Landscape ideas: How to Create Your Perfect Backyard
There are many variables that factor into your decision when buying a home. Location, price, and square footage are all important considerations and you may find that your otherwise perfect home has an unkempt yard that needs landscaping. Fortunately, creating your perfect backyard yourself is easier than you might think. You can actually do most of the work yourself, which saves quite a bit of money.
Before you start landscaping, there are a few things you should consider. Think about the primary uses of your backyard. Will you be using it for entertaining guests, as a play area for the children, or to practice some of your hobbies? Consider the size of the yard, your landscaping budget, and the way you plan to use the yard. Thinking about these factors will aid you throughout the process.
While considering the future uses of your backyard, keep in mind that you won’t be the only one using it. It’s much more efficient to create a backyard setting that can be enjoyed by the whole family rather than something that will only be used sparingly or only by one member of the family.
The next step is to look at what you already have in your backyard versus your final vision of the perfect yard. Whatever your intentions, it’s always good to consider including an area to provide shade from the sun and shelter from bad weather as well as a place where you can’t be disturbed by the neighbors.
Accounting for Water Drainage
One thing to consider when landscaping is the way the water drains from your yard. While you can change your yard, you can’t change the weather, so it’s best to arrange the former to agree with the latter. Here are a couple of things to think about:
- Is there a drainage pattern? Does the whole yard stay wet after a rain or do some areas dry off more quickly than others?
- Are there any spots that collect water in a pool but later become dry in the sunlight?
Accounting For Space
Always consider the total amount of space you have available when designing your yard. A yard with a patio and large trees would require a fairly big yard. Sketching out your design helps tremendously in determining what exactly you can do with the yard.
Create a Plan
First you’ll need to determine what you’ll be using the yard for, since it’s easiest to center your ideas on that concept. Make a list of the things you want to include, ensuring that you have enough space for them; some common yard additions include:
- Play areas
- Swing sets or playhouses
Dividing it Up
Designing a yard isn’t as simple as just placing the different sections next to each other. You must account for barricades, entrances, exits, and paths. Remember to include the following in your design if you plan on using them:
- Fences or retaining walls
- Steps for areas of different elevation
- Seating and other furniture, such as furniture storage benches
Once you have the basic layout of the yard intact, you can fill in the empty spaces with the desired vegetation.
Creating a Sketch
It isn’t enough to simply sketch out yard; it’s important to make sure that everything is to scale so that you’re getting an accurate picture. Use graph paper; each block represents one square foot. Sketch out trees and plants according to their maximum growth potential. Make sure that your fences are drawn to scale, and keep in mind that most yards aren’t actually symmetrical.
You want to be as detailed and specific as possible with this sketch, from the location of major elements such as a pool to minor things such as mulch or gravel. At this point you also want to specify any plans to block a particular view with a fence or vegetation.
Utilities and Water Drainage
Your layout sketch should include the electrical lines that will run from the house in order to power any lights or other electrical needs. Also remember to sketch out the extensions for your water lines. If you live in a dry climate, you’ll need to install a sprinkler system to keep your grass healthy. Be sure to include such irrigation systems in your layout.
It’s a good idea to check with your local laws to find out if there are any stipulations regarding construction. Most of the time, your city government will send a specialist to assess your yard and determine whether the construction is safe, especially in terms of its distance from the home. Some renovations that require permits include:
- In-ground pools
- Buildings and retaining walls
While you may be able to handle certain aspects of the landscaping job, there are likely others that you don’t feel as comfortable doing yourself. This is where contractors can come in handy, performing the tasks that are too difficult. Ask around with family and friends to see if they have any experience with local workers. Consider the following when hiring a contractor:
- Get at least 3 bids
- Find out how long each contractor will take to finish the job
- Check out their references
- Remember that many contractors underbid to win jobs
- Follow your instinct; if you have a bad feeling about someone, it’s probably justified
Run your electrical, water, and drainage lines underground before beginning any other kind of landscaping. Additions such as retaining walls, fences, a furniture garden bench, and walkways should also be taken into account at this point. You may want to consider adding accents such as fountains, birdbaths, sundials, and gazing balls.
It can be easy to underestimate the space requirements of water features such as waterfalls. Be sure that you have accurate measurements of their dimensions before making plans to include them in your design.
Accounting for Children and Pets
Your children will almost certainly spend lots of time playing in the yard, so be sure to create a space to accommodate them and any yard accessories such as swing sets and sandboxes. Creating a space that they can have to their own is important, but you do want to make sure you can keep an eye on them wherever they are.
Give as much room as possible to children and pets so that they have plenty of space to play in. You may have to sacrifice one of your own yard additions in order to give the kids enough space, but sometimes a simple rearrangement can do the trick.
Choosing the Appropriate Plants
Do a little research to determine the proper plants for your yard. If you live in a dry climate, pick up some succulent plants or ones that tolerate droughts well, while moss, ferns, or other ground cover plants would be appropriate for a humid climate. Plants and trees are classified with numbers that tell you the kind of climates for which they’re best suited, which can save a lot of future headaches.
Don’t forget to plan ahead for the growth of your vegetation and its roots. If you’re installing a pool, keep trees and other plants that “shed” away from the pool or its filter will get clogged.
If shade is one of your primary concerns, you’ll want to stay away from those tall, thin evergreens. Fruit trees, on the other hand, can provide adequate shade but they may take a few years to reach that level of fullness and height. If your yard features a pergola, covering it in vines makes for an easy way to provide shade.
Choosing Annuals or Perennials
Using a variety of annual and perennial flowers can give your yard a unique flavor and appearance. Perennial flowers bloom every year and can be pruned if they start to get out of hand. Annual flowers only bloom once and don’t return the next year, so they should be used to alter the appearance of your yard from year to year.
Placing Your Vegetation
It’s best to plant your trees and plants in a specific pattern: the tallest in the back of the yard, with the mid-sized plants in front of them and then the smallest plants at the forefront.
Choosing the Right Furniture
The type of furniture that you include in your yard depends on your personal tastes. Some people like to have a traditional dining table while others just like to have casual seating. You can make an area seem less sparse by including plant boxes and other additions.
Finally, if you allocated some space for just relaxing or spending time with the family, include any hammocks, benches furniture, and tables in this area.
Designing your own backyard affords you the opportunity to create something that’s truly an expression of your own personality while still providing a place to play, relax, and spend time together for your family.
About the Author
Stan Horst resides in the Blue Ridge Mountain Range in Virginia, right next to the Shenandoah Valley. He operates Cabin Creekwood in the town of Lyndhurst, where he and his family provide lodging in VA rental cabins for guests from around the planet. The family-run business continues to be successful through the help of Stan’s wife of 21 years, Deb, and their teenage son and daughter. In his free time, Stan manages BetterBenches.com, which provides distinctive, high-quality benches and accessories for the backyard, patio, and home. Before becoming a business owner, Stan worked in carpentry with a special focus on furniture design and cabinet construction. His background in the carpentry field provides him with firsthand knowledge of the hard work and attention to detail required for creating quality woodworking. When he’s not working between businesses or writing articles in his office, Stan can be found hiking, camping, and generally enjoying the outdoors with his family and their dog. Stan also enjoys spending time in his garden whenever possible.