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The Top 10 Features of Outdoor Spaces That Deserve the Name ‘Backyard Oasis’

Apr 18th 2024

young woman relaxing comfortably on patio furniture

What does it take to create a relaxing patio or backyard retreat? Chances are, that depends on your favorite way to relax.

Do you enjoy a quiet summer afternoon reading or lounging in the pool? Maybe you prefer gathering with friends for outdoor dining. Or is toasting S’mores around the fire pit your favorite way to chill? Then again, maybe your garden is your happy place.

Our yards, porches and patios can be beautiful and versatile places to spend time alone or make memories with family and friends, so how we design and decorate the outdoor living spaces of our dreams varies widely.

The fact that many Americans have only a few months each year to unwind and entertain outdoors makes us even more motivated to create the perfect backyard oasis. Here are a few suggestions for decorating elements to consider as the outdoor retreat of your dreams takes shape.

Plan Your Space

close up of hand putting finishing touches to a drawing of a backyard design

Before you go too far in the decision process, it’s a good idea to take measurements of the space you’ll be filling. That helps avoid later regrets about patio furniture that might be inadequate, too large or too small.

You’ll also want a clear idea of how you plan to use your outdoor living space. Better Homes & Gardens recommends defining different activity zones. These often include areas for conversation, grilling and dining, but may also incorporate a hot tub, swimming pool or firepit.

Consider the most important features to include in your backyard garden oasis. Make a list of requirements that includes patio furniture, dining furniture and accessories. Especially if you’re on a budget, decide the features you “must have” and those that would be “nice to have.” 

Here are the top 10 items that can help transform your backyard into a space that's truly extraordinary.

1. Furniture

natural Adirondack chairs on a shady front porch

Benches and Adirondack chairs. Bar stools and loveseats. Hammocks and dining tables. There are so many types and styles of outdoor furniture, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

Your choice of patio furniture likely will be influenced by your tastes and budget, but you can trim your options by deciding how your space will be used.

You might be looking for a petite cafe table for a small balcony or a conversation set that can seat a crowd on your newly expanded deck. Maybe you’re drawn to classic rocking chairs, retro steel seating or resin wicker furniture.

Identify your priorities and select the furniture that best suits your needs. Be sure to factor in the care requirements for your outdoor furniture, as well as where you’ll store it for the winter.

2. Outdoor Rugs

Abstract pattern outdoor rug in neutral shades complements a set of wicker outdoor furniture

While an outdoor rug may not count as a necessity, there are some good reasons to consider adding one to your backyard retreat. An outdoor area rug can define your space and integrate your furniture, just like in your living room. Outdoor rugs make hot decks and patios more comfortable underfoot. They’re safer on potentially slippery surfaces like tile and stamped concrete. Plus, they’re pretty and add an element of style.

If you’re considering a patio rug, make sure you buy one made specifically for outdoor use that will resist mildew and fading.

3. Outdoor Cushions & Pillows

A solid aqua and aqua and gold floral pillow add a pop of color to outdoor wicker patio furniture

For comfort and color, add a few outdoor cushions and pillows to your patio chairs. With all the designs available it’s hard not to find something you’ll like, in fabrics that will withstand the sun and weather over many seasons.

Choose a solid color that coordinates with your outdoor look, or a pretty pattern that expresses your personal style. Either way, patio chair cushions and outdoor pillows enhance your space and help create a cozy spot to chat or chill.

4. Outdoor Lighting

globe lights glow warmly against the backdrop of a wooden fence

There are so many fantastic outdoor lighting options available! Outdoor lights are a practical way to beautifully extend the use of your outdoor living space after dark.

Blending together a few different kinds of patio lights enables you to create a truly magical backyard retreat. Start with Edison lights or warm white mini lights above your patio or pergola. Then, accentuate your garden border with rope lights. Illuminate a walkway with path lights and add candles or fairy lights in jars on the dining table.

Additionally, solar lighting is an energy efficient way to introduce light and character to your yard with little fuss.

5. Fountains & Windchimes

a closeup image of water splashing in an outdoor fountain

Trickling water and melodic wind chimes are among the most relaxing garden sounds! These days, you can find a variety of beautiful water fountains for your garden in all sizes, styles and price ranges.

From a petite tabletop fountain to a natural looking cascading fountain for your flowerbed to contemporary designs for your patio, fountains with recirculating water are easy to set up. Some garden fountains also feature lights for additional nighttime interest.

6. Bird Feeders & Bird Houses

a small bird stands guard outside of a yellow and green birdhouse

Speaking of relaxing sounds, bird song is naturally soothing. Plus, bird watching is a favorite backyard activity.

From hummingbirds to songbirds, one of the easiest ways to encourage birds to visit our yards is simply to create a welcoming environment by offering food, water and shelter.

Invite feathered friends to stay awhile by placing bird feeders, houses and baths in your outdoor spaces. Bird houses and feeders come in many shapes and sizes. You can find brightly colored houses that will enhance your yard, as well as simple and rustic designs that blend well with nature.

Situate feeders, houses and bird baths near areas that offer good hiding places for birds, especially if there are outdoor or feral cats in the neighborhood. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology says outdoor cats kill more than 1.3 million birds each year. 

7. Garden Statues & Decor

a black stone meditating figure stands out against a dramatic background of bright green water-spattered leaves

Accessorize your outdoor spaces, just as you would indoors, with statues for tables and garden areas, as well as wall and garden decor.

Garden statues can be bold and striking or quietly awaiting discovery in an out-of-the-way spot. They can be strictly ornamental or serve double-duty as bird baths and bird feeders. Some even light up at night!

With everything from garden gnomes to stepping stones, statues and other garden decorations help you express your own style and personality in your outdoor spaces.

And if you have a patio, porch, shed or fence, don’t forget to decorate vertically! Durable outdoor wall decor is another way to add color and personality outdoors. From fade-resistant and waterproof canvas art to durable metal and resin decor, there’s no shortage of outdoor wall decorations to grace your space.

8. Planters & Raised Gardens

a yellow wall and brick pavers accent a planter filled with greenery

A planter filled with flowers and greenery is a welcome sight no matter how large or small your outdoor space. Planters look great around the pool, along the patio, on the porch or by the door, but they also work well on balconies, railings, benches and tucked between permanent garden plantings.

Even better, garden planters come in so many diverse designs, there’s no reason to deny yourself a spot of living color.

When you are challenged by a lack of good ground, space or easy mobility, a raised garden bed is another great gardening option. Many people reserve raised planters for their herb and vegetable gardens. But with the many attractive styles available these days, there’s no reason you can’t fill a giant planter with some beautiful flowers, grasses and trailing vines.

9. Gazebos & Umbrellas

a bright green patio umbrella shades a dining table on a patio overlooking the ocean

Even when the weather is perfect, there are times you want to get out of the sun. If your yard lacks natural shade, gazebos and canopies let you make your own.

Gazebos and canopies are great ways to create a dining or seating area. Some even offer netting and curtains for protection against bugs, wind and sudden showers.

A gazebo or canopy enables you to set out additional seating on the lawn, but also can be a versatile solution to more expensive and permanent shade structures like pergolas and awnings.

Similarly, patio umbrellas are a popular option to keep your dinner guests from squinting in the sun. They’re available in durable, weather-resistant fabrics in a rainbow of colors to coordinate with your outdoor seating.

Many patio umbrellas offer adjustable height and width and are designed to provide coverage for common table sizes. Offset umbrellas are a great option to shade seating areas. Your offset umbrella may come with a wheeled base so it can be repositioned as needed.

You’ll even find lighted patio umbrellas that extend entertaining after dark.

10. Fire Pits

An overhead view of patio furniture on a wooden deck surrounding a fire blazing in a square fire pit

Fire pits are popular spots to spend a quiet evening or gather with friends. A huge range of sizes and styles makes them as at home in the backyard or patio as they are at the beach or cabin.

While wood burning fire pits are traditional, many people prefer propane fire pits for their style and ease of use. You’ll even find small ventless tabletop fire pits, as well as tables with the fire pit built right in.

Pulling it All Together

A poolside patio with cushioned wicker furniture and a large white brick outdoor fireplace

Your backyard retreat is what you make it. You can design and install it all at once or build and adjust it over time.

Admittedly, not every outdoor space requires abundant decoration to make it complete. However, a planter here or a statue there, lighting for convenience and a rug for comfort are among the finishing touches that create a backyard retreat where you and your guests can feel completely at home.

The Top 10 Features of Outdoor Spaces That Deserve the Name ‘Backyard Oasis’

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