True confession time: I have a serious crush on Yard Crashers’ Chris Lambton. It’s not so much that he’s hot. It’s the way he comes in and totally transforms a barren backyard space into a lush, welcoming haven—in, like, no time at all. Of course, Lambton has a budget most of us merely dream about and his pick of the best contractors in town to do his bidding. I don’t have either of those, or access to Chris Lambton, for that matter. So, when I decided that my overgrown backyard needed a serious upgrade, I turned to local expert, Robert MacAuslan, head farmer at a Providence, Rhode Island urban farm for yard and patio decorating ideas. Our conversation took an immediate turn in an unexpectedly novel and fun direction with his first question.
Have You Considered Edible Landscaping?
Edible landscaping isn’t an entirely new idea, but it’s getting buzzworthy enough for The Spruce to take note. Swapping out typical landscape plants makes a lot of sense—not only do you have beautiful foliage and flowers to appeal to your eyes, you also get to eat, and serve, what you grow. You don’t have to limit yourself to standard vegetable garden plants, either. MacAuslan shared some of his favorite plants for various landscaping uses.
Cover a Trellis Arbor or Fence with Kiwi or Grapevines
Forget the fussy roses and wisteria. Hardy kiwi plants are rapid-growing vines that produce grape-sized kiwi fruit you can pluck and eat. If kiwi is a little too exotic, consider grapevines, in purple or green. Plant them around a wire birdcage gazebo, and they’ll naturally reach for the top, providing a lush, shaded area for relaxing and entertaining.
Berry Bushes—Flowers, Berries, and Fall Foliage
Love fall colors? Blueberries are your friend. They’ll produce mounds of snowy flowers in the spring, dusky blue, purple, or pink berries for snacking and baking all summer, and when the weather turns cool, the leaves will turn a radiant, high-impact red that rivals any red maple tree. Best of all, if you choose a dwarf blueberry variety, they’ll live just as happily in a big pot on your patio as in your yard.
If you want to be really trendy, add a few goji berry bushes to your backyard or patio. They’re easy to grow, and, like blueberries, provide gorgeous color throughout the growing season. The flowers are white, pink, or lavender, but the berries are fiery red. Bonus: you get to reap their superfruit benefits in morning smoothies from your very own berry bushes.
Privacy Hedge Alternatives
If you’re in a warmer area, consider replacing small shrubs or hedges with Georgia tree collards. Unlike their shorter cousins, tree collards grow to tree-size—and they’re perennial. Plant a row of tree collard cuttings against a fence line, and you’ll be rewarded with a tall, thick privacy hedge that you can harvest and eat.
Anywhere you’d place a small tree, consider an elderberry bush—or a row of them. They produce pretty white flowers in the spring, and the foliage is thick enough to provide shade and privacy. If you’re a little more adventurous, try sunchokes, which are relatives of sunflowers. While they don’t sport huge flowers, they produce blooms that look like brown-eyed susans. They’re a great option to plant near your house, because they grow tall in summer, providing some shade and cooling, and die down in winter so the sun can help warm the house.
Add Color with Edible Greens
If you love the stripy look of coleus or hostas, consider swapping them out for rainbow chard. Plant it anywhere you’d plant hostas to create low borders or accent plantings. It’s easy to grow from seed, and will grow happily in the ground, or in a microgreen planter that’s exactly the right width to sit on your deck railing.
Quick Tips for Instant Gratification
Aside from swapping out typical landscape plants for edible alternatives, MacAuslan also offered some quick tips to help you transform your space quickly and inexpensively.
- Instead of buying pots at a garden center, look for cheaper alternatives online, or shop seasonal sales. Plastic party tubs, meant to ice your party brews, make excellent planters at half the price, and come in a huge range of colors. Just remember to drill drainage holes in them.
- Create an inexpensive living curtain with a piece of plastic rain gutter from your local hardware store. Attach it to a wall, fence, or porch railing with screws. Plant strawberries in it and let them grow. Strawberry runners will tumble over the edge of the gutter, creating a curtain of greenery, flowers, and berries.
- Adding lights is one of the quickest ways to completely transform your space—and solar lights make it incredibly easy. Whether you hang Mason jar lights from the branches of a tree, line a path with light, or aim a colored spotlight at your favorite tree, there’s no quicker way to upgrade your outdoor landscaping.
Appeal to All the Senses
There’s more to decorating your patio than how it looks, MacAuslan pointed out. The most inviting outdoor spaces appeal to all the senses. For example, he suggested, plant fragrant plants, like citronella, mint, or geraniums, near sitting areas or along paths where people will brush against them, releasing the scent as they walk by. Wind chimes in a corner of the garden will waft pleasing sounds with every breeze. And don’t forget water features, such as water fountains, which help cool the air and attract butterflies, birds, and other wildlife to your space.
Provide Flexible Seating Options
Choose patio furniture that fits the scale of your space, and remember that in this one case, more is better than not enough. Patio dining sets offer both seating and tabletop space, while conversation groups are ideal for outdoor event spaces. If you do a lot of entertaining, consider investing in a set of stackable outdoor tables and chairs so there’s always room for another friend.
Your backyard should be a haven, a place where you can get away from the world and enjoy the solitude—or the company of good friends. When you plan intentionally, you can create an inviting, appealing patio and backyard for yourself and your friends.
Prices are accurate and items in stock as of time of publication.
Deb Powers is a freelance writer who specializes in home, education, and lifestyle topics. She draws on her experiences as a teacher, mother, grandmother, and all-around creative spirit to help others achieve their own goals.