Decorating a yard or garden is largely a matter of personal taste. There are several elements that tend to be recognized to create a given mood or enhance the look of the area. Water is often used. Japanese gardens have traditionally used water to draw the eye to various focal points in the garden. These ancient designs derive influence from Taoist or Shinto values. Taoist and Shinto disciplines emphasize harmony with oneself and with the environment. As such, Japanese gardens tend to fit in with their surroundings. It is common for a Japanese garden to mimic the landscape of rural Japan, with features resembling mountains, forests, rivers and prairies.
A stream with real water requires significant infrastructure, including pumps and filters. Sometimes a simulated river will be created out of river rock, complete with bridges and other features exclusive to a riparian environment. These simulated rivers are much easier to maintain, and require only an occasional pass with a leaf blower to look put together.
Plants are another feature that yards and gardens have. Plants, or the lack thereof, tend to determine the feel for a space, even more than water or fire. This is probably because plants can be very large, and can alter the amount of light in a space, and to some degree, alter the temperature. Large, spreading trees can create a canopy in summer that reduces the temperature by up to 20 or 30 degrees Fahrenheit. If these trees are deciduous, the winter sun will be able to reach the ground under them, warming the space.
Smaller plants set the tone for the area as well. Some gardens and yards are immaculately trimmed, with bushes and hedges sculpted along precise lines. This style of bush trimming requires a high amount of maintenance, and pairs well with short, tiff grass. The effect will be similar to that of a small golf course. Perhaps around the edges of a property, or in a larger yard, a more rough look is appropriate, as it will require much less time and energy to maintain. Citrus trees are often a great choice, as they look great with little maintenance, and have the added benefit of providing fruit around Christmas time and late winter.
A final feature that tends to increase the allure of a garden space is fire. A controlled fire can be safe and intriguing, and there are a myriad of ways to incorporate fire into a yard or garden. A simple way is with small, gas torches. Tiki torches are small bottles of gas that are mounted on bamboo poles, which are in turn inserted into the ground. While the flames only reach a few inches above the end of the torch, the bottles themselves are located about six feet off the ground, which spreads the light over a wider area. Usually several Tiki torches will be used, and will encircle a swimming pool or line a walk. Wherever they are used, they provide a tropical, adventurous feel to a space.
Another way to bring fire safely into an outdoor space is with a fire pit. Fire pits and decorative barbeques can take a variety of shapes. The simplest are mobile units that have three legs, a bowl for holding the wood, a mesh wall, and a solid metal lid. The mesh allows air in to feed the flames, but prevents sparks from spreading.
More permanent solutions are permanent stainless steel or masonry structures. These might be built into the ground or a fire pit table. These fire pits might be wood burning, but more commonly are propane supplied. This means that they are safer and easier to control than wood or charcoal briquettes. The propane can also be easily diverted into a functional barbeque or oven for preparing food, something that is much more difficult with a wood-burning pit.
By incorporating water, plants and fire, one can transform an outdoor space into a mini-ecosystem, and a peaceful retreat suitable for entertaining and relaxing.