Despite the sudden return of brisk and windy weather (and even the occasional flurry) over the past week, the official start of Spring is coming this Monday, and many of us, including this writer, are very excited to enjoy the outdoors. To add to the excitement, after three years, the pandemic emergency declaration is expiring – prompting the return of concerts, festivals, and social activities that have been sorely missed.
While returning to these activities, many are noticing the effect of inflation on the cost of entertainment. With many seeking ways to socialize without breaking the bank – or excluding friends on a budget – 2023 is shaping up to be the year of backyard entertainment. We visited the residents with two fantastic backyards in greater Falls Church for inspiration on how to maximize the use of your backyard, for entertaining and beyond.
Whether your backyard is deep or wide, large or small, it is important to think of social spaces in ‘zones,’ where a reasonable number of people can converse, sit, stand, and move around comfortably. “It was important to us that when a lot of people are over, they can still have a meaningful conversation with people,” said Rick Bennett, whose backyard is separated into areas for lounging and watching tv, sitting for an outdoor meal, cooking on the grill, composting and planting, sitting around a fire pit, relaxing in the hot tub, and (for his canines and their guests) relieving themselves, “a group of five or six people that strike up a conversation are a lot more likely to connect.”
Bennett regularly hosts gatherings, from weekly “Ru Paul’s Drag Race” watch parties with a handful of friends, to an annual Christmas party with well over 100 guests. “It’s hard to get gay folks living in D.C. to venture across the river,” Bennett added, when asked about hosting events for the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C. (of which he is a member), “but when you’re setup for a great time, they figure it out.” For any LGBTQ+ readers unfamiliar with Falls Church, it is literally six stops away on the Orange and Silver Lines – come visit!
When considering seating, the elements and the comfort of your guests are important, but be honest with yourself about upkeep. If you aren’t going to move the cushions inside every time it rains, pick something waterproof (and if you forget, be sure to drain the cushions on their side before allowing a guest to sit). Consider a storage bench to put things in when not in use, and ensure any seating around a fire pit can withstand falling embers. Though better than a wet cushion, nobody likes sitting on a cold, hard chair – so be sure to have some individual seat cushions handy.
Also keep in mind that “the pollening” is coming soon – consider covering any surfaces guests (or their clothes) will come in contact with.
Outdoor lighting is an excellent way to create a welcoming, comfortable evening space. Consider energy-saving smart LEDs that connect to your home’s WiFi and virtual assistants, and take some time to set up the brightness and color levels for “scenes.” Guests will be thrilled when you tell your watch to “set the backyard to party” and your space bursts to life. If working with what you have, put those holiday lights to use, pop some fairy lights into jars, or put some candles (safely) to use.
For Matt Quinn, his wife Katie Moore, and their daughter Karys, the backyard is more than a place to entertain – which they do regularly, including an annual Pig Roast every fall – it’s also a source of sustenance and education. In 2017 they fully gutted the yard and installed five 8’x4’ planters along one side – and a variety of fruit trees on the other. Their kitchen’s bay window is currently serving as a greenhouse until the cold snap breaks and it’s safe to plant seedlings outside. During the growing season, the family enjoys an abundance of food from the yard – including a variety of homemade hot sauces, which they learned to make together during the pandemic. “This is a great way to do things together as a family,” said Quinn, “we love our yard.”
Whether hosting a small or large gathering, or just enjoying yourself or your family, creating a beautiful and inviting atmosphere in your backyard is a great way to enjoy beautiful weather (which will hopefully return soon), and a cost-effective way to entertain.