Need Design Ideas

sanctified(Zone 5)May 28, 2011

First time post, long time lurker. I appreciate the great things that everyone contributes here so that people inexperienced (like me) can learn and improve the looks of their yards.

We bought this house 2 1/2 years ago and have finally found the money to start working on the yard. Two weeks ago today I planted grass seed and we are happy with how it is coming in. My post today is to ask for some help and insight on how to shape and lay out flower beds for the back yard. I have included a few pictures from the back door of the yard as well as a grid diagram that I made of the yard.

We are in suburban Salt Lake City. The back of my house faces south. The three trees in a row are sycamores that I got last fall for a killer price and the other tree in the opposite corner is a spring snow crab apple planted two weeks ago. If you look at the diagram, that is what we had planned on doing last fall but I was unsure of how to shape the areas and ended up planting all grass for now with the intention of making up my mind and shaping it later. The sprinkler system is set up so the two flower beds are on their own zone. Also, I didn't plant grass in the far south east corner which is where I'm going to build a vegetable garden. (which is really going to be a compost area and raspberry patch. no veggies-don't cook much.)

Future plans and hopes for the yard? I'm for sure going to put in a pondless water feature. I have thought about doing a fire pit but am not sure where to put it. I also would like to add another couple trees. I like trees that look interesting. (Was thinking of a sweetgum for its fall color.)

Yard dimensions are 80' east/west, and about 100' north/south.

Thanks in advance for any help. I'm sure I missed some essential information and will watch the post closely.

Here is a link that might be useful: Yard Pictures

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
karinl(BC Z8)

Wow, that's some white fence. And a bit of a fishbowl effect!

I think in your plan you've succumbed to two temptations: one is the urge to cling to the perimeter of the yard, the other is the urge to stay with the straight lines that delineate all the yards around you.

My instinct here would be to go with curves, and I would start with a curved path meandering through the yard with a curved flower bed along its length.

I'd be extremely keen to cover that fence and block some views. Maybe a deep border of tall shrubs at the back, or some vines climbing the fence on some trellises, with some seating there to enjoy it or rest from tending it, would give you somewhere to run that path to. The long curved bed could flow into one along the back fence, perhaps.

And while the trees in a row don't look bad, I'd pay attention to where the canopy of any other trees you put in will be, and try to make sure they screen either your house or your yard, or both, from where the neighbours would have a vantage point. That, and provide shade. And where there will be shade, that is where you might like to sit. Of course a sunny spot for spring and fall will be nice too.


    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 11:44PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
sanctified(Zone 5)

Thanks for your response. The fence IS really white. I took the photo with my iPhone and that washed out the colors quite a bit but white vinyl fences are a staple in my area. I like the suggestion of of vines up some trellises to break up the white.

I had been toying with the idea of putting in a flagstone path from the back door to the back garden area. I like the look of stones laid out spaced so that grass can grow between them laid low enough to mow over the top of.

I planted the sycamores as a sun screen. This area heats up a lot in the summer and wanted some filtered shade. I thought about planting a tree or two along the back fence but also didn't want to shade the vegetable area.

I know that hard lines aren't the best for flower borders, especially with an already square yard. I didn't know how to shape them though. Is a long rectangle (east side along fence) with wavy lines enough to break up the hard lines look? What shapes are preferred for square yards?

    Bookmark   May 29, 2011 at 5:13AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Does water often pool on the surface as shown in the photos? (I.e. Left of photo 1, centre of photo 3). It looks like the houses behind yours are sited higher than your yard, and your yard looks quite flat. There also doesn't seem to be any noticeable swales (i.e. ditches) or any grading elements to keep water away from the house. During heavy rainstorms, do you know if the water runs in any particular direction(s) on the surface?

Any shape can be used in a square yard, and hard lines aren't necessarily a bad thing for flower borders. Using straight, angular lines can be a very straightforward method to clearly defining spaces and planting areas. Downfalls, of course, can include the difficulty of implementation and maintenance, depending on what materials are chosen.

With such a big canvas to work with, try defining the empty space first. I.e., Instead of designing a bunch of planting beds, try designing the shape of the lawn. The tendency to determine individual elements first often causes people to ignore the overall spaces. The result is usually a mish-mash of unrelated "things" floating in a space that is poorly or awkwardly defined. This may be a helpful exercise.

- Audric

    Bookmark   May 29, 2011 at 11:00AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

And for fun - maybe even a little inspiration - look at the Perennials and Conifers forums for Ken Adrian's picture threads titled VISTAS... (my links end up in cyberspace).

On his property, grass is the "meandering path" and it doesn't seem to matter where you go, it's all good.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2011 at 1:30PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
sanctified(Zone 5)

First of all thanks again for the responses.

Bonsai, we have been getting a ton of rain lately and that has contributed to the puddles. I brought in 72 yards of "topsoil" and leveled things out. The yard does slope towards the south and also to the east. I leveled out the yard just a few weeks ago and need to still raise a few of the lower areas still (the grass seed isn't growing there). It does slope away from the house enough that I am not concerned with water entering the house.

I absolutely agree with what you said about the having a clean slate to work with. I posted this because I do want to make a master plan that I can work towards in the next few years.

Duluth- I appreciate the suggestions. I will definitely check out those threads. I have gone to local gardens and taken pictures for inspiration and have found things I do like.

I have always thought that when you lay out a yard you put flower beds here and there, throw in a few trees and make the rest grass. I want things to flow though and want to tie everything together. What design elements can you include to tie in grass and flower beds. How do you make things flow? Is it by shapes? As you probably understand from reading my posts by now that I am not too artistic.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2011 at 2:00PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

sanctified, you might visit your public library and see what they have in the way of introductory books about landscaping, and also any that focus on backyards; in the former you'll learn a bit about landscaping principles, and the latter will expose you to a wide variety of ways to arrange and landscape a backyard. If there are particular titles someone recommends which the library doesn't own, the library's reference staff can obtain them for you through their Interlibrary Loan service (sometimes free, sometimes for a small fee).

You can also browse the books at your local Lowe's or Home Depot. And you can search topics like backyard landscaping ideas in Google Images (everything from soup to nuts!).

Your backyard is a bit unusual in that it's larger than most suburban yards, and at this point pretty much a blank slate. You don't have sizable features like swimming pools, playgrounds, workshops, etc. which dictate what area's available for lawn and beds. And your yard is pancake-flat, so you don't have any of the "This corner slopes too much to be mowable, so we'll have to put a big bed there" situations that can help shape your starting points and choices.

But you do have a few starting points: first, the patio: would you want to add to it? How about landscaping alongside the patio? I don't quite understand the wooden railing (presumably stairs from the house) and how that connects with the patio. You might want paths to lead from those stairs and/or the patio around the house to the front yard, or across the backyard to the cement/gravel (a parking area? something you might want to hide with shrubs?) shown on your diagram. You might want to landscape along the paths -- or not have paths at all (temporarily or permanently) and walk in the lawn.

Another starting point is your raspberry/compost area: you know its location; the only issue is size and shape. How much will the fences shade the area? Will you want to keep the raspberries away from the shade of the fence? Will you want shrubs or other landscaping to hide the compost area from the patio and house?

When you sit on the patio, where will you look? Should you plant something special in that direction? How about the windows that overlook the backyard? What would you like to see from those windows?

Something else to consider is ease of mowing: you don't want to lay out any curves that are too tight to negotiate the mower around, or any awkward corners you'll need to hand trim (a good argument for curved beds in the corners of the yard).

Here's an old thread where we argued about bed shapes. I think laag's before-and-after plans will interest you.

Here's another old thread where the homeowner was hashing out the shape of his backyard perimeter beds (someone has conveniently bumped it to the first page today!):
And here's his latest project thread, with a lot of ideas and the progress as of last fall (this is more to show you how ideas evolve and change; I'm not suggesting you duplicate his pergola):

    Bookmark   May 29, 2011 at 10:42PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

"I have always thought that when you lay out a yard you put flower beds here and there, throw in a few trees and make the rest grass... How do you make things flow?"

One way to break down a yard design would be space - either positive space and negative space. Positive space = stuff/things/elements. Negative space = empty space. Positive space is used to defined negative space. For example you can use trees, fences, walls, pergolas, etc. to define the remaining spaces to be used.

The tendency is to design the stuff/things/elements first, perhaps because they're smaller and more manageable (financially or mentally). We are also often fed a steady stream of vignettes and close-ups of great gardens and landscapes on TV and magazines which explain the individual elements but don't really discuss on how their functional or spatial relationship to the overall plan contributes to its overall success.

When you add flower beds and trees to an empty yard, are adding things floating in an empty space. The empty space is basically the leftovers. And although some leftovers (Thanksgiving?) are highly anticipated, you'll likely end up with a Swiss-cheese space of a yard, pockmarked with flower beds and trees.

The alternative route is to design the empty space first. You can also equate "empty space" to "uses" or "functions," such as an open lawn, eating/dining areas, or a play area for the kids. These uses can be put on a rough plan in large bubbles representing their ideal size and location. Flow between each space or use can be indicated by arrows. Is it easy to get to things that should be close together? Are some things too close to each other?

What you are creating is a "bubble diagram," or to use a fancier term, a "functional relationship diagram." What you are determining from the get-go is if the overall arrangement of the yard will work - without having the stress what shape the beds should be!

Once you have figured out how you want to arrange the spaces within the yard, that's when you can start tackling the shape and configurations of the beds and other plantings. Do you want screening around the patio? How about surrounding the most-used places with the most intense plantings where they can be appreciated most? Do you really need a flower bed next to the back fence, when you can enjoy it more by a dining area near the house? How about a low hedge to divide high-intensity uses, such as entertaining and play areas, from low-intensity uses such as the remainder of the lawn?

Long story short: Think of planning your yard like scheduling your day. If you plan the big, important things first, the smaller, less-important or flexible things will fit in nicely around them.

- Audric

    Bookmark   May 30, 2011 at 12:29AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Clematis vines on a trellis in front the fence would be nice. This would soften the vinyl fence, I am doing this along my vinyl fence this year I am not a professional by any way but I'm thinking when you walk out of your back door a stone pathway that leads to a round patio with a water feature or fire pit? This would break up the box look. Then some arbors with vines could give some visual and shade the the patio space....We went natural rock for our flower beds. Eventually we are building a patio awning and stone patio but for now in that space we have gravel/rock....

    Bookmark   June 16, 2011 at 11:18AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Personally I would use plenty of large and medium sized schrubs to break up the whole space and make the fence dissapear from most other words making the garden look more like a natural space. Pretend it isn't so rectangular :). Possibly I would break the space so that the schrubs form a few pathways and maybe a larger space with grass in the middle. In front of the bushes would be plants and there would be a few trees behind them as well.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2011 at 5:57PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

That should read shrub...

    Bookmark   June 16, 2011 at 5:59PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Feedback on my design/plans?
In a previous thread I asked for general suggestions...
Help for shade
I need some advice . I have recently moved into a house...
Chris Cousineau
Landscape Advice Needed | New Homeowners
We just purchased our first home in the southeast and...
Sarah Bain
Need help with landscaping my front hillside
I need some help with landscaping my front hillside....
Plantings for Driveway/Walkway Design
We would like to pave the driveway. (I hope I am in...
Sponsored Products
Sea Gull Lighting Highlands 5-light Regal Bronze Chandelier
40" x 40" Eero Neo Angle Shower Enclosure
Signature Hardware
Aqua South Bay Beadboard Three-Photo Frame
$17.99 | zulily
Green 5050 LED Strip Light 60/m 10mm wide 5m Reel
Serta 39-inch Rollaway Bed with Poly Fiber Mattress
Farmhouse Oiled Bronze Pulley Adjustable Height One Light Mini Pendant
$166.00 | Bellacor
Area Rug: Meredith Brown 5' x 8'
Home Depot
SFERRA Dello Blanket Cover
$679.00 | FRONTGATE
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™