This summer may be one largely lived outdoors, where the safest place to see a friend or escape the four walls of your home is in your backyard or on your balcony or roof deck.
But summer is not always so cooperative, and by mid-July, the heat, bugs and humidity can undo the best-laid summer plans, sending all but the hardiest back into their air-conditioned cocoons. Try to enjoy the flowers you so lovingly planted on Mother’s Day, and your shoulders are soon scorched. Invite a few friends over for a socially distant glass of wine, and the bugs may show up for a snack, too.
However, with a little planning and some well-positioned umbrellas (and maybe a little bug spray), the garden you worked hard to create can give back all summer long.
“You want to make sure the air is moving and you’ve got a beautiful environment,” said Elizabeth Stuart, who owns an interior-design studio and retail store in Charleston, S.C. With the right ambience, “people will stay and enjoy it.”
Do it right, and even in the dog days of August, you’ll find a reason to stay outside just a little bit longer.
Find the Shade
You’re going to need some shade. Start with an umbrella that cantilevers over your sitting area. Or affix a sail shade between the roofline and poles. If you have a pergola, you could grow vines like wisteria, honeysuckle or clematis in planters placed at the base of the posts.
Vegetation provides natural shade, but a tree takes time to grow, and hedges won’t work if you’re trying to cool a balcony or roof deck. Cue the planters.
“You can get a really large pot with a large tree,” said Heather Trilling, a landscape designer in Los Angeles, who recommends options like citrus or olive for an arid, West Coast climate. In the northeast, consider trees like a Japanese maple or juniper that do well in pots. “These trees can create immediate shade and you strategically put one in a spot where you want to have a shady space.”
Sun comes at you from all angles, not just overhead. Vertical shades can help, if you affix them to a structure like a pergola. “Picture the areas between the posts, picture those spaces as windows,” said Cara White, founder of Elevations, a Brooklyn landscape designer. “You could pull down your shade to cover that space.”
Avoid flowing materials like curtains, which are difficult to anchor to the ground. “You have a light breeze and all of a sudden they’re in your food,” Ms. White said.
You can also create a screen with tall grasses or shrubs, planted in containers if you are trying to shade a deck, patio or balcony.
If you really want a retreat, add a getaway like a garden shed, tepee or treehouse. Decorate it with a fan, solar lights and seating, transforming the space into a hide-out for children or a private escape for grown-ups.
Harness the Wind and the Water
A little breeze can take the edge off a hot, stagnant day. You can affix an outdoor fan to the ceiling of a porch, or a post or facade. If you don’t have anywhere to drill, get an outdoor standing fan. They’re portable, and many come with a misting spray. If you want a serious mist, install a patio misting system.
The sound of running water, like from an ornamental fountain or bird bath, may be enough to set the mood. “There are some things that make you feel cooler, even if you may not be,” said Ms. Stuart, the Charleston designer.
If all else fails, you could always take a cold shower. Attach a simple free-standing outdoor shower to a garden hose or your sprinkler system. For a more permanent fixture, get one that attaches to your house and hire a plumber to tap your hot-water line.
“They are randomly popular,” said Ms. White, who has installed one on a terrace of a Manhattan apartment with views of the Empire State Building.
If bathing is more your style, consider a teak soaker tub or, for a more rustic look, a stock tank pool, which takes up little space and doesn’t require professional installation. “You can fill it up with your hose and be ready to go,” Ms. Trilling said.
Beat Back the Bugs
Mosquitoes are always showing up uninvited to the backyard barbecue, but you don’t have to drench yourself with bug spray. A few well-placed citronella candles can help, though the odor can be overwhelming. Instead, fill planters with bug-repellent plants like rosemary, lemongrass, basil, lemon thyme, marigolds or peppermint.
To keep the mosquitoes under control, make sure your property has no standing water and keep foliage from getting overgrown. Ask your neighbors to do the same.
If you live in an area with deer, check yourself and your pets for ticks before you go back inside. “With the pandemic going on, nobody is paranoid about Lyme disease anymore, but it still exists,” said Ms. Parker. “Lyme disease isn’t going anywhere.”
Embrace the Evenings
Add ambient lighting, and you may find yourself sitting in your garden until late in the night. A string of fairy lights adds a festive mood, and LED lanterns can make a space feel inviting. Wrap a tree in a string of lights, or up-light your favorite one to draw attention to it.
Just be careful not to overdo it — think of the lighting like an accent, not a centerpiece. “You’re actually working with the dark,” Ms. Parker said. “You have to think of the dark as an element. Think of it as a negative in a photograph.”
Incorporate white into your garden, too — white fabrics or flowers — since the color will be the last to go as the evening darkens. Plant late-afternoon or evening-blooming foliage like midnight candy or evening primrose. Night-blooming jasmine, for example, “only blooms at night and about four or five times during the summer,” Ms. Stuart said. “It is incredible what it smells like; it is an event all of its own.”
And perhaps it will be lovely enough to keep you outside just a little bit longer.
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