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Tips for turning your backyard into a summer sanctuary

The hosts of Bravo's Backyard Envy, along with experts at Serena & Lily, The Butchery, and Communal, share entertaining inspiration

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June, as the Rodgers and Hammerstein song says, is “bustin’ out all over.” We are all eager to get outside, to gather with “framily” for lazy alfresco brunches, cocktails by the pool, craft beer, and barbecue. To prepare for the season, I connected with “plantfluencers” Mel Braiser, Garrett Magee, and James DeSantis, hosts of Bravo’s Backyard Envy, the show that transforms outdoor spaces — from Manhattan rooftops to suburban backyards — into “lush, jaw-dropping oases.”  Their book, Take it Outside, is a comprehensive guide to designing beautiful spaces, including coming up with a concept, mapping out zones to gather, cook, grow, and play, selecting hardscape, picking plantings, and more. 

Outdoor pillows from Serena & Lily at One Paseo are covered in white/navy Perennial Lake Stripes
White/navy Perennial Lake Striped outdoor pillows from Serena & Lily at One Paseo

The trio recently teamed up for a book signing at Serena & Lily, the California-based lifestyle brand known for a look billed as “casual and coastal, relaxed yet refined,” at Carmel Valley’s One Paseo. Also on hand were The Butchery’s Chris Tatalovich and Jen Byard of Communal to answer questions and offer advice on creating your own piece of paradise. 

Setting the Scene (It’s Down to the Details) 

“After the space has been designed, divided up, decked out, and planted, it’s time to pull it together and get ready for its glow up,” says DeSantis. That means detailing your outdoor sanctuary with rugs, pillows, lighting, and other touches. “We focus on details with the most eye appeal for both everyday life and my favorite use of any garden: parties! Think of this final step as sticking a big bow on the gift that is your backyard.” 

Master the art of outdoor living by combining  nature, performance, and style from Serena & Lily
Master the art of outdoor living by combining nature, performance, and style from Serena & Lily

DeSantis’ Favorite Party Tricks

Wild Cut Flora. Cut tree branches or palm fronds and arrange them in an oversized vessel as “a last-minute way to add great impact without spending a lot of time, money, or effort,” he says. For the most dramatic effect, choose a wide-mouth vase, 20 to 24 inches tall. 

Store-bought Florals. Consider grocery stores such as Whole Foods, which carry arrangements and prepackaged selections including a tropical mix with palms, ginger, and bird of paradise. Or, choose classic, go-with-anything florals such as garden roses or white ranunculus.

Tulum-style Touches. Add seashells, Mexican blankets and other textiles, and arrangements of orchids, bromeliads, and hanging foliage. Burn copal incense to fill the air with an exotic scent and keep bugs at bay.

Mel Brazier’s lush backyard is decked out for summer parties
Mel Brazier’s lush backyard is decked out for summer parties

Hurricanes. Illuminate your space with open-top hurricanes to throw protected candlelight.

Decorative Tiles. “They make the most beautiful, mismatched coasters for a dinner or cocktail party,” says DeSantis. His top brand picks are Cletile, Zia, and Mission.

Turkish Accents. Collect Turkish towels or linens to lay on the backs of outdoor chairs to add pattern and texture, and to keep dinner guests toasty on cool nights. DeSantis calls this tip “a great example of a décor element that serves up style and function.”

Moroccan Elements. Add poufs, spread dhurries and Beni Ourain-style rugs (known for their geometric patterns), serve drinks in tea glasses, and light up the night with Moroccan lanterns.

Garden Installation. Suspend a floating meadow in the air for a “show-stopping, immersive experience.” Attach a chicken wire base in a covered patio, under a pergola, or on a garden wall, and fill with dried, fresh, and faux flowers. manscapersny.com

“Plantfluencers” Mel Brazier, Garrett Magee, and James DeSantis take it outside in this backyard oasis
“Plantfluencers” Mel Brazier, Garrett Magee, and James DeSantis take it outside in this backyard oasis

Summer Sips 

Jen Byard, founder of Communal, a creative café and shop with locations in Oceanside, North Park, and South Park, offers a seasonal menu, curated goods, fresh flowers, and workshops, including cocktail tastings. Byard, who says she once “wanted to be like Martha Stewart,” now believes making guests comfortable is more important than trying to impress them. Pre-planning — from deciding the menu to décor — is key, she says. Set the mood with a summery cocktail that is sure to please. communalcoffee.com

Jen Byard, founder of Communal, mixes up summer cocktails for an outdoor gathering

Communal’s Morris Mai Tai

makes one

• 4 oz Morris Kitchen Pineapple Lime Mixer
• 2 oz Sabé rum
• 1 oz sparkling water 


Fire Up the Grill!

The Butchery at One Paseo is known for its tri-tip as well as fresh fish, chicken, rubs, marinades, wine, and craft beer. GM Chris Tatalovich says the company uses only top cuts of meat from Meyer Natural Foods, which raises cattle without added hormones or antibiotics. “This is what sets us apart from the others,” says Tatalovich. Stop in for the house sandwich of marinated, thinly-sliced steak tips seared on a griddle with onions and peppers and topped with American cheese. And, take home a slab or two of beef for your next backyard barbecue. 

Surefire Meals from The Butchery

Tri-Tip. Grill on medium-high heat. Keep turning to prevent the marinade from burning. (When cooked, the thickest part should read 130 degrees Fahrenheit on the thermometer.) Serve with cilantro-lime marinated asparagus, garlic butter corn, or broccolini. Add steamed white rice or garlic bread for a little starch.

Lemongrass-marinated Boneless Chicken Breasts. Grill with fresh heirloom tomatoes (quartered and salted), red and yellow bell peppers, and red and green onions. Toss vegetables with balsamic vinegar and top with fresh basil. Place on a platter with grilled garlic bread for a delicious summer feast. 

Karrie Ingalls, Brand Ambassador, Meyer Natural Foods; Chris Tatalovich, General Manager, The Butchery; and Gregg Sproed, Vice President of Sales, Meyer Natural Foods
Karrie Ingalls, Brand Ambassador, Meyer Natural Foods; Chris Tatalovich, General Manager, The Butchery; and Gregg Sproed, Vice President of Sales, Meyer Natural Foods

Tatalovich’s Grilling Tips

Bring meat to room temperature to ensure even cooking and to allow the steak to sear and “grab a crust.” Steak is “the trickiest to grill,” he says, depending on its thickness and whether it is bone-in or boneless. Cook a tomahawk ribeye or cowboy cut ribeye on a high sear, then move to indirect heat to finish. Grill New York strips and filet mignon on high for three to eight minutes a side, depending on the cut’s thickness. Turn the steak 45 degrees once on each side to ensure even cooking and a beautiful presentation.

• Season veggies with extra virgin oil, salt, and pepper and grill over high heat in a lightly oiled vegetable pan to prevent food from sticking. Turn or move the vegetables until al dente.
A grill pan is also a good way to grill fish.

• Grilling chicken depends on the cut. Cook legs or bone-in thighs over medium-high heat and flip or turn continuously to ensure even cooking and prevent burning. Grill breasts on medium heat for 8-12 minutes.

• When it comes to seasoning, Tatalovich calls himself “a purist,” preferring salt, pepper, and garlic powder on steaks. A Maui native, he loves teriyaki and Li Hing Mui (plum powder) for pork and chicken. butcherymeats.com

Image Credits Intro, Backyard & Plantfluencers: Photography by Dane Tashima; Pillow & Serena & Lily: Courtesy; Jen Byard & The Butchery: Photography by Andrea Naversen;

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