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Solar Solutions: Easy, Eco-Friendly Outdoor Lighting Ideas
By Elise White
8/27/2014 10:51:00 AM  

Looking for the right lighting for your landscape? Solar lights offer many advantages over other types of outdoor lights. Solar lighting requires no wiring or cords, which means installation is quick and easy. Plus, solar lights are an eco-friendly, energy-saving option because they capture the sun’s energy by day to brighten your home’s exterior at night. Here are some great ideas for adding beauty and security to your home with minimal effort!


A Fairy Solution


Here at Plow & Hearth, we’re big fans of glittering fairies and woodland folk! Their resin wings and miniature homes fill our virtual shop and catalog pages. What’s the most flutter-ful thing about them, you ask?


The magical ability to light their way through our gardens, of course!


Luminescent fairy wings in flight make such a beautiful sight that we’re inspired to mimic their magic with string lights and hanging ornaments.


Have you been searching for the radiant romance of hanging lights and lanterns at dawn or the airy atmosphere of a faintly lit garden, fit for fairies? Or perhaps you’re seeking the security of a bright walkway, ensuring no late night homecoming goes unlit? These solar solutions have it covered, with or without the aid of wing-ed friends!

path lights


Harnessing Sunlight: What’s inside?


No access to shimmering stardust? No worries, the mechanics are fairly simple. Leave your lights to bathe in sunny rays during the daytime and the solar panels, found on the crown or side of your model, will store up energy. Your lights will ignite as sunlight fades and last for about four hours at a time. 


While solar lights seem to work like magic, the actual chemistry is equally compelling. Each light contains either nickel cadmium (NiCD) or nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries wired to solar cells that convert sunlight directly into energy. In many cases, this energy powers an efficient light-emitting diode, or LED bulb. Leave them outside all year long!


Enchanting fairy lights, path lights, or lanterns are must-haves for any outdoor celestial haven. But don’t limit yourself to hardwired systems for landscape lighting in the process of creating the magic! There are so many eco-friendly and efficient solar lighting options to try.


Wireless and convenient, decorative solar garden lighting makes the perfect light and design solution to any outdoor entertainment or dining dilemma.

solar balls


Shine Bright Like A Fairy


Brighter isn’t always better! Compared to conventional models, solar landscape lighting emits a softer ethereal glow to sustain light longer into the evening. The blaze won’t match that of traditional low-voltage lights, but these handy units conserve energy, light, and of course, your bill.


Long-lasting LED lights are the most common landscape light bulb, emitting a muted shine sufficient for solar security lighting along steps and pathways. Halogen or florescent solar lights burn brighter, but won’t last as long.


Like all of nature’s wonders, these lights are at the mercy of the sun. On winter or overcast days, cells will generate less power for the batteries to store. Nevertheless, on bright days that fade into clear dreamy nights perfect for entertaining, your solar lights will power through with abiding elfin spirit!

solar girls


The Brilliant Benefits


Minimal maintenance and lack of a light switch are huge advantages to having solar outdoor entertaining lighting and security bulbs. Regularly wipe down the panels with a barely damp cloth and you’re set. The battery only needs to be replaced every two years!


Photo sensors and motion sensors maintain the magic, allowing you to watch your lights turn on from afar or catch the occasional nymph tiptoeing by. But if you’d rather dispel the magic for a while, some models come with a manual switch.


Subtly designed installations are one of many recent design advances in the solar landscape world. These days, you can place solar lights along in-ground walkways, float them in pools, or place them inside for decorative accents. Weatherproof technology even allows you to mount panels outside to give your shed, closet, or barn some fairy rustic mood lighting!



Twinkle to your heart’s content!


From the twinkling glow of rustic string lights and hanging orbs to the firefly effect of fairy lights in mason jars and color changing mobiles, solar lights bring unexpected brilliance your yard! Even classically designed practical and security lighting provide a serene ambience to skirt your pathways.


Borrow a little solar stardust to sprinkle above the garden and along the courtyard. You may just mesmerize even your enchanted woodland friends!

Shop our entire Solar Lighting collection!

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Outdoor Living  
How to Keep Bugs Away, Naturally!
By Jennifer Whipple
7/16/2014 9:00:00 AM  
How to Keep Bugs Away, Naturally! | Blog | Plow & Hearth

Pesky insects can put a damper on summer fun, but you can keep them under control without exposing your family, pets and the environment to harmful chemicals. Here are some tips for quelling three of the most common pests with effective, all-natural remedies.


Wipe Out Wasps For Good

eco friendly pest control 

Wasps are very territorial about their nests, but your mom was right – if you leave them alone, they’ll usually leave you alone. Unless they’re nesting near or on your home or in other high-traffic areas, it’s a good idea to do just that because they’re a beneficial bug that preys on other insects. Take a few tips on how to co-exist peacefully with wasps:


• Keep wasps out of your home. Prevent wasps from building a nest in or on your home by sealing off the places they can get in. Repair torn screens, seal cracks around windows and doors and cover unsealed vents to keep the critters out. If you suspect they’ve already invaded but aren’t sure where, follow their flight path to discover their point of entry.


• Keep food under wraps outdoors. This applies to anything a wasp would consider food. Wasps remember where they’ve found food and will keep checking back, so don’t provide any temptation for them if you can avoid it.  When dining out on the patio, keep your food covered and put it away as soon as you’re done. If you have fruit trees, don’t leave the fallen fruit on the ground. Use lids or covers on your trash cans and compost heaps, and don’t leave food out for your pet. Take extra care when drinking canned beverages outdoors or you may find a nasty surprise has gotten into it!


• Walk away from a hovering wasp. It might be tempting to swat a hovering wasp, but crushing them releases a pheromone scent that attracts and agitates other wasps, encouraging them to swarm. If a wasp is hovering nearby, a tactical retreat is usually the best option.


• Don’t use perfume or wear brightly colored clothing when spending a lot of time outdoors. Hawaiian shirts look great at a luau, but looking and smelling like a big flower has its drawbacks! Like bees, wasps feed on nectar, so avoid hues and scents that they’ll find appetizing.


Eliminate Mosquitoes

Multifunctional Bug-Repelling Wrap

Early mornings and evenings are popular times for relaxing on the porch or patio – unfortunately, these are also the times when mosquitoes are out for blood. In addition to the many effective, all-natural traps and repellents now available, here are some quick, cost-effective and all-natural fixes you can do yourself:


Set up mosquito traps. There are mosquito traps that lure insects with heat and light (instead of chemicals) and cover a wide area. Some run on propane, some are electric, some are gas-powered. Make sure they’re up and running and doing their job before you head outdoors.


• Change the water in your birdbath, pet’s dish or child’s wading pool regularly. Mosquitoes are attracted to standing water sources, so be sure to change the water in your birdbath or child’s wading pool at least twice a week to keep the population down. Make sure your pet has fresh water at least twice a day, and keep your rain gutters clear so they drain properly. Keep an eye out for – and remove – items in your yard or garden that collect water.


“Fan” yourself. Use an electric fan outdoors? Believe it or not, it actually works – mosquitoes are hampered by a breeze, which is why they tend to seek pockets of still air in which to congregate. When dining on the porch or patio, aim a pedestal fan at the picnic table, or a small fan at your deck chair. You’ll not only blow the pests away – you’ll enjoy a nice breeze, too!


• Ward them off. We’re not sure about vampires, but it’s a proven fact that garlic makes an effective mosquito repellent. Cool! Mix one part garlic juice with five parts water, dip some cloth strips in the mixture and hang them around your outdoor sitting area for a localized deterrent. You can also tie the cloths around your wrists or ankles to prevent bites.


• Wear bug-repellent clothing. When hiking or camping, be sure to cover all exposed areas with long-sleeved shirts and long pants with snug cuffs. Hats and jackets with fine-mesh screens are a good idea, too.


• Spice things up. Using a charcoal grill? Toss a tablespoon or so of sage or rosemary on the coals to keep mosquitoes away (it smells great, too).


• Plant marigolds. The cheerful red, gold and orange flowers are not only pretty, hardy, easy to grow and tasty (try them in your salad!), they’re natural pest repellants, too!  Plant them in pots or borders along your porch or patio to deter flying insects. They’ll even keep aphids away from your vegetable garden!


Shoo Away Flies

 Recycled Metal Frog Sculpture With Fly And Mosquito Trap

These common household pests are more than a nuisance – they’re a health hazard. A single housefly can carry over one million bacteria. Take a few measures to control flies in your backyard and your home, and you'll be healthier for it.


• Outdoor dining. When setting a picnic or umbrella table for a meal, use a small bowl filled with sweet basil and clover as a centerpiece. Keep an open container of the mixture near your pet’s food dish, too.


• Make use of scented herbs and essential oils. Mint deters flies, is easy to grow and comes in many varieties. Harvest some of the fresh leaves, crush them, and tie them up in small squares of cheesecloth. Place these sachets around your outdoor sitting areas (as well as inside the house) to discourage flies from hanging around. Bay leaves and cloves work well, too. You can also add a few drops of eucalyptus oil to a scrap of cloth and leave it in an area where flies are a problem.


• Stick ‘em up. Flypaper may not be pretty, but it works…to make your own, dip strips of brown paper in a mixture made from ¼ cup corn syrup, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar and 1 tablespoon brown sugar. Let the strips dry overnight, then hang them with thread around your porch or deck.


Tired of being bugged? Come see Plow & Hearth’s entire selection of Outdoor Problem Solvers!

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Tags: Bug Control, Pest Control
Categories: Outdoor Living, Sustainability
Outdoor Living  
Plan Your Perfect Deck or Patio
By Jennifer Whipple
6/1/2014 10:00:00 AM  

Jeff Wilson, host of DIY Network's "Build-a-Deck"Looking to revitalize your deck or patio? HGTV/DIY Networks host and spokesperson for the Thompson's® Water Seal® brand Jeff Wilson has good news: with a just a little thought and planning, you can turn a tired old deck into the deck of your dreams…and you don’t need a lot of space to do it.

With over 25 years of home building and remodeling experience, Jeff shares the ideas and tips that he and his wife used to redesign and build their own deck and patio.


Know what you want.


When Jeff and his wife, Sherri, bought their Ohio home in 2001, they knew the deck would have to change.


“The deck was built around 1980, back when the deck trend really got started,” Jeff explained. “At that time, people didn’t treat their decks. This one had been painted a glaring white that was peeling at the time we moved in…and with the sun shining on it, it was way too bright.”


Additionally, the existing deck was very narrow.


“There was no room for a table or anything,” Jeff recalled. “You could line people up in chairs side-by-side, facing out into the yard, but they couldn’t sit across from each other and converse.”


Put thought into the project.


Jeff and his wife put a lot of thought into what they wanted from their deck – something he feels should be a part of every renovation.


“Ask yourself, ‘how will we use the space?” Jeff says. “Knowing what you want – a place to entertain or an outdoor sanctuary – is paramount.”


Like many homes built in the 1940s, Jeff and Sherri’s house is quite small. With two children and a fondness for entertaining, they decided their deck should provide the extra space they needed and wanted both for relaxing and entertaining. They carefully planned an outdoor space that combined both functions by separating the outdoor space like they did their indoor spaces, with different areas reserved for specific activities: conversation, dining, cooking, gardening, etc.


“Size it to the function.”

When planning the size of their new deck, Jeff and his wife laid garden hoses along the ground and arranged their outdoor furniture within the lines they made before committing to a plan.


“We knew we wanted to be able to do a lot with our deck, but we also knew we didn’t want it eating up the entire yard, so planning how we’d use the space was essential,” he says.


Jeff observed that some homeowners feel that “bigger is better” when it comes to planning a deck. He disagrees.


“Whatever material you use – be it flagstone or wood – needs to be maintained, so the larger the surface area, the greater the expense. Our new deck wound up being about 400 square feet all told, and only ten feet wide off the back of the house. That’s okay – the size isn’t nearly as important as the functionality.”


And with a smaller deck surface area, Jeff and Sherri were able to spend more on better materials.


“We went with cedar boards instead of treated lumber. Cedar is not only prettier and tougher than pine, it’s better when you have kids because it’s not been treated with chemicals.”


He also points out that, because he saved so much on deck materials, he was able to afford a higher end grill with a side burner. And with the materials left over, he was able to install a potting table with a roof that could double as a buffet.

Jeff's deck before the renovation.Jeff's deck before the renovation.

The finished product.


The end result of Jeff and Sherri’s project is an outdoor space that combines a screened-in porch at one end, a dining area and an outdoor kitchen with a brick oven that doubles as an outdoor fireplace in the middle, and a potting bench/buffet at the far end. The space is also made up of different levels with a flagstone floor that ties it all together.


“Every little part of the deck has a function,” Jeff explains, “and we can change it around if we need to.”


Get creative!


Jeff encourages homeowners to get creative with their decks.


“Over the years, outdoor living has evolved. We now seek to bring our indoors outside, seeing features formerly reserved for the interior of a home – such as televisions and gas fireplaces – as ways to enhance our outdoor spaces. You may want things that are different than what we wanted, but that’s all right – the sky’s the limit. Don’t be afraid to get creative and use your imagination. And you can do it without breaking the bank.”

Jeff's deck after the renovation.

Jeff's deck after the renovation.

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Outdoor Living  
Picnic In Style
By Plow & Hearth
2/21/2013 3:11:00 PM  
picnic in style

Fresh air and a change of scenery are reason enough for planning a picnic, which can be as simple as spreading out a blanket in a local park and sharing a baguette and a hunk of cheese with a couple of friends. It's a great way to shift gears, slow down, and take stock. With a little planning, though, picnicking can be elevated to an art form of sorts, or at least become the kind of memorable event that you look forward to and make time for each year.

Plan A Picnic Around An Outdoor Event

With warm weather comes outdoor music events in the form of festivals, concerts, and the like. Look in the Arts section or equivalent of your local newspaper or keep your eyes open for postings in grocery stores, coffee shops and other likely local haunts. Once you've found an event that sounds like fun, make a phone call to find out about bringing food and beverages. If you get the go-ahead, start planning, because there's just no better way to enjoy music outdoors than accompanied by a light but varied feast of cold salads, fine cheeses, imported salami and prosciutto, a few fancy pastries and some fresh fruit to top it all off---a smorgasbord of prepared fare, in other words, either homemade, if you prefer, or from the local gourmet shop or deli. And even, in the unlikely event that you can't find a musical event nearby that permits picnicking, that's no reason not to enjoy a regal repast at your local park.

Stock Up On The Right Supplies

The first step in preparing for your gourmet picnic is to pack all the utensils and accessories you'll need. Just make a list of what you'll be serving, then assess what you'll need for each of these dishes or items. Basics include a cutting board or two, a cheese knife, paring knife, large bread knife (especially if you're planning on picking up a watermelon), serving spoons, forks, spoons, knives, plates, bowls, good sea salt, a pepper grinder and napkins. You might also consider wineglasses and a corkscrew, as well as whatever else makes sense for your intended menu.

Be sure to organize food and utensils into totes and baskets that are easy to carry and store. Put the perishable food into an insulated tote.

Don’t Be Afraid To Experiment

As far as the menu itself goes, try to provide a broad range of tastes and textures---the wider the range, the more it will feel like a feast. Think in terms of appealing contrasts like crisp, salty tortilla chips with cool, creamy guacamole or a juicy, fresh salsa; gourmet deviled eggs; smooth, rich Brie cheese with a loaf of coarse, chewy peasant bread; and, flaky, crunchy pastries with juicy, succulent strawberries, honeydew, cantaloupe, and other fruits. And of course, there is nothing better than the aroma and taste of fresh grilled food in the open air. Bring a portable grill to easily cook up your favorites anywhere.

Beyond The Blanket

Spending time away from home in a pleasant outdoor setting with good company and a good meal is the essence of a successful picnic. Bringing the right gear and keeping it simple and organized will keep everyone comfortable and happy. Many of us really don’t like sitting on the ground so, bringing some folding chairs will add to the relaxation.

Set a table rather than laying everything out on a blanket. Bring along a folding table and chairs, a linen or cotton tablecloth, and an enclosed candle or oil lamp if you'll be dining at dusk. Your picnic will become the stuff of memories as well as a regular ritual that you look forward to each summer.

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Outdoor Living  
Make Outdoor Dining a Pleasure
By Plow & Hearth
2/21/2013 3:09:00 PM  
outdoor dining

Eating outdoors should be fun, hassle-free, and low-key, not---except, perhaps, for the rare outdoor wedding reception---al fresco interpretations of a formal dinner party. Keeping a few basic principles in mind will ensure that things stay loose and enjoyable. Essentially, you just want to make sure your outdoor dining area is situated in a spot that's cozy, protected, and comfortable, that the menu is not overly complex, and that you anticipate and prevent potential problems.

Make An Outdoor Dining “Room”

Creating a cozy outdoor dining area is easy. Just remember that most people are more comfortable in a situation where there's a wall (or preferably two) anchoring the dining area. That's why attached patios and decks are so popular. If you don't already have a patio or a deck, though, it's still quite easy to create a pleasant outdoor dining area. Enclosure on at least two sides is the key. Use an exterior wall of your house as one of the sides of the outdoor dining area (try to make it convenient to the kitchen), and plant a hedge to form another, adjacent "wall" of the dining area, as well as to screen out any distractions or eyesores. One of the fastest ways to do this is by planting sunflowers, which can quickly grow very tall. For a somewhat more formal yet still casual look, consider a hedge of hydrangeas. Or, if a very formal look and feel is what you're after, choose classic boxwood. It will take a few years for these shrub hedges to fill in, but a fence could be put up in the meantime, then removed as the shrubs put on some size. The goal in any case is to create a bit of privacy and enclosure, as well as a sense of place.

Define A Space

Consider using structures like an arbor or trellises to help define a dining area in the yard. Containers with plants or planters with attached trellises are an easy and portable way to create the feel of an outdoor dining room, especially on a deck or patio.

Metal fencing or screening, or portable willow screening, are also easy and pleasing ways to help establish a cozy outdoor dining area. Another way of setting off and highlighting an open dining set in the yard is to add a pergola or gazebo as a decorative feature over the dining furniture.

Eucalyptus Bench Planter
Eucalyptus Bench Planter

Serve Up Simplicity

Keeping the menu straightforward is also important to relaxed outdoor dining. Save the five-course extravaganza for a special indoor dinner party when the weather's not so fabulous. For balmy summer dining, however, you want to keep things simple. Basic barbecued fare is always delicious, but the addition of cool summer soups (like gazpacho) and fresh garden salads---whether a traditional green salad, a spinach salad, or freshly dug new potatoes scrubbed and tossed with olive oil and chives---make for a more memorable and enjoyable dining experience, and they're easy to prepare ahead of time.

Ensure A Stress-Free Dining Experience

Just as critical as creating the right kind of space and serving simple yet inspired fare is making sure that minor but annoying things don't destroy the mood and drive you indoors on a beautiful July or August evening. Citronella-scented candles or oil lanterns can help keep mosquitoes at bay, and food covers can keep other pesky insects off of your carefully prepared dishes. Unbreakable dinnerware and serving platters can eliminate the possibility of a treasured dish being broken, spoiling your evening. And something as simple as a napkin holder can keep you and your guests comfortably in your seats rather than scurrying across the lawn chasing a flock of fluttering napkins.

Woven Outdoor Serveware
Woven Outdoor Serveware

Find Comfortable Seating

The kind and style of outdoor dining furniture you choose will help set the stage for beautiful meals. Choose dining furniture that will complement the look and feel of your home so the outdoor dining area can be come a natural extension of the overall style of your indoor and outdoor rooms. Wooden dining furniture made from teak, eucalyptus or cedar has the warm appeal of natural wood, is very durable, and low-maintenance. Resin wicker furniture offers the classic, casual outdoor look and comfortable feel without the fragility and extensive upkeep of traditional wicker. Cast aluminum can be elegant, comfortable, highly durable and easy to maintain. Wrought iron and steel dining furniture are great choices for value and style that will fit in anywhere, but occasional touch-up painting may be necessary. For more information on these materials, check out our Outdoor Furniture Buying Guide.

The Difference Is In The Details

Adding an umbrella not only provides comfortable shade, but a splash of contrasting color, as well. Durable outdoor seat cushions help keep everyone comfortable right through dessert. New cushions are also a quick and easy way to update an older dining set.

Furniture covers are available that cover the entire dining set. Using covers will extend the furniture life and insure that it is clean and ready to use.

As with most things in life, a bit of forethought will reward you many times over---in this case, with a pleasant, relaxed dinner and an enjoyable evening under the stars.

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Categories: Outdoor Living
Outdoor Living  
Update Instantly With Cushions
By Plow & Hearth
2/21/2013 3:06:00 PM  

With just the toss of a throw pillow or the placement of a cushion, you can completely transform the look and feel of a room—without spending a fortune. Whether you're adding a pop of color to a formerly lifeless loveseat, making your outdoor spaces more inviting, or giving your furniture a little extra ease, you’ll find that cushions and pillows are key to refreshing your atmosphere easily and inexpensively.

Decorate With Ease

Adding new cushions and pillows is one of the simplest and most satisfying ways to update your décor. With all the colors and styles of cushions and pillows to choose from, it’s important to always keep your end design goal in mind.

Before getting started, take into consideration the colors, textures and overall look of the surroundings. You’ll want the color and pattern of the cushions to coordinate with your style of furniture, any decorative accents, umbrellas, containers and flowers.

While colorful floral patterns or bright stripes make a bold statement that can complement color themes in your yard, garden or home, solid colors and simple stripes can blend into their surroundings beautifully and act as subtle accents.

Another decorating idea: use your new cushions and pillows to create a look that coordinates with one of your current indoor décor themes.

Make Yourself Comfortable

Imagine tucking a nice, well-fluffed pillow behind your neck, kicking back, and enjoying a good book on a pleasant evening. While cushions and pillows certainly add an element of beauty, they’re also designed for comfort.

Cushions are available in a wide array of shapes (long or short, square or round, seat or back) sized just right for any type of furniture—whether an outdoor wicker glider or an indoor wooden rocking chair; patio swing or kitchen chair. Once you determine the size, you’ll have the perfect amount of padding to make your favorite spot extra cozy.

The various shapes and sizes of throw pillows also offer a simple way to make seating more comfortable.

Lumbar pillows help ease back discomfort while sitting, and add great lower back support.

Comfort From The Ground Up

Floor cushions offer a casual, comfortable alternative to traditional seating—and they’re perfectly mobile (some even feature handles). Just pick them up and tote them to another spot when you want to change the view, mingle with someone new, or get out of the sun. Scatter them around the pool, fire pit, deck or use them as extra seating for porch, patio and deck parties. Kids are also big fans of floor cushions. Their portable design also lends itself nicely to travel.

floor cushions
Floor Cushions

Indoor Or Outdoor: Fabric Matters

Although indoor and outdoor cushions provide the same functional and decorative benefits, they’re quite different when it comes to fabric.

Because indoor cushions don’t need to withstand the elements the way their outdoor counterparts do, they are made from less-durable fabrics. Some have zip-off covers that can be machine-washed. Others need to be spot-cleaned. Sometimes the cover is sold separately from the fill.

Some outdoor cushions are made from polyester that is UV-protected to resist fading, and treated to resist soil and stains. Here are some polyester options.

Other types of outdoor cushions are made from solution-dyed acrylic fabric that is both fade- and stain-resistant. This style of outdoor cushion is finished with edged piping for a tailored look. See some styles here.

Cushions and pillows, whether for indoors or out, are either filled with foam, poly or fiberfill for comfort and durability.

Storing Cushions

Indoor or outdoor, you’ll want to store your cushions and pillows away when not in use to help maximize their lifespan. Exposure to direct sunlight and cold weather elements can really take its toll on cushions and pillows.

Be sure to thoroughly clean and dry your cushions and pillows before storing them so they’ll be ready at the first sign of warm weather. Always follow the cleaning instructions as cleaning varies depending on the fabric.

Breathable fabric bags are great storage options, as are cushion storage boxes, benches and chests.

storage box
Storage Box

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Categories: Outdoor Living
Outdoor Living  
Summer Relaxing
By Plow & Hearth
2/21/2013 2:45:00 PM  
relaxing summer

Goldilocks had it right. Finding (or creating) a situation that's "just right"—neither too hot, nor too cold, too hard, or too soft—is the key to a relaxing summer siesta---or even just being able to kick back and enjoy a leisurely afternoon with a book and glass of iced tea. Obviously, arranging your little rest spot beneath a centuries-old oak, or, even better, on a summer porch overlooking the breaking waves of the Atlantic or Pacific would be ideal, but few of us have that luxury. So, instead, we make do and adapt to the situation at hand.

Made In The Shade

Unless baking in the sun is your goal (or your nearest metropolis happens to be Anchorage, Alaska), it's likely that providing a bit of shade is an essential part of getting comfy in the dog days of July and August. Though it's little comfort in the near term, if your yard doesn't have a good shade tree or two, this is the year to plant. Too often, homeowners repeat to themselves year after year, "I wish I'd planted that [choose your favorite tree] years ago, when we first bought this place," all the while letting more time slip by. If you've ever needed or wanted one, make it a point to plant a shade tree this year.

In the meantime, take advantage of the shade cast by your house, garage or other outbuilding if possible, situating your personal rest area on the north side of one of these structures. If your property doesn't lend itself to such a solution, consider a large, freestanding umbrella. Somehow, you want to be able to temper the heat of the day, at least a bit, in order to enjoy the fresh air and avoid retreating into an air-conditioned environment.

A good umbrella is an indispensable accessory for creating your own shady oasis and enjoying the summer weather. Most outdoor dining tables have holes in the center to accommodate an umbrella. Use a weighted stand to support a portable umbrella anywhere you want to create some relaxing shade. Hinged poles with a tilting mechanism allow you to angle the umbrella to supply more shade when the sun is lower in the sky. Choose the largest diameter umbrella that is practical for your space. You can’t have too much shade on a hot summer day!

Sitting Pretty

A shady spot with a warm breeze makes a nice start, but you've also got to have a good seat to plunk down in, or else you'll be doing more squirming than reading or napping. Everyone has a personal favorite, from the classic Adirondack chair to a padded chaise lounge.

And when it comes to summer relaxing, having lots of choices in seating is important, because there are so many places in which to position your favorite seat. In addition to loungers, rockers and dining furniture for the porch, deck and patio, there are also benches for the garden and folding and portable chairs to take along to the beach, lake, park or poolside. Outdoor seats come in a variety of tough, weather-resistant and long-lasting materials from plastic to metal to various types of wood. Folding chairs are sturdier than ever, yet remain lightweight enough to take with you in the car or even on foot. They’re more comfortable than ever, too, and include styles from ultra-comfortable Zero Gravity Recliners to foldable chairs ideal for fireworks shows, parades and sporting events.

Hardwood All-Weather Adirondack Furniture
Hardwood All-Weather Adirondack Furniture

Back In The Swing Of Things

What says “summer” like a porch swing? Whether you go for a glider or a free-swinging swing, there are as many styles to choose from as there are outdoor furniture sets. In addition to the classic slat-style swing, the ever-growing collection has expanded to include all-weather wicker, log, eucalyptus and more. Many swings have sturdy stands available in case you want to place it in a roofless location; some of these stands even have canopies to keep off the sun. A variety of cushions and pillows adds comfort and style to your selection.

You'd be hard-pressed to find more comfortable "seating" than a hammock. Suspended in a hammock is about as close as most of us will ever get to floating weightless, a very relaxing proposition indeed. Don’t let the lack of perfectly placed trees stop you from enjoying a summer hammock! Use a sturdy hammock stand to place your hammock in the perfect spot for napping and relaxing. Add a pillow or full pad with straps to spruce up an old hammock, or just to provide the ultimate hammock comfort experience.

DuraCord Rope Hammock
DuraCord Rope Hammock

Fire It Up

What about relaxing in the evening? Especially in the Rockies and across the northern tier of states, summer night temperatures can dip sufficiently to make a sweater absolutely essential. Even with a sweater, though, the nip in the air may demand more serious action. Think back to summer camp days for the solution to this "problem." Though a bonfire isn't an option in most communities, a contained fire is, and it makes a warm and welcoming focal point around which to congregate and enjoy a summer evening. Just don't forget the chocolate, marshmallows and graham crackers for the 'smores.

Check your local regulations, but most places allow outdoor fires in enclosed fire pits or fireplaces. Place your fire pit in a safe area away from the house or combustible materials and leave plenty of space for gathering around a pleasant evening blaze.

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Outdoor Lamps

Enjoy reading on the deck? You don’t have to come indoors when it gets dark with outdoor lamps. An array of floor and table lamps beautiful enough for your formal living room (or casual enough for the family room), yet tough enough for the great outdoors let you linger over the paper or a crossword puzzle long after dusk. Heavy bases keep them from tipping over in the wind, while water-resistant shades stand up to the rain. They also make a great complementary accent next to your favorite wicker chair, glider swing or chaise lounge.

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Outdoor Living  
Lighting Your Garden
By Plow & Hearth
2/21/2013 2:00:00 PM  

You had "just a couple more little loose ends to wrap up" before leaving the office, but before you know it, it's already past 7 pm, daylight is waning quickly, and you're just pulling into your driveway. Fortunately, there's no more haunting or magical time in the garden than twilight, so you quickly remove your work duds, slip into something more comfortable, grab a cold drink, and head out to the garden to relax and unwind. Ahhhhhhhh. If only you could extend twilight for an hour or two, the day would be redeemed. Well, that's where outdoor lighting comes in.

You don't want the hassle or expense of installing underground wiring — just a little romance and illumination. That still leaves you with three very good choices: Luminaries (or other candle supports/enclosures), oil lamps, and solar-charged electrical lighting. Any of these can be used all by itself, or, better yet, together with one or both of the other options.

Canned Sunlight: The Solar Solution

It was only a few years ago that self-contained solar lighting seemed like an exotic, science fiction technology. Now solar lights for the yard and garden are affordable, reliable and come in a variety of styles, from spotlights to decorative string lights.

Three basic components that go into making solar garden lights: the solar cell converts sunlight into electricity, rechargeable batteries store the energy, and the LED (light emitting diodes) “bulbs” produce the light using a tiny amount of energy compared to conventional incandescent bulbs. For added convenience, a light sensor built into the solar cell automatically turns the light on at dusk and off at dawn.

Solar path lights come in variety of styles and finishes to complement many house styles. These path lights put out enough light to safely illuminate walkways or driveways.

Solar spotlights come in a variety of powers, ranging from smaller accent lights to spots powerful enough to light up a wall or a sign. The more powerful spotlights and security lights often have a remote solar panel allowing for placement of the panel in more direct sunlight along with a larger panel size.

Solar-powered string lights are available in different decorative motifs and make it easy to decorate a porch, tree, fence, table umbrella or arbor anywhere in the yard without need for an outlet.

Little or no maintenance is needed for solar lighting. The rechargeable batteries generally last about two years before needing to be replaced.

Oil Lamps: Rustic Light Is Right Outdoors

Before the advent of electrical lighting, there was the oil lamp, and though you’d find very few folks who’d swap the convenience and safety of electric lighting for the flicker of an oil lamp indoors, it’s a completely different story when it comes to outdoor lighting---for porch, patio, garden path or elsewhere in your garden. Somehow, the light of an oil lamp feels warmer, more natural, more rustic, more appropriate in the garden than electrical light ever could.

Candle Power: It's The Measure Of Light

From the time some inspired ancestor of ours first dipped a mullein stalk or something similar in tallow, ignited it in the community fire, and used it to illuminate the night, humans have been fascinated with candles. That fascination has been tempered sometimes with anxiety, however, because exposed candle flames can indeed be a hazard---especially indoors. Outside, though, candles in enclosed holders are reasonably safe, and they contribute to an atmosphere of warmth and romance in the garden after dark. They’re also probably the most versatile and least expensive solution to shedding some light on your private Eden after dark.

Whether it’s solar lighting, oil lamps, candles, or some combination of these that’s the right solution for your situation, one thing you should realize is that there are few---if any—other additions to your garden that will make such a profound impact for so little expense. And a garden, though perhaps beautiful by day, is pure magic when illuminated at night.

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Tags: Guides
Categories: Outdoor Living, Gardening
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