially those in distress. To have such an evening where we could decompress, relax and enjoy each other’s company was a gift. I’m prefacing my answer about cozy backyards with this inside scoop because it may be possible that our collective appreciation for the evening, especially during these current times, prompted Cathy’s question.

She had commented that my backyard was big but cozy. The key to its coziness is its zones. It has different areas for different purposes. These areas are somewhat defined by fences made of 60-year-old grape stakes and a long bench made of 60-year-old red brick. There’s something comforting about their history and durability.

The fence outlines the perimeter of the yard and also cuts into a third of it at one end. That area is for a vegetable and herb garden. The center third accommodates a pergola-covered patio and a nearby water fountain nestled into the landscape. I had also purchased a mobile water fountain for the opposite side of the patio just for good measure. Cascading water in stereo you might say. The last third of the yard flows into a lawn, greenery, trees, and flowers.

These zones are further defined by their different grounds. The patio has exposed, aggregate stone poured in four-foot-square pads. This was done so in an old-school manner which accounts for their character and enduring condition. There are also narrow, red brick paths, and any empty space left in the yard, is covered with black bark. I love black bark. It highlights contrasting colors and textures in the landscape and looks richer than other bark.

Cathy felt that the pergola particularly added to the coziness – as if being in a room but without walls. Mine just has posts and a top but I’ve designed ones for clients that include planter boxes or shelves that span the posts. I’ve also hung bamboo shades on those pergolas that are heavily exposed to the sun.

The formula to backyard coziness? Start with zones, a pergola, and a water fountain. Add great friends and interesting conversation. Sprinkle in fresh tomato appetizers with Altamura Sauvignon Blanc, a simple salad with a protein and perhaps a couscous on the side. End with lightweight meringue cookies and cordials of Kahlua – a nostalgic digestif popular in the 1970s, the decade in which we all met. Cheers to coziness, friendships and gratitude.

Note: In the spirit of gratitude, I’d like to thank all the firefighters and first responders for their valiant and unending efforts. “Al di la” is an Italian expression that refers to something so above and beyond that it’s impossible to describe. Such is my appreciation for you.


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