Turn your backyard into a relaxing place you’ll want to hang out in all spring, summer and fall

Every backyard, no matter its shape or size, deserves to be a sanctuary—an outdoor extension of your home to enjoy seasonally. Here are some ways you can turn your yard into a place you never want to leave.

A stone wall with gate. Photo courtesy of Black Rock Farm

With any hardscaping or landscaping project, the most important part of the process is the base. Peter Lewis of Lewis Brothers Landscaping in Falmouth emphasizes the importance of digging down deep enough when installing patios and walkways in order to ensure even stone placement and proper drainage systems. If you’re building a new house, Helene Lewand of Black Rock Farm in Kennebunkport recommends bringing in a landscaper early so that they can help you with irrigation and soil management right from the beginning, which will save money and headaches down the road.   

Throughout your landscaping project, it’s important to put an emphasis on beauty (specifically, what you want to look at for the next 3, 10, 20 years). Lewand reminds homeowners she works with that it’s better to have a five-foot-long stone wall that is stunning, than a 20-foot-long wall in a material that you don’t love. Working within your budget means compromising on quantity, not quality.


Photo courtesy of Lewis Brothers Landscaping

Stone patios provide spatial definition and create rooms in the outdoors. Use a patio’s smooth surface for tables, chairs, grills, decorative planters or a hammock stand. There are several options for patio material each with its own advantages. No matter what you opt for, a patio is a long-term investment in your home, so consider both design and material before you begin installation. Brick, paving stones and blue stone can cost about $25–$35 per square foot when professionally installed, while flagstone may cost as much as $60–$90 per square foot. Though thicker flagstone comes with a higher price tag, it can support significant weight, and it is far less susceptible to cracking over time than thinner bluestone.


Flowers and shrubs bring color to any outdoor space. Photo courtesy of Black Rock Farm

In order to turn your backyard into a secluded sanctuary, Peter Lewis recommends a border of native evergreens. “We focus on firs, hemlocks and spruce that end up being a backdrop for color,” he says. Edging your yard with trees gives a softer boundary than a fence but still provides privacy and defines the space.

Native plants are key when landscaping. You know they’ll grow in this climate without too much extra attention, and they are perfect for attracting local birds and beneficial insects, which will make your outdoor space healthier.

“It’s easy to pick out a few native plants for an ornamental landscape,” says Allie Pierson of Pierson Nurseries in Biddeford, “Summersweet (clethra alnifolia) is an all-purpose shrub that attracts butterflies and hummingbirds with super fragrant flowers in midsummer. Coneflower (echinacea purpurea) is a New England classic that fits in every garden. For year round interest, witherod viburnum (viburnum nudum/cassinoides) flowers early in spring and produces berries in summer that ripen into late fall attracting birds throughout winter.”

Fire pits

A fire pit is a great way to turn a backyard into a year-round retreat. While the natural stone look is the most desirable, it’s also the most expensive option, so many homeowners opt for a concrete-block-style of pit. According to Jake Audet of Audet Enterprises in Portland, a high-end, professionally installed concrete block fire pit with a grill set will cost between $600 and $700 and makes a fantastic addition to a patio. Some areas don’t allow fire pits, so be sure to check on local regulations before installation.

Ornamental trees

Photos courtesy of Black Rock Farm

Flowering trees are popular additions to landscaping projects. Jason Audet of Audet Enterprises recommends flowering hydrangeas as lovely features in your yard. “A new planting costs about $200 and gets very large, so it’s a lot of bang for your buck.” As an added bonus, hydrangeas thrive with minimal upkeep—just clip off the dead flowers in fall.

Whether you’re hiring a landscaper or diving into DIY, going local will get you great results. There are many small nurseries in Maine that have been in business for a long time and really know their plants. “They are a great alternative to the box stores that will sell you things that aren’t suited to this climate. The buy local movement is really important to Maine’s nursery economy,” says Lewand. “Even if you’re planning to do the planting yourself, local nursery employees are experts and will be able to give you great advice about what will work well in your space. We (and other landscapers) do consulting, where we come to a property for an hourly rate and help you make a plan that you can carry out yourself.”

Lucinda Hannington is a transplant to Maine from Vermont. She is an avid reader, cook, eater and lover of all things historical who lives in Portland with her husband and dog.

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