Planning Your Outdoor Space

The front yard may be the showpiece of your landscape, but the backyard is all your own, a sanctuary for relaxation, entertaining and play. If your backyard could use a facelift, don't make the mistake of slapping a patio down here and a garden border there as time and budget allow. Instead, consider the space holistically, from how you want to use the yard to how much time you want to spend working in it.


Ask yourself some basic questions. What do you want out of the yard — a playground for kids, a cozy retreat, and an entertaining patio? What materials do you like — brick pavers, water, sustainable plants? Dream a little Be honest about your level of involvement. Keep things simple but elegant. A low maintenance yard is the way to go.

Take Stock of the Property

Do a walk-around and consider what you like and don't like about the space. Make a list of what's salvageable and what's not as well as how permanent storage is positioned and whether it needs to be moved or camouflaged. Do an overal stock of what can be reused and make a list.

Know the Rules

Your city or homeowner's association may have specific regulations, like maximum fence height or projects that require permits. You don't want to break the rules and get caught. There are huge penalties if you do. Plus you don't want to upset the neighborhood.

Make a Plan, on Paper

A plan provides a birds-eye view of your overall project, which can then be implemented logically in steps. Designers often draw bubbles to represent generic spaces like a patio, playground, garage and pool, then link the bubbles together with pathways, lawn areas and gardens.

Look at the relationships between spaces, then draw them to scale. Each individual space should flow into the next, moving people from the front yard to back, from a primary patio to a secondary patio.

Check the Plan From Inside

Outdoor spaces should bring pleasure every day, even when you're inside. Look at the yard fom every window and door to see how things will line up. Make your your plan allows flow of the property andn consider how it will tie into the way you use the inside of the house, especially the kitchen.

Fine-Tune Each Area

Zoom into each "room" in your plan to fix any shortcomings and implement your small-scale dreams. If the patio area is near an unsightly view, draw in a fence or green privacy screen. If the swing set will face the afternoon sun, turn it sideways. Does the garden area need a little oomph? Consider adding an arbor for an entryway. This is where you focus on wish-list details as well. If you want a low-maintenance yard with a small environmental impact, plan low-water plants in the garden area and think about swapping out some grassy areas for native grass or pebbles.

Execute in Logical Stages

The best thing about a comprehensive plan? You don't need to do it all at once. Work on one area at a time, but make sure you're always thinking ahead. For example, if you're redoing the patio and eventually want to do an outdoor kitchen, don't wait to install the gas hookup, since it's more cost-effective to do when the ground is already dug up. Save yourself the time and money.

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