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Backyard Landscaping Designs

12 Great Ideas: From Parties to Pet Areas


Before you contemplate specific backyard landscaping designs, you have to ask yourself some basic questions. What are you looking for from your yard? Are you trying to create an entertainment area where you can host friends for cookouts? Or is kicking back and relaxing in a meditation garden more your style? If you have kids and/or pets, you'll have to take their needs into account when designing your yard.

In presenting the 12 design tips below, I treat all those issues and more. As food for thought before you begin, consider some DIY landscape design basics, such as the difference between designing for real estate value and designing for your own needs. Also browse my landscape design photos to get your creative juices flowing.

1. Divide and Conquer: The Outdoor Room

Picture of common privet hedge.
David Beaulieu

Above, I began by asking you about your expectations for outdoor living. Do you see yourself using your yard to:

  • Host cookouts?
  • Unwind and get away from it all?
  • Enjoy time outdoors with your kids and/or pets?

But the reality, for many people, is that they will be using their backyards for a combination of such pursuits. So is there a way to "have it all"?

You bet! But to achieve a multi-functional space, you'll have to get used to the concept of outdoor living spaces. The idea is to create outdoor rooms that serve distinct purposes -- just as the rooms inside your house are designed for different kinds of activities.

2. Ideas for Patios and Decks

Photo of brick patio laid in basketweave pattern.
David Beaulieu

Often, a critical component of achieving an effective design is maximizing the amount of usable space available. You may have a huge lot in back of your house, but if it's all on a slope, the space may be unusable (at least for some of the activities you'd like to use the area for). In such a case, building a deck may be the solution, whether it be attached to the house or a floating deck. View these deck pictures for some ideas.

An alternative to a deck in such a case may be to terrace the land -- perhaps by building small retaining walls -- and build a brick patio. Consult my resources on patio ideas for information on styles, materials and overcoming challenges.

3. Poolscapes

Masonry pool deck picture.
Belgard Hardscapes

Swimming pools, despite all the upkeep and special considerations they demand, are very common components of backyard landscaping. They are especially popular with those who wish to utilize their space for:

  • Entertaining and/or
  • Enjoying time outdoors with the kids

One special consideration for swimming pool owners is the necessity of surrounding the pool with a structure designed to accommodate foot traffic safely. So called "pool decks" must be durable and slip-resistant.

You also need to pay attention to your selection of plants to use around swimming pools; that's one of the issues I explore in my article on designing around swimming pools.

4. Outdoor Kitchens

Outdoor kitchens are a must for entertaining outside.
P.O.P.S Landscaping

OK, so you're truly interested in hosting cookouts? If so (and if you have the money!), you may wish to install an outdoor kitchen. An outdoor kitchen may include some or all of the following:

Some of the classier outdoor living areas sport stone kitchens.

5. Meditation Gardens in Backyard Landscaping

Picture of morning glory flower.
David Beaulieu

Hold on tight, because we're about to make a 180° turn. Clear your mind of the images I just evoked. You know, images of posh outdoor kitchens, with guests mingling around a fire pit, martinis in hand. I want you to think now about solitude, relaxation, meditation!

When you desire a private refuge, a place in which to unwind from the pressures of the day, how well does your backyard landscaping design accommodate you? Did you know that flower color influences mood? If you're trying to relax, build a meditation garden -- beginning with the selection of an appropriate color scheme.

But color selection is just one element of your meditation garden. The next 3 ideas will also help you create just the right mood in your private space.

6. Ornamental Water Features

Picture of the stone fountain, installed.
David Beaulieu

Water features are a must-have for meditation gardens. Flowing water injects the element of sound into your design — an element that you don’t get much of from plants, unless the wind is rustling their leaves. The gurgling sound from a water feature will soothe your frayed nerves when you pull into the driveway after a hard day at work.

Build a small waterfall is you desire the natural look. For fountains, there are all sorts of styles from which to choose. At the opposite pole from the "natural look" are the striking ceramic garden fountains. A compromise style between natural and jazzy can be found in stone fountains.

7. Plant Ideas: Theme Gardens

Picture of gloriosa daisy.
Interested in a wildflower theme? -- David Beaulieu

The nice thing about devoting a space specifically to relaxing is that it forces you to focus on what you want -- not some idea of "the way you're supposed to landscape" based on a TV show, not what the neighbors find pretty. You can even take a crack at creating a fantasy landscape if that's what you want.

At the very least, this is your special space, where you can dabble in a theme garden (which is basically just a garden where all the components revolve around a certain theme). Some examples:

The main rule: Remember it's your relaxing space. If you prefer Harry Potter dolls to fragrant plants, that's your business!

8. Privacy Fencing, Shrub Borders in a Backyard Landscaping Design

'Emerald Green' Arborvitae
Courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden

No surprise that one of the hallmarks of effective backyard landscaping is the provision for adequate privacy. Privacy screening is essential for a meditation garden. It's a nice complement to a swimming pool or outdoor dining area, as well.

Privacy screens can assume a number of different forms. When you hear "privacy fence," don't restrict your choices by thinking literally of only hardscape structures, such as wood fences. Plants can also be used for screening.

Using bamboo plants is an idea that would be especially appropriate for a meditation garden with a tropical theme. But any tall hedge can be just as effective. Homeowners often choose evergreen shrubs for privacy, since they will provide screening year-round.

9. Connect Point A to Point B

Picture of a concrete stepping stone walkway.
David Beaulieu

A backyard landscaping design is more informal than its front-yard counterpart, where elaborate walkways are common. But regardless of whether it's to wend your way between flower beds or vegetable gardens, or to traverse your green grass, you'll probably want to have some sort of informal path cutting through the area. A path of garden stepping stones may be just the right solution.

Don't be intimidated by the thought of mixing concrete: It's not bad, once you get used to it.

10. Dealing With Problem Areas

Picture: a steep slope landscaped with ground covers. Landscape steep slopes to prevent erosion.
David Beaulieu

Many of us are confronted with finding solutions to problem areas out back. You may have an area overrun by weeds and/or invasive plants, for example. No sooner do you get the area cleaned up than, Bam! the nasty plants return. This problem calls for the adoption of proper weed-control techniques.

Or perhaps there's some soggy land out there that you never know what to do with. Planting native wetland plants could be the answer here.

Another common problem area is the steep slope. If you don't terrace it or build a deck over it, the prospect of lawn mowing in such a dangerous spot raises its ugly head. The solution: Plant a ground cover over the offending area, instead.

11. Kids

Photo of poison ivy.
David Beaulieu

Will young children be spending a lot of time out back? Build a sandbox for them and let them while away the hours!

Short of providing specific play areas for your children, you'll need to take some precautions to keep them safe. Yard safety tips are too numerous for me to furnish an adequate list, but I'll at least mention the need to be aware of some of the poisonous plants out there.

It's not just a matter of the kids accidentally ingesting the wrong plants. Another worry are the various rash-causing plants, including poison ivy.

12. Pets and Pests

Picture of the Scarecrow Sprinkler
David Beaulieu

You have to make certain allowances for any "furry children" with whom you'll be sharing this space. Consult my resources on dogs damaging, leaving yards if your pets are of the canine persuasion. Included in those resources is a list of some plants poisonous to dogs.

If you share the space with cats, why not grow some catnip plants for your cats' enjoyment? You'll get just as much pleasure from watching them carry on in the catnip patch as they'll get -- maybe more!

To dissuade unwanted strays from traipsing through your property, consult my tips on:

The Scarecrow Sprinkler (pictured at left) will scare away many garden pests without harming them.

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