Book Report: Backyards: A Sunset Design Guide

Screened gazebo For the past few months, I've been lucky enough to live in a house with amazing landscaping — lawns, flowering shrubs, ferns, graceful trees, fencing, a multi-level deck. 

But the most amazing element is an enormous screened gazebo (seen here) next to a waterfall and a pond. There is a bridge going from the deck to the gazebo, with a rocky "river" flowing under it. When I sit in that gazebo and listen to the water cascading onto the rocks below, I am in bliss. The city and its excitements are all around me, but in the gazebo I'm in my own little paradise

If I known how the sound of falling water affected me, I'd have arranged to live near it a long time ago. And since you're not allowed to build your home next to Bridalveil Falls in Yosemite National Park, I guess putting something together in the backyard is the answer.

Toward that end, you might want to check out Backyards: A Sunset Design Guide. This is an enormous book: 9 by 11 inches, and 224 glossy, full color pages, along with a Sunset Landscape Designer DVD. And here's some happy news for us Mac users: It works on a Mac. That's rare for these design DVDs. Trust me on that.

The book was written by Bridget Biscotti Bradley along with the editors of Sunset Books. I have written several design books and here is what I found out from readers: you want pictures, lots of them, in color, big and beautiful, several on every page. This book has all that, many gorgeous pictures to give you the inspiration it will take to turn a flat and boring backyard into the kind of paradise I'm enjoying this very moment.

The book is divided into these chapters: Getting Started, Backyard Spaces, Cooking and Entertaining, Water, Kids and Pets, Light and Heat, Furniture and Accessories, Backyard Structures, and Getting It Done. To me, these are unique and compelling chapter headings.

If you want to upgrade your backyard, here's what I suggest: Get this book and put sticky notes on each page with a photo that sings to you. If you're a couple, then put different colored sticky notes and see what photos get both colors of notes. Then, look at each photo you've selected and try and figure out what do they have in common. Maybe they all have stone. Or water. Or iron. Or are rustic. Or are modern. In this way, you'll narrow down your choices and be better able to move forward with some plans.

If, on the other hand, you've put a sticky note on each of the 200-plus pages, I feel your pain.

Other Sunset books include:

Patio & Stone: A Sunset Design Guide