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The Tilly Guide to Updating Your Landscape for Easy Outdoor Entertaining

By Axis Fuksman-Kumpa May 6, 2022

Backyard Patio under a pergola

Who doesn’t want an amazing space for outdoor entertaining? Whether you’re dreaming of a backyard design with a fantastic BBQ setup, a cozy fire pit for s’mores on summer nights, a play zone for the kids, or a little bit of everything, we can help create a smart layout for all your outdoor entertaining needs.

Creating the perfect outdoor entertainment area tops the priority list for many of our clients, and we have years of experience designing landscapes that are beautiful and functional social spaces. This guide includes advice from our expert residential landscape architects and landscape designers who know how to plan a yard for a party!

Consider Your Space and Your Needs

Determine Your Top Priorities

First things first, you have to figure out how you want to use your space. Do you want your backyard to be an all-grownups space for margaritas at happy hour or are you dreaming of a game area for kids (and kids at heart)? Is grandma on your guest list for afternoon tea or do you host outdoor movie nights for your crew? Figure out which uses of your backyard top your list, and use that to prioritize your space.

You might love the idea of having a fire pit in your yard, but if you realistically won’t be outside much at night when the kids are asleep, it might make more sense to focus on creating beautiful outdoor dining and play areas that the whole family can use. Landscape design isn’t one size fits all, and you’ll have to decide what matters most to you to include in your landscape design.

Plan for Your Yard

Next, you have to determine what parts of your landscape you want to renovate and what you can realistically do with the space you have. Big, sweeping backyards can hold a lot, but even the smallest backyards can be turned into the perfect backyard entertaining mecca with thoughtful design.

The side yard is a frequently underutilized zone in landscape design. Even a narrow side yard can become a killer barbecue zone, a compact herb garden to garnish your dinners on the patio, a secret playspace for teh kids, or a beautiful pathway that sets the tone for guests entering your backyard oasis.

Similarly, people often overlook the potential of the front yard as an entertaining space. Social front yards have been trending, sparked by the pandemic. This concept has continued and creating a cozy space to gather in the front yard is often a key request for clients. Even most tiny front yards have space for a small patio table and a couple of chairs, creating the perfect spot to invite your neighbor over for a cup of coffee.

outdoor dining on a patio
gravel patio with a fire pit in a backyard

Map Out Your Renovation

Create Zones in Your Landscape

One of the most successful ways we’ve found to design a multi-use outdoor space is to think of your yard design like the rooms of your house. For example, you use your kitchen for cooking and your living room for hanging out—so why would you try to put a couch next to your outdoor grill? Designing your space like outdoor rooms helps to designate comfortable and purposeful zones in your landscaping.

Defining those spaces can be as simple as switching up your groundcover—like the outdoor equivalent of the transition from your tiled kitchen to your carpeted living room. You can also build out a variety of different featured areas in your landscape that will help to create those zones we’re looking for.

Build Feature Areas

There are a number of classic landscaping features that will effortlessly create perfect spaces for family get-togethers, cozy date nights, and games with the family.

  • An elevated deck or level patio creates the perfect place to set up a dining set, a grilling area, or a circle of adirondacks around the firepit. These spaces separate themselves from the rest of your lawn and garden while providing effortless views of your space. Making the most of a backyard deck or living space can really up the amount you use your outdoor space.
  • Gazebos, pergolas, and pavilions are the perfect way to create the feeling of a cozy, defined space while still being open to the outdoors. They can even protect from the elements, providing shade and sometimes overhead protection from rain.
  • Whether you’re entertaining family or friends, having a designated play area for kids can be a boon for everybody. Having a climbing wall, Ninja Warrior course, or art area will make your yard a hit for kids and give grownups a break while they relax on the patio.
  • Providing shady areas will be key in creating places where people want to gather. From large awnings that provide shade and protection from the elements to smaller umbrellas that can shade your patio table or pool seating, there’s a shade-providing option for every landscape.
  • Outdoor lighting will help to shape your landscape after dark. Overhead lighting on the patio will let dinner and drinks continue after the sun has set and lighting along pathways will help guide your guests from the table to your fire pit. Whether it's moon lighting a tree, step lighting or string lights - this is a feature not to be ignored.

landscape plan with living space under stairs

Think About Maintenance & Style

Both your personal design style and how much maintenance you want to do on your landscape will be key in determining which plants and hardscaping materials are right for your yard.

Short-Term Maintenance

When you’re planning out your landscape, you have to consider how much time you really want to spend on maintenance. If you’re an avid gardener who enjoys spending your weekends raking, pruning, and weeding, then you have a lot of options! If you prefer to spend your weekends enjoying games on the lawn instead of mowing, watering, and fertilizing it, you have options too.

Low maintenance landscape design is in vogue for good reason. There are myriad techniques you can use when selecting and placing your plants and hardscape to keep your day to day upkeep minimal while maintaining the look of a beautiful yard. You can try a grass alternative to reduce the time and products required for conventional lawn care. You can head off pest problems before they begin by choosing bug-resistant native plants and deterring deer from nibbling on your garden. You can reduce water usage by using xeriscaping methods in your landscape design. All of these methods and more can make your weekend workload a little lighter.

Long-Term Maintenance

When it comes to long-term maintenance, that’s where the materials used in your landscaping come into play. Wood erodes over time, concrete can crack, and gravel needs to be topped up. Whether you’re building a patio or a garden bed, make sure to factor in how long-lasting a building material is when you’re looking at the purchase price to know if the investment is worth it in the long term.

Your softscape also requires long-term care beyond regular watering and pruning. Don’t forget to take note of plants’ lifespan when you’re selecting the perfect greenery for your landscape. If you select a whole array of showy flowering annuals for your garden beds, you’ll find yourself doing a lot of replanting next year. If you want your plants to return year after year, you might prefer to use perennials in your landscaping.

Your Design Style

If you’re going to invest your time, effort, and money into a landscape renovation, you should end up with a yard that feels 100% you. If your kitchen is full of Tuscan tilework, continue that feeling on your patio with rustic stonework, terracotta planters, and matching splashes of color in your flowers. If you love visiting the zen garden, incorporate natural stone into your hardscape and make it into a striking feature that brings that zen feeling into your backyard. If you can’t stop saving cottagecore inspiration photos on Instagram, delicate weeping cherry trees and a meadow of native flowers will bring your vision home.

Whether your style is sleek and modern or cozy and homey, that should be reflected in your landscape. A good landscape designer will make sure that the styles you love are reflected in your landscape so that it feels just as much like a reflection of you as your interior design does.

backyard plan with kids play space
retaining walls with full gardens by an outdoor dining area
backyard fire pit area in a garden

Deck Out Your Landscape

This is the fun part! Once you’ve figured out the big picture vision of your landscape design, it’s time to add the features that bring your kind of party to your backyard. From practical concerns like privacy to wild and fun ideas like putting a full basketball court in your yard, these are the elements that will allow you to live and play in your landscape just the way you want to.

  • Whether you’ve got a nosy neighbor whose balcony overlooks your pool or you’re trying to block the views of the busy road, privacy is a major concern. Privacy screening doesn’t have to be an eyesore—statuesque trees, elegant fencing, vine-covered trellises, and more can be the cure for your woes.
  • Make sure you have plenty of seating areas for guests. Having seating will always encourage people to stay longer and make themselves comfortable.
  • Who doesn’t love a cozy fire pit? They make a beautiful showpiece and the perfect place to roast some marshmallows. Fire pits fit perfectly in a cozy nook, making them ideal for those defined landscaping zones we’re aiming for. They also expand your outdoor living opportunities, making spending time outside more pleasant in cold weather.
  • Level up from a mini backyard barbecue to a full outdoor kitchen! These spaces bring every part of entertaining outside, meaning you won’t have to be running from the kitchen to the patio with plates anymore. Instead, you’ll be able to chat with your guests while cooking up pretty much anything.
  • For the happy hour aficionados, there’s nothing more tempting than an outdoor bar. Mix drinks, laugh with your friends, and enjoy the warm breeze and golden evening sun all at the same time. Bonus points if your outdoor bar is poolside—piña coladas, anyone?
  • Make a big splash with a backyard pool! Having a place to take a dip in your own backyard is an undeniable luxury. And don’t think that having a small yard means you’re out of luck—there are pool ideas for every size space.
  • A hot tub is the perfect way to relax and destress—and enjoy the outdoors in chilly weather. If you get ones with jets, you’ll get to bask in the full spa experience and a LOT more visits from friends who just so happened to bring their bathing suits.
  • Make your backyard a place to take play seriously. Whether you’re a passionate golfer who’s always wanted a putting green in your backyard or you want to surprise your kids with their own outdoor climbing wall, there’s an outdoor entertainment idea for you.
  • Build a garden you love. Gardening is good for your mental health, supports native pollinators, and can provide you with delicious food—and what’s more impressive than grabbing some veggies from your own garden for dinner on the patio? Whether you want to grow food, flowers, or a little of everything, your garden will look beautiful in your landscape.

We love using our own backyards for outdoor entertaining, and that’s why we’re so passionate about designing great spaces for outdoor living, playing, partying, relaxing, and more. If you want a helping hand in your backyard remodel, our expert landscape designers at Tilly can prevent common problems before they even happen. We’ve got the expertise, and we want to work with you. Let’s get started!

3D Render of a backyard landscape design
Fire Pit with Built in Seating
backyard design

Read more about: Landscape Design Tips