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Planning Your Outdoor Space

Homeowners dream of a backyard oasis, a space for entertaining, relaxing, and living. Your dream requires planning your outdoor space. Our tips and hacks help you shape your dreams and visions into reality.

Having a master plan that incorporates long-range projects with nitty-gritty details helps you create the backyard of your dreams.


Importance of the Backyard

Most people plan to showcase the front yard. After all, passerby and visitors see the front yard. Most never enter our homes and fewer yet our backyard. Why spend time and money on a space few others ever visit?

But that is the point. The backyard, properly designed, becomes your personal oasis, a place where you, your family, and chosen others relax together. This space tucked away from the public, offers sanctuary from the world. Here, you relax, entertain, and play.

As such, to create your dream retreat, consider the entire space before starting. Picture the finished project. Each part contributes to the entire effect, so plan carefully.


Outdoor backyard patio. Fenced backyard with patio deck and outdoor furniture illuminated in evening stock photos



Some factors to consider:

  • How much time do you plan to spend in the backyard?
  • Are you willing to spend time maintaining your yard or would you prefer a low-maintenance space?
  • What is your budget? (Keep in mind you can build in stages, so you don’t need a huge budget upfront unless you choose to do so.)
  • How does your weather affect the usage of your backyard?
    • amount of rain
    • wind factors
    • seasonal changes
  • What activities are most necessary to you?
    • Grill?
    • Outdoor kitchen?
    • Comfortable furniture?
    • Quiet space for a cozy retreat?
    • Entertaining friends?
    • Hobby space?
    • Play area?
    • Garden area?  (edible or decorative?)
    • Pets sharing the space?



Begin to Dream

As you consider the above factors, make notes of your thoughts.

Then consider the materials. Brick pavers, cement, stone, and grass offer various choices. Many use a mix of two or more, but some feature only one dominant material. Costs vary depending on materials, so please keep that in mind, too.

While the cost of materials and the time to install factor in, so does the ongoing maintenance. Consider whether you want to be mowing a large lawn or maintaining a vegetable garden. Sustainable plants require less care, but still, have needs.

As you dream, be realistic and honest with yourself. If you are not willing to maintain the yard of your dreams and cannot afford to hire someone else to, your dream oasis might become more of a chore than a retreat.

However, that said, some people thrive on maintaining a beautiful higher-maintenance yard. Just be honest and realistic as you plan.

Also, remember to think ahead. While your baby might not be crawling yet, he eventually might appreciate a playground area. You might not need to add the playset yet, but consider leaving space for it for future building.

Similarly, think ahead to your future plans. Dream for today, but also for the future. What are your plans for the next five years? 10 years?

Of course, plans may change. Life is like that. But consider leaving flexibility in your plans for what your future might hold.


Evaluate Your Current Space

Walk around your backyard space. Take note of what you like and what you don’t like about the space itself and any current elements. This is the time to make a list of what you want to keep. An old shade tree might stay, even if it needs a bit of upkeep. That rose bush your mother gave you might also stay. As you list the items to keep, also note what might need to be done, such as pruning the rose bush.

Also, note items that need to go. These might include the swing set your kids have outgrown or the wooden fence section that has rotted.

Are there items you aren’t certain about yet? Go ahead and list them in a separate column. Planning your outdoor space is more dynamic than stagnant. Over time, some things will change. We grow, we change plans. It happens.

Be sure to note storage sheds, a garage, and any fences. Will this stay? Do they need repair?

Along your route, consider the wild animals, too. Deer, rabbits, and other visitors might find your vegetable garden quite tasty unless you fence them off. Some trees create good nesting areas for birds you might want to invite in. Butterflies and hummingbirds visit favorite flower areas.


Know What is Allowed

If you live in an HOA or in a city or town with set regulations, learn what they are before you progress with your plans. Many have rules such as fence material or height, types or a number of trees, or even materials you can use. Not only do you risk a fine if you break the rules, but you will also need to take down your project.




Planning Your Outdoor Space


Now put your plans to paper. Use a pencil and keep a good eraser handy. It’s much easier to change plans as you go while in the initial phases of planning your outdoor space. Once that fence is installed and new trees planted, changes become a bit more challenging.


Designer Tip:

Draw bubbles around spaces that you plan for structures such as a patio, garage, pool, or playground. You don’t need to be an artist. These bubbles allow you to link your space together with pathways or separations. It makes it easier to visualize how the spaces work together.


Another Tip:

We find it more useful to have a paper with the outline that includes the basics that stay such as the house, perhaps a large tree, the garage, etc. Anything that is already there and won’t be moved is on the planning board.

Then, cut out shapes or bubbles of another paper and use these to plan your spaces. It’s even more helpful if they are drawn and cut to a scale. Consider using graph paper to make your scaling easier. We use graph paper for both the set planning board and also the movable objects.

This way, you get a real feel for how well areas flow together. Are your walkways of usable space? Can you easily navigate to the pool from the patio? Will the kids get to the play area without stepping through the garden?

By creating this movable map, you make sure each space is considered according to the needed size and use.

Check Inside When Planning Your Outdoor Space

Why inside? Your backyard should bring visual appeal, even when you are inside, looking out. Designers call the backyard and patio a form of artwork viewed from your windows or doorways. It should bring you pleasure, even from inside your home.

Additionally, make sure that accessing the backyard or patio area is easy. You don’t want to brush up against that 4-foot high cactus each time to walk out the door.



Footpath Leading To House Door. Tiled footpath along pond and plants leading to door of modern house royalty free stock image


Time to Zoom In

Now, look at each space in your plan close up. If your relaxation area is viewable from the neighbor’s kitchen window, will you be able to enjoy your quiet time? You might want to include some greenery or a fence to block the view. If you have a playset for your kids, consider the orientation. No one wants to swing facing the strong afternoon sun.

Little touches make a big impact. An arbor leading into your garden area, for instance, makes a statement. If you have pets, did you plan enough space for them to chase a ball without running over your petunias?

Most designers also encourage people to consider using native plants where possible to minimize the environmental impact. If your region is quite dry, low-water plants, native grasses, or even pebbles might make more sense. For areas with heavy frequent rainfall, cacti might not be the best choice.

Zoom Out Now

Take a view of the entire area now. How does it fit with the house and the areas around it? This area becomes your outdoor room, so carefully consider the design and colors.

Look for furniture that melds well with your overall design. Remember this is your oasis.


Logical Stages

Wow, what a plan! How will you complete it in a weekend?

Unless you are hiring the project out to a professional, consider working on one area at a time. The plan is to keep you focused on the final project. But it need not be accomplished in one day.

Think of your plan as the blueprints for a house. The builder begins with the plans in blueprint form but first needs to lay the foundation. From there, he builds the structure. Eventually, the house is completed, one step at a time.

When planning your outdoor space, consider which areas need to be completed first. Building a firepit before the patio is complete might not make sense. But putting in the kids’ playground might.

Also, look ahead at your plan as you do each step. If you plan an outdoor kitchen with a gas hookup, installing the gas line for it when you dig for the patio makes sense. Keep everything noted as you proceed.


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