photo: Vedfelt/Getty

Your Dream Backyard: Make an Amazing Outdoor Space for Work and Play

By Stacy Lee Kong

With Albertans spending more time at home, it’s no wonder many of us want to enhance our outdoor spaces. Whether you have a vast acreage, a suburban yard or a condo balcony, you can create a dream backyard and maximize your space for both work and play.

Spend even a tiny bit of time on Pinterest and you’ll be inundated with photos of beautiful backyards. But according to Alexandra Gater, a stylist and home decor expert known for her cost-effective DIY projects, you don’t need a big budget to make your space sing. Here are three easy ways to inexpensively update your backyard.

Zhuzh it up: “When I’m designing a backyard or patio area, I layer accessories to make it feel like an extension of the living room,” Gater says. Throw a beautiful tablecloth over a bland picnic or bistro table, and hang planter baskets filled with seasonal blooms. Textured pillows and patterned rugs can also make a space comfier while bolstering its appeal. If you’d rather not bring your accessories inside every evening, splurge on high-quality pieces designed to withstand the elements.

Light the way: “A simple string of twinkle lights or a few lanterns can add instant ambience to a backyard space,” Gater says. Just make sure they’re rated for outdoor use. For homes that don’t have an external electrical outlet, look for lights that use a solar power source instead.

Tend to your timber: Power wash decking, secure loose railings and replace lost or broken post caps. These small tasks instantly spiff up a space—and they can help extend the life of your deck too. But take care with the power washer: Used improperly, it can gouge the wood.

top-down image of man in overalls power-washing wood deck in his dream backyard
photo: Wojciech Kozielczyk/iStock

Whether you want to add a deck or spruce up the one you’ve got, there’s plenty to know about this backyard build. AMA member Matt Mensinga, a deck builder with Hickory Dickory Decks in Calgary, shares his advice.

Decide if it’s DIY: Leave structural work (joists, beams, posts, foundation) to the experts. “It needs to be designed and built properly to support the load of the deck,” Mensinga says. “But depending on the materials, resurfacing a deck—removing and replacing the existing wood boards—could be a DIY project.”

Need a permit? In many municipalities, decks that are two feet or more off the ground require a permit to build—and an inspection when completed. “I look at it as the cheapest insurance you’ll ever buy,” he says. “An inspection gives you peace of mind that your new deck meets or exceeds the building code.”

Early spring gardening tips

Account for extras: If you’re building a new deck, it’s usually cheaper to incorporate extras—stair lighting, pergolas or built-in furniture—during construction rather than adding them later.

Staining and sealing: Low-maintenance decks, often made from recycled materials that don’t require sealant or stain, are increasingly common. “If you do need to refinish your deck,” Mensinga notes, “use sealant that’s breathable and won’t harm your plants.” 

Keep critters out: Stop pests from playing house under your deck by enclosing it with deck skirting. Worried about animals burrowing under that? Dig a trench at least six inches deep around the deck, attach metal mesh to the inside of your skirting, and bury it to the depth of the trench.

illustration: Jason Schneider

Create a small-space oasis in your dream backyard with these tips from stylist Alexandra Gater.

1 Choose chairs,  sofas and other  pieces you  actually want to  sit on. There’s 
 no sense buying  uncomfortable  furniture! You  just won’t use  it,” Gater says. 

2 “Think outside the box when it comes to pieces you  already have,” Gater says. Turn a utility cart into a portable  bar or repurpose an unused bench as food service space. 

3 Outdoor furniture  and accessories  that complement  your home’s  indoor aesthetic  can help connect  the two—and  create the illusion 
 of a larger outdoor space. 

4 Add string  lights and  candles  to make  your patio  welcoming  in the  evening. 

illustration: Jason Schneider

1 Cover cold  concrete with  a colourful  outdoor rug  or interlocking  patio tiles. 

2 Create a lush urban garden with  potted plants  in varied shades  of green—for a Scandi-chic vibe—or planter boxes bursting with  colourful blooms. 

3 Add functionality with dual-purpose furniture:  a table with built-in storage or an ottoman that can work as an   extra table when guests come over. 

4 Take advantage of vertical space by creating a feature plant wall, or get some favourite photos printed on weather- resistant aluminum. 

Spruce up your dream backyard with fresh new accessories. Shop through the AMA eStore to save or earn reward dollars: 

decor products to help create a dream backyard

Striped pillow, Indigo
Earn up to 5% in reward dollars

Metal lantern candle holder, Bouclair
Save 5% in-store and online

Backpack bocce game, PRFO Sports
Earn 5% in reward dollars

Wild Bunch door mat, Linen Chest
Earn 5% in reward dollars

Acacpulco chair, Bouclair
Save 5% in-store and online

Older woman pushing gas lawnmower to help maintain her dream backyard
photo: Henry Arden/Getty

Edmonton’s Sheldon Zhang, co-founder and chief customer officer of Yardly, offers advice on mowing, watering and weeds.

What’s the most important thing to know about summer lawn care?
You want your lawn to be two to three inches tall—but don’t trim more than one-third of the grass blade. If you often cut your lawn too short, it’ll become vulnerable to weed invasion. 

How often should I mow?
It depends on a few factors, the biggest being the amount of rain and sunlight your yard gets. Generally, it’s better to cut grass weekly rather than bi-weekly. It’s faster, you get fewer clippings and they’ll be less likely to clump.

How to plan a garden: Expert advice for spring planting

How do I get my mower ready for the season?
The biggest thing is to sharpen the blades. Grass is like hair; it can get split ends, often due to dull mower blades. If your grass has yellow tips, it’s likely
a result of dull blades. For gas-powered mowers, change the engine oil at the start of the season.

How can I keep my lawn happy without using too much water?
Your lawn needs at least one inch of water each week, whether it’s from rain or a sprinkler. A cool hack is to place empty cans around your yard when you start watering, then note how long it takes for the cans to collect an inch of water. That way, you’re not running the sprinkler for longer than necessary.

Man using computer inside his dream backyard office shed at dusk
photo: Peter Cade/Getty

The pandemic has made working from home a necessity for many. And some intrepid homeowners are taking it outside. Options abound for beautiful and functional sheds, from easy-to-assemble kits to repurposed shipping containers to bespoke, contractor-built structures.

But check with your municipality before you build. Office sheds are accessory structures, meaning your city may have rules about where they can be located. You might also need a permit, depending on the size and if you’re adding electrical, plumbing or gas.

And don’t forget to tell your insurance company. Most homeowners policies cover detached structures like sheds, but if you’re going to splurge on a comfortable new space, check that your level of coverage is appropriate. Call an AMA Insurance advisor at 1-800-615-5897 or book an appointment at

Five tips for safely enjoying your backyard this season.

1 If you use a barbecue, make sure it’s placed on a flat surface, away from flammable materials like trees, shrubs, fences, awnings, and vinyl or wood siding. Never grill in your garage.

2 Don’t operate power tools, lawn mowers or other electrical equipment in wet weather. There’s a higher risk of electric shock, and wet grass can make
the mower harder to control, especially on a slope. 

3 Never leave lit candles, lanterns, firepits or other open flames unattended.

The basics of home insurance in Alberta

4 Trampolines and bouncy castles are fun for kids, but make sure they’re safe. Set them on level ground, far from buildings and trees, and never allow children to use them unsupervised. Check your homeowners insurance too: You may require additional liability coverage.

5 Keep garden supplies, including fertilizer and pesticides, in their original
packaging, so application instructions remain handy. Store them in a large,
waterproof container—so they stay safe and dry—and out of reach of children and pets.

Craving backyard meal ideas? Join AMA’s Backyard BBQ community on Facebook for recipes and other ways to enjoy your deck or patio.