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How to transform your backyard into your dream outdoor entertaining space

Australians are renowned for our love of the great outdoors so it’s no surprise that many of us seek a backyard where we can kick back, soak up the summer sunshine and spend quality time with our nearest and dearest.

During the COVID pandemic our homes, no matter the size, became our sanctuaries. Many of us invested heavily in home improvements during the isolation storm and long-running lockdowns, keen to become as self-sufficient as possible. Our outdoor areas, while temporarily devoid of entertaining, became more important than ever as those in lockdown sought sunshine and solitude.

Whether you have a traditional suburban backyard, a rooftop or a balcony, having a well-planned, functional alfresco area can serve as a worthy extension to your internal living space.

But before you start sketching out designs, it’s important to consider your lifestyle and priorities, including if you prefer a hard roof patio or shade sail; a cottage, productive or native garden; on-trend colour schemes; and whether you want a full outdoor kitchen or might be happy with just the quintessential Aussie barbecue.

And while there’s no shortage of ideas for the budding backyard builder or renovator with the multitude of TV renovation and DIY shows currently on air, we’ve compiled a list of features you may want to consider when it comes to creating your dream entertaining space.

Outdoor dining

Let’s face it, our social lives largely revolve around food so it’s important to have a functional outdoor area that makes entertaining a cinch.

The amount of space you have available will determine the lengths you can go to in designing your alfresco; and your lifestyle is likely to dictate the sorts of inclusions that you may want to prioritise.

First and foremost, an outdoor kitchen or barbecue makes good sense. The Australian climate lends itself to alfresco dining and sharing a “coldie” with mates.

Outdoor kitchens come in many configurations and offer a multitude of options so you’ll need to decide the type of barbecue or cooktop you want and importantly how much you want to spend on your outdoor oasis. Perhaps you might like to include an outdoor bar, a pizza oven, a drinks fridge and a sink?

But having limited space doesn’t mean having to forgo the inclusions you want. If you can’t create a full alfresco kitchen, perhaps look at a freestanding pizza oven, a smoker, or a portable barbecue as more compact options.

Another big decision you will need to make when it comes to your alfresco space is whether you want timber decking, pavers or travertine tiles.

Flexible furniture

Having an agile entertaining space with flexible outdoor furniture means you will be able to be adaptable when it comes to accommodating different types of events and guest numbers.

Rather than installing fixed furniture, consider options where items can be easily moved around if you need to create extra space.

Lightweight furniture or putting bulkier items like coffee tables and buffets on casters will help you maximise the outdoor space if you need to do some last-minute moves.

Homegrown heaven

More and more people are relishing the benefits of a semi self-sufficient lifestyle and integrating rainwater tanks, vegetable patches and fruit trees into outdoor living zones.

Not only is homegrown produce as fresh as it comes, but it tastes great and there’s an incredible sense of reward when the time comes to harvest your crops.

Another benefit of veggie and herb gardens is they can be grown anywhere from under patios to planter boxes to garden beds and balconies.

It’s important to consider how much sunlight your plants need when selecting a position for a backyard veggie patch, as well as the quality of the soil and whether there is good access to water. A decent mulch will help retain water for longer in the warmer months.

Native additions

Landscaping your backyard will require some research and foresight, particularly when it comes to the type of gardens you like, the plant species you choose and where you live.

The climate will be a major dictating factor when it comes to selecting plants. Choosing waterwise options will mean a big saving – environmentally and financially – when it comes to water so you might want to opt for native plants.

There is a plethora of native species that can handle Australia’s harsh climate and hot summer sun – and they generally require less maintenance, water, pruning and fertiliser. And then there’s the added bonus of encouraging birdlife into your yard.

However, it’s important to remember that different native plants will be better suited to different regions. For example, the native Lilly Pilly thrives as hedging or a screen in warmer climates like Western Australia and Queensland, along with the beautiful red flowering Callistemon bottlebrush.

Other good options for warmer weather include the native shrub Aniseed Boronia and the yellow flowering perennial native herb, common everlasting. A sea of pink and white everlasting flowers can make quite an impact while Swan River daisies and kangaroo paw work well in flower beds and edges.

Turf

Lush green lawn has always been a staple of the Great Australian dream, closely followed by backyard cricket and the old Hills Hoist. Nothing beats the feel of natural grass between your toes, but that sense of elation may be offset when your mind turns to your weekends spent pushing a lawnmower.

In today’s time poor society, more and more people are considering options that offer less investment in time, effort and maintenance, including artificial grass.

Artificial turf has come a long way in recent years, looking and feeling more like real grass. But at the end of the day, it’s a plastic-derived product and does deteriorate over time.

For the most part, fake grass cannot be recycled so once it’s past it’s used-by-date it’s likely to end up as landfill. Expect to pay between $50 and $100 per sqm for synthetic turf, while real grass generally costs $25 to $50 a sqm depending on the type of turf you’re looking for, plus water and fertilising expenses.

Experts say artificial turf should last up to 15 years, but it would be wise to check out supplier warranties and consumer reviews when collecting quotes just to make sure their claims stack up.

Fire pit

Who doesn’t love a yarn or a singalong around the campfire, so why not make those memories in your very own backyard?

If it’s important to make your alfresco space a winner all year round, consider adding a fire pit.

Fire pits come in all sorts of designs from more permanent brick styles which can be constructed DIY using the right materials, to portable metal pits offering warmth during the cooler months.

But consider the position of your fire pit before installation to make sure it’s not a hindrance and be sure to adhere to fire restrictions. And don’t forget the toasting forks and marshmallows!

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