Building the Best Backyard

Today, more and more homeowners are expanding their usable living space by moving some of it outdoors.

The backyard is no longer merely a place with a swing set and a lot of grass to mow.  With a little thought and planning, your backyard can truly become a beautiful and functional extension of your home – a place to relax, entertain and get back to nature.

No matter how big or small your property or your budget, a great backyard is in your reach.  To start, take a look at the following tips that can help you figure out the best type of landscape design for your home.

1. Think about how you use your backyard.

Chances are, you need a backyard that knows how to multi-task.  Make a list of the different activities you do in your yard and the various uses you would like for the space.  For example, you may want a place for your kids to play, an area to grill or cook, a way to display your gardening skills, a quiet spot to meditate, and a location for your dog.  It may seem like a lot, but with a little planning, most backyards can support a number of different functions.

2. Plan separate functional areas.

Think about your backyard as a series of rooms, and assign each space a different purpose.  Entertaining is best done right outside the back door – preferably on a deck or patio –  and a grill or more elaborate cooking space should be nearby.   A play area for your kids can be farther away, but should always be in view of the adult sitting area.

A more secluded back corner is perfect for a bench or water feature.  Once you have your spaces mapped out, you can define them with plants and bushes, stone pathways or low walls.

3. Determine your privacy needs.

The proximity of your neighbors, roadways and other intrusions will determine how much effort you need to spend to make your backyard a private place.  If your neighbors are close or you have small children or animals to keep contained, you may want to consider high fencing around the entire yard.

High, bushy trees or other foliage can hide the fence and provide some noise control.  A water feature can also help drown out noise.  If your privacy needs are less, strategic planting can define your backyard without the need for a fence.

4. Know your budget.

Yes, landscaping can be expensive, especially if your plan includes things like a new patio, extensive plantings and furniture.  If your budget is more modest, smaller changes can still make a big difference in your yard.  Repaint older furniture in a bright (waterproof) color or invest in a few new pillows or seat cushions.

Separate functional areas with pretty pots filled with decorative grasses or other plants, or buy several bags of wood chips to spread under a swing set in the “kids’ area”.  As your budget increases, so can your plans.  It is one of the joys of landscaping that it is never quite finished – you can add something every year until you have the space you have always envisioned.

5. Make your backyard appropriate for your climate.

As you design your backyard, do not forget to consider the weather.  The most beautiful outdoor space will never get used if it is too hot or rainy or bug-filled to enjoy.  Shade trees and other higher plants can cool off a sunny yard, and a covered porch or patio can be enjoyed even in rainy season.

Choose flowers and plants that are appropriate for your climate and try to ensure that you will have something blooming all spring and summer long.  While bees and other bugs are a part of the outdoors, try to position the most attractive flowers away from seating areas, and don’t forget to fence in your vegetable garden to keep out the rabbits and other small animals.