Welcome to Second Nature, a Q+A series with Jute founder, Ali Davin, that explores all things healthy living, with a fond emphasis on that thing she does best—interior design.
There’s always a moment when you know a house is The One. It may be the light, the view from the kitchen, or an amazing spa bathroom. But sometimes, it’s what’s outside the home—in this case, a magical backyard that feels like a secret garden.
From the foliage you plant to the furniture you select, the choices you make outdoors are just as important as the ones you make indoors. Here’s how I’m creating a healthy outdoor space.
To start, you want to assess what’s going to stay. If there are elements that you wouldn’t have chosen yourself but you can live with them until they need to be replaced, that’s ideal—one of your goals should be to keep as many unnecessary things out of the landfill as possible.
Be conscious of what has already off-gassed. My home has cedar shingles, which are nice, but not what I would have chosen. I would have gone with siding or stain-grade wood, but I don’t want to rip it all off and be wasteful for aesthetic reasons. I don’t love the windows, but they’re fine for now. And I would have preferred a natural slate roof, but the current one has 15 years left, so I’ll eventually replace that too.
We are switching out the exterior lighting to solid bronze powder-coated fixtures with LED lights, since they’re way more energy-efficient. And it’s important to be able to ventilate the house on all four sides, so we replaced the front door with a solid wood Dutch door. If you’re going to rip out perfectly usable fixtures, try to sell or donate them so they don’t end up in a dump.
We always try to repurpose as much as possible and not be wasteful. The yard is what really sold me on this home—it’s flat, whereas most of the homes in the area are on a hill—but it wasn’t laid out in the manner I’d like, so we’re moving things around. There are bluestone pavers and crushed gravel that aren’t in the place where we’d use them, so we’re moving them elsewhere.
Putting plastic in the backyard makes no sense for the environment, and it needs to go. The previous owners of my home had installed AstroTurf, which some people view as eco-friendly because you don’t have to water it, however it’s plastic. We’re replacing it with biodynamic composted soil so that we can create a more organic garden that’s all natural, without pesticides.
We’re in the middle of a drought in California so there’s a lot of emphasis on water-wise planting. Instead of succulents, which are drought-tolerant but aren’t native to this area, we’re planting wildflowers, grasses, and trees that are indigenous to the land. It’s going to look wild, not manicured, but that’s the idea. The most appealing thing to me was to be able to go outside and put my feet in natural soil. It’s like when you go on vacation and walk in the sand—you can feel just as grounded in your own yard.
I always recommend teak furniture, which is what I purchased, and try to buy what’s already in stock—things that were manufactured a while ago have already off-gassed, so that’s better for your air quality. Avoid plastic and polyurethane for that reason.
The process used to make perimeter fences generally involves pressure-treating the wood with chemicals, so obviously you want to avoid that. Instead, we’re planting hedges to create a natural wall. That’s a more sustainable decision as well since it doesn’t require more resources in terms of wood for a new fence. We are using solid cedar planking to create paths to the furniture, with crushed gravel along the sides—there will be so many plants growing everywhere, you need it to guide you around!
Keep chemicals out of your yard by choosing organic plants and natural materials.