How to Create a Backyard You’ll Always Want to Spent Time In (9 photos)
Many homeowners dream of an expansive backyard, but it can end up feeling more like a burden if it lacks interest and purpose — and that can result in no one using it. We’ve asked three landscape design experts how you can turn your backyard into an appealing space that everyone in your household will want to spend time in.
1. Adam Barker, Landscape Architect and Partner at dsb Landscape Architects
Prioritize your needs. Big, square backyards can be a challenge for homeowners. Landscaping can be an expensive investment — not only for the initial build, but for ongoing maintenance. Plus, landscape zones usually include living elements such as grass, garden beds and trees that require continual maintenance.
Regardless of your budget or scope, the challenge is getting bang for your buck and prioritizing the landscaping features you want when allocating your budget.
Before you put pen to paper and design your backyard, consider how you want the space to function and who it needs to function for. The best design is one that knows where it is going before the various elements are selected.
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Use borrowed landscapes. The design of your backyard does not need to be limited to what is within your fence line. Perhaps your neighbors have some large hedges or trees along their boundary, or there are beautiful views of a hill in the distance. If so, consider incorporating these elements into your design to maximize the outcome.
Vary plant sizes. Planting smaller hedges along fences that have larger, more established neighboring hedges or trees will help your backyard feel more private, while drawing the eye up and over the neighboring rooftop.
Enhance your views. You might align a group of trees to draw focus to a distant hill to help extend the focus out beyond your yard.
Create landscape rooms. A large backyard provides the opportunity to break the space down into zones with different uses. This works particularly well when the backyard has a slope and retaining walls are required. These zones could include a formal seating area, a fire-pit area, a grass zone for play, a veggie patch and so on. These zones can be defined by changes in materials, planting beds with hedges or trees, decorative screens, gates or an archway — you can get creative with zoning.
Breaking down the space into different rooms also gives you the ability to stage the construction of the landscape. This can be useful if your current budget does not allow for the entire design to be done at once.
Keep materials and colors to a minimum. For a successful design, it’s best not to go overboard with the number of materials and colors you include. We’d recommend a maximum of two types of hardscaping (such as pavers, concrete or cobblestones), one type of timber finish and a planting palette that complements the style of garden you are going for. The goal is to create a landscape that works harmoniously throughout – from hardscaping to softscaping.
Choose plants that suit the environment. Your plant species selection will be driven by the location and climate of your yard. Choose species that have similar foliage, colors and flowers for a cohesive look.
Layer plants. As a general rule, we create layers of planting ranging from low ground covers at the front to taller hedges along the perimeter or fences. This helps draw the eye upward and makes the yard feel larger. Layering from low to high also allows the user to view all of the different species within the space at once. When layering your planting, make sure the colors work well together.
Be budget-savvy. If you have a large garden and a limited budget, look to include varieties of wide-spreading ground covers and larger shrubs or hedges. Flowering ground covers are affordable, cover a lot of space, are relatively low-maintenance and come in an endless variety of foliage and flower colors.
Consider less mature and more affordable plants. These will take longer to grow to maturity but will create serious cost savings.
Frame the perimeter. Most boundary fences are fairly unattractive and detract from the rest of the space. Planting fast-growing, dense hedges that grow to at least the height of the fence is the most common approach for perimeter screening. You might consider species such as Pittosporum, Viburnum and Abelia, depending on your location and climate.
Screen the perimeter. Another method for disguising a fence is to attach mesh panels or climber-plant wires to it and create a green wall.
Paint the fence. Choosing a dark paint color, such as charcoal, will provide an attractive backdrop to the green foliage of your hedges and create visual depth – without breaking the budget.
Use shade trees. These can provide attractive spaces for relaxation and entertaining. When placing shade trees in a large backyard, consider the species (deciduous or evergreen) and the location.
2. Adam McDonald, Director at Impressions Landscape – Design
Ask yourself questions about your existing yard.
- How much are you willing to spend?
- What are the main strengths of the site and how best can it be designed to support or further strengthen them?
- Are there any issues with the garden you want to overcome or features you’d like to conceal?
- Where is the sun at different times throughout the day?
Add elements to enhance backyard interest.
- Create an entertaining zone.
- Promote movement through the garden with informal access routes to different areas and zones.
- Play with shapes to create interest and blur straight boundary lines. This can be achieved with something as simple as a curved and flowing garden bed or deep borders.
- Choose fast-growing plants to fast-track your design.
3. Brooke Tovey, Landscape Designer at Dimension Gardenscape
Ask yourself about your design requirements.
- Do you have privacy requirements (for example, do you wish to inhibit a neighbor’s view into your garden or a view from the street)?
- Do you want to add in seating or a dining area?
- Does the design need to cater to children or pets?
- Are there any easement restrictions on your garden?
Consider a native planting scheme. Natives are great, as they require less water and maintenance. Growing taller plants around the perimeter will soften the fence and provide privacy.
Incorporate a formal planting. Creating spaces and experiences in a formal garden is typically done using straight lines, glossy green leaves and white flowers.
Try a cottage garden. This design is all about creating meandering paths, mystery and intrigue to draw you into the next part of the garden. Use stepping stones rather than solid paths and add in lots of flowering plants and color.
Add a striking feature. Create a focal point by adding in a beautiful water feature or a statement plant that provides a pop of bright color, such as red-hot poker (Kniphofia spp.).