by Janice Henshaw –
Are you planning on spending the whole summer at a lakeside cabin, cruising along a river in Europe, or camping in one of our beautiful parks? That sounds awesome! But most of us will be spending quite a bit of free time this summer relaxing in our backyards or on our balconies. Because we are blessed with such an amazing climate, enjoying the outdoors, at home, can be a great alternative to getting away. And we can make it even better by creating a terrific outdoor escape.
Inviting the whole family to brainstorm ideas for backyard activities is a starting point, and you can make it fun! Once a project is decided on, the next step is to plan the scope of the project and set up a budget. A large, colourful timeline of action items can be a great motivator. Small family members can be assigned age-appropriate tasks such as adding artwork and ticking off action items when completed. Take the time to celebrate little steps! Inclusion may result in a tricky moment or two, but it can also be a unique opportunity to informally teach important life skills and knowledge such as collaborative decision making, learning how savings add up over time, patience while working together, and, finally, enjoying the wonderful satisfaction of the finished project (and the many steps that go into it).
Dreaming of a Beautiful Cooling Pool?
For some families, a swimming pool might take top place on the brainstorming list. A fenced, in-ground swimming pool could include options such as a diving board, slide, change room, beverage bar, sound system and outdoor solar lights. An automatic vacuum can be handy to keep those pesky maintenance chores to a minimum –
pristine pools do take work and money!
When Jane and Peter Ellmann and their daughters moved into their Brentwood Bay home four years ago, they decided it would be an ideal time to have a pool. Jane says: “It is wonderful to hear the splashing and laughter of our daughters and their friends. After a run with her dogs on a hot day, Jane enjoys jumping in the pool too. Peter appreciates it after a long day of yard work, and he also enjoys the hot tub, which he finds very relaxing. “We live in our yard from mid-May to September,” says Jane. They love to barbecue and entertain family and friends. “Having a pool and hot tub is the cherry on the top of our long summer days!”
If you can’t crunch the numbers in a way that adds up to an in-ground swimming pool, then another good option is an above-ground pool. Kids and adults can have loads of fun in them on a hot summer’s day. Or how about a swimming pool converted from a shipping container? An Abbotsford couple, Paul and Denise Rathnam, started Modpools in 2017. Their shipping container pools have a large acrylic window on the side so that you can see the swimmers inside and they can see out. Paul says: “People like the idea of repurposing shipping containers. We’re repurposing something rather than recycling. This pool can be resold, and you can take it with you if you move.”
Instead of a Pool, How About a Luxurious Hot Tub?
What if looking up at the night stars while being massaged by oodles of conveniently placed jets in a hot tub is your thing? It sounds like a pretty spectacular way to relax. Additional features include waterfalls, LED lights and sound systems. There are also swim spas that include a hot tub and pool zone, in which you can swim against a pump-induced current.
A portable Softub made with a lightweight foam shell could be another option. According to
Affordable Hot Tubs & Saunas Ltd. located on West Saanich Road, one person can move a Softub, and the setup is easy – add water and plug it in. No plumbing or special installation is required. Manager Kyrie Bond says: “It’s perfect on a deck or patio, in a home or apartment, even at the cottage or on a houseboat.”
Fascinating Fish Ponds
If you’re not the swimming pool type, then how about a fish pond with water hyacinth, frogbits (floating plants) and a mini waterfall? Remember to put in a hiding spot for the fish, or they will become a favourite breakfast for blue herons and other predators.
If you decide that a pool for people or fish doesn’t make the top of your brainstorming list, it can still be a great opportunity to discuss summer swimming options: the local recreation centre, lake, or ocean can all be awesome, budget-friendly alternatives.
Fun and Fitness in a Sports Court!
Another fitness-friendly alternative is a sports court. Will your family be ready to get outside and get active in an all-purpose, colourfully painted sports court where adults and kids can play their hearts out? They can be compact, say 20 by 20 feet, and used for tykes on bikes, skateboard beginnings and basketball. If you have a 60- by 120-foot space and a healthy budget, you can even build a regulation-sized tennis court. If concrete or asphalt is too hard on your joints, then another option is to install suspended modular flooring.
Let’s Build it Ourselves!
Here’s where legendary family stories may have their beginnings –
learning how to build in the backyard together. The list of possible projects is endless! Click together low maintenance composite decking, lay a tiled patio or assemble an outdoor kitchen or pizza oven. Or consider a hot tub surround (the decking around a hot tub), gazebo, greenhouse, pergola, pool change room, tree house, a labyrinth, or a custom-built dog house for your little buddy. Too complicated? How about a raised garden bed to grow crunchy fresh carrots for snacks, stepping stones to the garage … or a tiny birdhouse?
One caveat though: if you don’t have a lot of free time or think that you may have multiple thumbs, it may be a good idea to invite a builder friend over to lead your crew and top it off with a fun barbecue dinner. Or you may want to do the prep work and then call a contractor.
Through experience, I have developed three assumptions about taking on projects: nothing is ever as simple as it looks, a DIY project always takes longer than the estimate, and, once completed, it’s a thing of beauty, but it may be a little crooked here and there … .
Outdoor Showers are Divine!
Finally, after all that work, it’s time for a refreshing shower! If you’ve never had an outdoor shower, it may be hard for you to imagine how wonderful it is to shower outside in sun-warmed air. And they are convenient! After a swim at the beach or some outdoor activities, everyone can shower the sand off outside and dry in the sun rather than troop into the bathrooms. Outdoor showers can be simple, ranging from a hand shower attached to a flexible hose, and outdoor hot and cold water taps, or they can be delightfully complex, pampering you with six adjustable body sprays and a rainfall showerhead. I saw an outdoor shower on Gabriola Island that included an ocean view, a stained glass window, a shelf for water-loving plants, and two clematis vines growing up the sides and over the driftwood roof.
A Secret Hideaway
If you’re longing for privacy, peace, and contentment in your backyard, don’t forget to create a special relaxing niche where family members can read, meditate, chat, or listen to the birds. Evergreen clematis, sweet peas, and climbing roses can be planted in beds or pots to create a stunning privacy trellis. For some great planting ideas check out the website of Russell Nursery on Wain Road. Under the Resources Page, in an article titled “Simple Pots,” Susan Tice writes: “A well-placed container looks like art and can hide all manner of problems!”
After a summer’s day, string lights or solar landscape lighting can turn your yard or balcony into a fairyland at night. Add comfortable armchairs, a fire pit, an interesting water feature such as a bubbling table fountain, a glass-enclosed candle, and there you have it: a restorative retreat in which you can relax in blissful solitude or share some laughs with family and friends.
Happy summer building and relaxing, one and all!