Leslie Simpson shares how she made her backyard as comfortable and welcoming as the rest of her home.
Leslie and John Simpson's Alabama home
Start with what you love. "French hydrangeas are my favorite; they look good with little effort," Leslie says. These are 'Nikko Blue': the easiest hydrangeas to find.
| Credit: Laurey W. Glenn / Styling: Leslie Byars Simpson

It's a wonder I'm not in jail. Admittedly a voyeur (when it comes to gardens), I'm drawn to that hallowed area behind the home like a fly to honey. Yeah, front yards are nice, but they're the expected welcome mat laid forth for all to see. The goods, my friend, are often found around back.

Brazen, my get-out-of-jail card (with Southern Living logo) clutched in hand, I have often peeked, peered, and pondered about what treasures are hidden beyond the wall or fence that politely keeps me at bay. And if a knothole or gate offers a glance, I imagine the space to be mine. But then again, don't we all?

My attraction to this most sacred and private portion of the garden is as much about finding out who someone really is as it is about seeing what they have planted. Extensions of our homes, backyards are as identifying as a fingerprint and to be invited back into one is as Southern as it gets.

Come On Back
Lucky me―no snooping or cold-calling here. This is the home of Leslie and John Simpson. Leslie and I met back in the day when she was a Southern Living stylist. I comment on how chic and livable her backyard is, and like a good Southerner, she redirects credit to others. "This all started when we thought we wanted to build a deck," she says. "That hot August afternoon, the mosquitoes were so bad we upgraded our thought to that of a screened porch, and it grew from there."

Inside Out
A quick scan of this soothing retreat tells me these folks are pros at effortless entertaining, but they can enjoy the morning paper here too. Elegant and relaxed, their exterior style, honed by Birmingham landscape architect Jane Ross, hints "sit and visit; I'll fetch you something cool to drink."

Most noteworthy, familiar interior living and dining room arrangements feel right at home in this backyard. A square of patio, removed to create a grass rug, defines the perfect conversation area. Silvered teak, mellow and comfortable, blends beautifully with the home's cottage-inspired architecture.

"I like colors that cool you down. Blues, whites, and greens make a hot Alabama afternoon seem much more comfortable," says Leslie. The classic interior combo of blue and white works wonders outdoors. ‘Nikko Blue' hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Nikko Blue') that subdivide the space are the ideal wallpaper and add the right amount of color. When they're brightened with white impatiens and fronted with feathery Southern shield fern (Thelypteris kunthii), the word "hot" virtually melts from your vocabulary.

Getting Late
It's time for me to leave. My imagination quenched, I have more ideas to tuck away for when I create my sanctuary. After all, this is their backyard retreat. As I drive home, my eyes registering what's in bloom, I glimpse a path that rounds the corner of a Tudor. Hmmm. Might be worth checking out.