Backyard & Outdoor Design “No-No’s”
Lately, I’ve done a lot of radio and television interviews around the upcoming filming of Home to Win 3 and one question really stood out. I was asked about the biggest mistakes or missed opportunities when it comes to the backyard and outdoor design. Here are a few of my favourite “no-no’s” for your outdoor spaces.
Placing Outdoor Play Areas
I get the value of having an outdoor play space for children because it gets them out of the house! The pitfall here is making a permanent decision about the outdoors to meet the needs of a five-year-old. Too often, I see large jungle gyms, playhouses or even giant sandboxes and swing sets as the visual focal point in the middle of a large lawn. Being able to keep an eye on your children is definitely important, but should the swing set be the only thing anyone sees when they visit your home? Items designed for kids are usually bright and colourful and always eye-catching. When we put them in the middle of the yard in a bright sunny spot, they become the item your eye always travels back to. My solution is to create a space for the play stuff that will convert into a flower bed or a second seating area once the children are done with them.
Location is the Key With Storage
Having storage in the backyard is always a good thing. A shed is a perfect solution for all those awkward items that don’t seem to fit anywhere else such as wheelbarrows and grass-covered mowers. Unfortunately, we have a bad habit of putting our sheds in the worst possible locations. Too often, I see the garden shed at the back of the property or on the other side of elaborate gardens. Neither are ideal locations when you need to get something out of the shed in the middle of winter. The other missed opportunity for a shed is the privacy it can create. Most sheds have a roofline that is between eight and 10 feet tall. This is perfect for hiding neighbours! If you are thinking about a shed for spring, consider putting it to the side of the yard, close to the house. By turning the shed sideways and having the door facing the deck or patio, you have easier access, and at the same time, you can create a little extra privacy for both you and your neighbour.
Beware the Mulch!
For years I’ve warned homeowners to avoid the bright red mulch. In my opinion, red mulch in the sun is the only thing you see when looking at a garden. It visually overwhelms the plants. We now have more colours than ever available such as blues and purples. Who sees the beautiful plants when your eye keeps focusing on the intensely coloured mulch? Finally there is some science to support my dislike of the “fake” stuff. While some mulches are organically dyed, many of the new products are chemically treated and the chemicals slowly leach into the soil. Yikes! If you are determined to go for the colour, choose a product that is safe for the environment.
A Focal Point in the Centre of the Yard
I’m not sure where the idea started that a bigger yard is a better yard or that a bigger lawn is a status symbol. Unfortunately, in our efforts to keep the large lawn, we started pushing elements to the edge of property lines. Even today, I see homeowners with a yard that is defined by a fence on all sides, several gardens pushed up against the property line and a large lawn down the middle. There is nothing inviting about a space like this. Instead, consider adding elements to the centre of your space such as a deck and a pergola, or a small patio with chairs. By creating a focal point in the centre of the yard instead of on the wings, you visually push your neighbours away because your eye moves to the centre, instead of the edges.
Give Your Garden Some Breathing Room
Every single house in almost every single neighbourhood in Canada has a garden jammed up against the house under the front windows. Very few of these are actually successful because this is a challenging spot for plants to grow. They get less rain because of the roofline and the soil is often the worst in the yard because of the home construction and all the compaction caused by the builders. Instead of placing the garden tight to the house, move it out by two to three feet and put a band of gravel behind it. The gravel allows you access to the home for things such as cleaning windows, but it also forces you to plant forward, allowing the plants some space from the home itself. The best part: as the plants grow, no one can even see the band of gravel from the sidewalk!