Design like a Pro

When you break it all down, designing your own yard can be very rewarding, and not as hard as one may think. Keeping in mind certain principles, you can design your own yard, and hopefully have fun doing it. Below are a few of my own tips that I follow, when undertaking a new project.

  1. Keep things simple. People find the need to try to cram too much stuff into one space, or simply try too hard to fancy it all up. A busy garden isn’t pleasing to the eye, and will quickly date itself. Monochromatic colour schemes (with a splash of colour is always nice), organized planting, and simple lines are a common favourite in my book.
  2. Be aware of scale. A backyard design that is 85% stonework, and 10% grass and 5% planting is not very appealing. I always find that keeping a healthy amount of rich green grass is an easy way to please the eye, even if you don’t want to cut it. You could always install turf! And if you hate grass, then make sure that your plant ratio is complimentary to your hard surfaces. As well, a 24″ wide walkway is not a comfortable width to walk on, so bump up the scale and make transition areas as easy to navigate as possible. You should be able to pass someone quite easily without bumping one another off. Plants that are too large (or too small) for a space is something to be mindful of. Plants should feel like they belong there, and that they have actually been there all along.
  3. Use fewer plants. I can always spot a homemade garden a mile away. I know everyone loves plants. I am guilty of the same. So be choosy. Planting every variety you love in your backyard is not helping your cause. Choosing a few complimentary colours to one another, or even monochromatic, is the best way to calm your eye muscles. So choose a few plants, and repeat. You want cohesion. Seeing different groupings of plants throughout the design creates that familiarity, and is comforting to those spending time in your space.
  4. Odd Numbers?? I think many people have heard the common rule of “planting in odd numbers”. I don’t always follow this rule, but most often. When the quantity of plants exceeds five, I don’t find it makes a difference. One is nice, three and five is great, but I find I will never plant only 2 plants in a row.
  5. Create focal points. Everyone likes something to look at, whether its a beautiful Japanese Maple by your patio, or a piece of art amongst the shrubs. I like adding focal points where they are not expected, like at the end of a long walkway, a detail in stonework, or something architectural. Be different.
  6. Go vertical. I find nothing more boring than everything on the horizontal. Its flat. It always costs more to go up, but I find it is well worth it and necessary to an original design. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, and can be achieved with stone, wood or even plants. Build a stone seat wall. Add a decorative arbour or wood screen. And be sure to plant that beautiful shade tree or linear hedge to help balance out your horizontal surfaces.
  7. Create a destination. I always try to separate each area into zones. By having a cooking area, dining area, lounging area, play area, etc. it createsthat destination. You could be dining out back with your friends, and see those comfy lounge chairs by the fire across the yard calling out your name. Everyone loves a change of scenery from time to time. It creates a completely different experience for you and your guests, and they will already be planning the next get-together at your house again soon.
  8. Add texture. Everyone tends to do the same thing. Put down a patio or deck and be done with it. It functional, it works, right? But you could step things up drastically by just adding in a few different textures here and there. I like to use both wood and stone if I can, or integrate two (MAYBE three!) different stone materials. I like to border my different zones, which helps to break up that “sea of stone” look that I love so much. And have fun with your plant choices. Place plants with miniature leaves beside one with larger ones. Use wispy ornamental grasses that blow in the wind. Use something spiky. Or incredibly soft. And have fun with it.