The benefits of spending time outside as well as looking outside have proven positive health benefits, even in as little as five minutes! Using your outdoor space as a therapeutic experience in nature can help heal and restore health. You don’t need to go to a National Park to feel the positive effects of the natural world. Therefore, this article is written to help you help yourself with simple ideas and suggestions on how you can make your outdoor spaces more appealing.
First, it takes a little soul searching- Please ask yourself the following questions:
1.) Are you utilizing the outdoor environment where you spend most of your time?
This can be your home, the office, shared space outside your building or a green roof patio, a private space such as a balcony or yard, and even some extra side space on an industrial lot. Speaking generally in this article, the tips below can adapt to various properties and some improvements can be easier to implement than others.
Outdoor improvements can increase property value, improve views from the inside, increase resale value and curb appeal, reflect corporate or individual identity and place-making, increase social cohesion by creating a setting which neighbors enjoy that can aid in preventing damage to the property, encourage local wildlife and habitat, improve social connections with those using the space and even improve productively of the workforce.
If you are the owner of the property, it may be easiest to implement changes or if you belong to a homeowner association you can partner for improvements. However, even if you are a tenant, consider making non-permanent changes that you can take with you when you move, for example, pots and planters, outdoor rugs, and bright furniture. Also, feel free to be vocal to the owner to assist with improvements, as it doesn't hurt to ask.
2.) How would you use the space if it was improved?
Improvements to the exterior space are vast for your property needs. Examples range from improving an outdoor patio to a small area in your yard under a beautiful large tree shade, the desire to create an pleasant outdoor room adjacent to a building where a new door can be added, a small gathering area slightly away from the exit door, a new comfortable space to play or bbq, a space of solitude in a garden or place of respite, or you may simply envision something to create on a blank slate on your rooftop patio. Thoughtful additions can feel as additional square footage had been added to your property which results in a whole new “outdoor room.” When the space is comfortable and appealing to you, it has cause for you to look outside as well as step outdoors. If you are not familiar with supporting evidence to step outside, please read my article Step Outside this Winter.
3.) What is comforting to you?
The exterior of your space- whether a multi-acre lot, a small balcony or large patio can be enhanced with a little creativity and desire to incorporate your interests. When reading through the tips below, keep in mind what is comforting to you. It can be your favorite color, a small sculpture in your garden or a special type of rock(s). Let this lead the way in your design and guide what elements you want to incorporate. For example, love the color red, add accent colors of red! Annoyed by sounds, don’t add wind chimes! You get the point. You are unique and so should your outdoor space! Consider the elements below that improve your physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and intellectual being.
Some Suggestions for Improvements you can make to help encourage some daily outdoor time!
Sounds- Listening to the leaves rustle or the wind blow can be therapeutic. To enhance sounds, wind chimes can be added. They come in all varieties and can be a great addition to your space. Varying tones are known to enhance chakras and this can be accomplished with vendors that sell wind chimes set to specific notes. Tones can evoke positive feelings and get you in tune with the natural air elements around you. Are you a music lover? Consider speakers and speaker systems in your outdoor spaces. Water also incorporates a calming effect. Fountains of a variety of sizes can offer sound buffering from undesirable noises as well as off tranquil sounds.
Materials- Plant material that makes you happy, and plants that you feel you can care for are great additions. Look for native plants to plant in your environment. In particular, perennial herbs and shrubs with medicine qualities are typically an interesting choice. If you don’t have a green thumb, consider different rocks and materials that can come in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. Pay attention to the materials that you incorporate as sometimes a pop of color even on the exterior of the building can enhance the space and make you feel and brings the eye to that area to become somewhere special. The addition of some bright colorful pots can brighten up any day! Also, where appropriate consider screening materials such as fences, hedgerows, and trees of a variety of sizes. This can act as security from a physical level to a comfort level as well as provide privacy.
Built elements- Furniture, tables, chairs, pergola, bars, grill areas, etc… Consider forms that complement one another, such as an oval table on an oval patio. Also, when constructing decks, bars or other permanent features, match the materials to complement the exterior of the house, etc. Pinterest, design books and websites have great examples to gain inspiration from.
Contextually Appropriate Climate Enhancements- I’m going to bring up the climate since that actually may be a driving force in your design and decision why you do or do not use the outdoor space. For example, if you live in a rainy or hot climate you probably want to have an overhang, umbrella or protective shield in which you sit/gather under. Here in Colorado, we have a strong sun and need protective shade sails that not only protect you from the intense sun rays but also it keeps the temperature cooler in the summer. These can be removed in the winter when you crave the warm sun rays. A water mister can do wonders on a hot dry night, as a soothing fan can in a humid environment. Think it is always too cold? Consider a gas fire pit/ fire feature!
Setting for Social events/gatherings- Do you love to host barbeques, corn hole tournaments but live in a small space? Bring the party outside! The same goes for the desire to sit around the table for hours but only have a bar inside your home, then why not put a large gathering table on that communal patio!
The Outdoor room- The transition from the indoor to outdoor spaces can become permeable with windows and doors. Make a comfortable space with a background that is comfortable and the view is pleasing. Pots and planters that are bright colors or that complement your exterior are nice enhancements. Sometimes a bright planter or piece of art can be a focal feature. Consider how your pet may use this space as well.
Art & Sculpture- Looking out the window has therapeutic effects. What better to look at than your favorite artwork displayed on an outdoor wall or as a sculpture. Select items that make you smile. This can be as small as a garden Nome to a funny doormat to a life-size sculpture of the abominable snowman. Just as the interior of your home reflects your personality, so can the outdoors.
Wildlife, Birds, and Bees- Depending on where you live consider learning about, providing for and attracting local and migratory birds- Watching birds has proven to improve mental health. Follow this movement or get involved. Consider plants that provide nourishment to birds, bees and wildlife (if you would like). Pollinator gardens are quite popular, and a special selection of plants can enhance pollinators. Also, consider the wildlife in your area, consider plant material that can divert wildlife from having a large snack. This topic is so variable on your location, it would be good to discuss with your local garden and nature center.
Interesting Forms- Plant material is great for introducing different forms in your landscape. Even a green roof garden or potted garden can benefit from the layering of plant material and incorporating a variety of heights, widths, colors, and seasonal attractants. Using the form of plants to play off one another can add more dimension and interest to your environment. On the contrary, the use of plants or materials in a monochromatic manner can be striking.
Trees, Plants, and Shrubs- Plant material has been mentioned in most of the topics above, but spend some time selecting materials that will work with your plans for use. . Try to incorporate both deciduous and coniferous plants if applicable in your environment. For example, shade trees are great in big yards, but ornamental trees may be a better choice for smaller areas. Pay attention to seasonal interest (do the leaves change, are their fruits that drop?).
The opportunities and varieties are endless. Overall think out your outdoor space as design potential! Hope this helps and have fun! For an example plan for easy to integrate improvements see my article on A Simple Backyard Sanctuary.