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Botanic Garden > Garden Articles > Landscaping > How to Tap the Potential of a Big Side Yard

How to Tap the Potential of a Big Side Yard

2016/8/12 17:59:52
When the land on either side of your home is nearly as large as the structure itself, you may feel overwhelmed. The obvious solution is to treat it as a private arboretum or golf course — a space worthy of turf grass.

But think again: Can you devise a distinct design theme that gives special attention to this oversized location? Use mature trees and shrubs rather than petite perennials or ground covers in your landscaping. Define the broad sweeps by emphasizing the distant vistas. Create a point of view with vignettes of plants, art and furnishings in the foreground.

The large side yard gives you a chance to think big and go bold. Treat that vast space with thoughtful planning and intentional details. You'll be rewarded with unexpected beauty every season.

Here are some of my favorite examples of confident design, specifically for the often overlooked plus-size side yard.

Traditional Landscape by Andrew Renn Andrew Renn Two special details make this grand lawn feel more intimate, appropriately scaled to the humans who stroll here. The first appears in the foreground where two deep planting beds are outlined by low boxwood hedging, mirroring one another on either side of the lawn. Anyone who walks through this opening feels safe and welcome. This detail is similar to path treatments that vary in width, encouraging pedestrians to slow down and admire the garden's sensory gifts.

The second curvaceous detail emerges in the distance — an arbor that acts as a doorway to the hidden garden beyond. This arbor's placement is successful because the lawn continues beneath it like a walking path — and plantings on either side prevent anyone from side-stepping the journey. Contemporary Landscape by Randy Thueme Design Inc. - Landscape Architecture Randy Thueme Design Inc. - Landscape Architecture Hard and soft elements give this side yard a modern sensibility that makes coming here a treat. This is a distinctly linear space, with lawn, path, planting bed and fencing lined up in parallel.

That type of treatment could feel rather severe, but the designer has used several tricks to soften the scene:
  1. The blue stone walkway looks like a band that nicely frames the lawn.
  2. The trees are limbed up and planted in a row, hedge-like.
  3. The little clipped boxwood balls echo the green, organic shapes of the trees.
  4. The cedar fencing is natural rather than painted, silhouetting the sculptural trees; fence boards are aligned horizontally to reinforce the contemporary vibe.
Traditional Landscape Traditional Landscape Re-imagined from ordinary lawn to extraordinary plant collection, this special side garden offers a journey through a verdant, leafy understory. There's a distinct feeling of separateness, thanks to the mature shade tree that creates a canopy. It filters the sunlight and casts a dappled shadow pattern on the ferns and hostas below.

The meandering path, laid with crushed stone, offers a way to easily navigate the space. It also simplifies maintenance activities because you can bring a wheeled cart or wagon along the path.

Browse photos of beautiful garden paths Traditional Exterior by Westover Landscape Design, Inc. Westover Landscape Design, Inc. The circular seating area links a large side yard with the equally large front yard, giving both a raison d'etre.

The rounded "carpet" of crushed stone has some nice detailing, including the block edging and the flagstone path that cuts through it. Not too casual; not too formal. Definitely inviting.

The rounded area (complete with two charming turquoise Adirondack chairs and a small side table) serves the same purpose as a front porch, providing bonus seating to the two benches on the entry threshold of this traditional home. This side yard treatment is both attractive and neighbor friendly. Transitional Landscape by Narofsky Architecture + ways2design Narofsky Architecture + ways2design This side yard has perfect proportions, beginning with its width, which is equal to the height of the architecture (this is an often-used design technique — imagine flipping down your house on its side into the yard — to calculate the dimensions of a garden space).

Longer than it is wide, the side garden is nicely divided into thirds, and each slender band plays a part to create its drama and energy.

To the left, against the home: A colorful bed with permanent plantings closer to the structure and seasonal plantings at the edge.

At center: A graphic walkway comprising 30-inch-square pavers. I love the rhythmic vibe of this treatment. The strong lines have a magnetic quality that holds the entire side garden together and leads the eye to the seating area/patio as its destination.

To the right, furthest from the home: An allee of trees. They will soon mature to visually offset the weight of the architecture — and give this side garden a sense of enclosure. Brilliant! Contemporary Landscape by The Garden Consultants, Inc. The Garden Consultants, Inc. The side lawn has given way to the side meadow — and nothing could be dreamier than this gorgeous treatment that uses prairie-inspired perennials and ornamental grasses. The designer calls this installation "drifts of naturalistic plantings."

The soft, billowy effect is a huge success, mainly because the elements are massed into irregular rows tiered by height. Closer to the home you see the row of tall, slender feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster') — burnished tips catching the morning light. Next, there is a grouping of Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum 'Atropurpureum'), with lavender dome-like flowers on tall stalks. Other perennials and unstructured grasses continue the theme in the foreground.

And while this area could look hard to naviagate, the tall arbor in the distance suggests otherwise. I, for one, want to meander through the meadow to find out where it leads.

Learn more about natural garden design Contemporary Landscape by AMS Landscape Design Studios, Inc. AMS Landscape Design Studios, Inc. A large side garden gets upgraded to a private courtyard with sophisticated lines, incredible details and luxe accessories. This is more than an outdoor "room," it's a grand, fresh-air environment where two or 20 can easily gather.

A low wall encloses the space and defines it as a distinct environment, while the flooring's importance is elevated, thanks to bands of stone that turn a mass of crushed rock into an interesting patterned carpet.

Low, tightly clipped boxwood provides "baseboard" detailing, connecting the horizontal and vertical planes with precision.

The minimalistic furnishings are all that are needed to complete the scene: Two chaises, placed for impact with lemon-yellow pillows. They visually balance two rounded objects — an oval-clipped tree in the distance and a stainless steel orb in the foreground.

Like a jewel box, this space opens to reveal treasures within. You may not want to enter and disturb its perfection. But then again, nothing could be more luxurious than to sit here with a tall, cool drink, soaking up the sun. Traditional Landscape by Woodburn & Company Landscape Architecture, LLC Woodburn & Company Landscape Architecture, LLC Sometimes, the simplest solution is the most attractive one.

Here, a wide band of lawn turns this side yard into a pleasant journey, connecting two shade gardens for a finished composition. The vast proportion of the grassy swath makes it a winning solution.

Rather than limiting the path to something barely wide enough to accommodate the lawn mower, this area of lawn is at least six feet wide and seemingly endless in its length.

As a design element, the lawn occupies important "negative" space, in balance with the side garden's "positive" elements: mature shade trees that flank the central path.

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