Yardsmart – Five most common yard design mistakes

Photo of a house with a nice front patio.
Very small homes like this beach cottage demand close attention to creating spaces large enough to be usable. (photo courtesy Maureen Gilmer MoPlants.com)

It’s easy to make some simple design mistakes.

If you’re planning to fork over big bucks to create the outdoor living space of your dreams, or even do it yourself, you can’t afford mistakes. The more time you spend on the design by reviewing its nuances, the more familiar you will be when you realize the outcome.

There are five important design mistakes that can break your project. Avoiding them eliminates unpleasant surprises, misunderstandings and general dissatisfaction, not to mention unexpected cost overruns at construction time.

Design Mistake 1. Spaces created are too small to use.

Beware of undersized spaces. A patio should be at least 10 feet by 10 feet to accommodate table and chairs. Functional walkways must be more than 3 feet wide to accommodate a wheelbarrow, lawn mower or garbage can. Consider 4 feet wide a better choice. This dictates the dimensions of the gate so it won’t become a bottleneck. It is wise to know exactly what you want to do with the space in as much detail as you can. This tells you or your designer how big the spaces must be if they are not limited by existing structures.

Design Mistake 2. Failure to connect indoors with outdoors.

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Photo of a two tiered fountain.
It’s difficult to know where outdoor space ends and the master bedroom begins in this carefully designed composition. (photo courtesy Maureen Gilmer MoPlants.com)

If your outdoor landscape is a visual extension of adjacent rooms, you must design them to flow together without abrupt changes. For smaller homes, the patio is vital to harvesting more living space for days of good weather. It also provides a view outdoors that ties in nicely with interior themes. This connection is best achieved with hard materials such as paving that may be laid to match the color and texture of adjacent indoor rooms. The same applies to masonry, fencing or walls and even your choice of outdoor furniture.

Design Mistake 3. Piecemeal design.

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Creating a large or intricate landscape can take time and a lot of money, so many elect to build it one item at a time. Too often the home site is never viewed in the big picture. So, there is no overriding guide as to how each space relates to the next. This results in a hodgepodge of elements that may cost more and benefit you less in the long run. With a good design for the entire site as your starting point, all is visually and functionally integrated for maximum beauty and economic efficiency. You can construct any part at any time without conflicts, knowing it will all be fully tied in at the end.

Design Mistake 4. Oversized plants.

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Photo of a nice backyard.
Quality design makes sure that all your spaces are visually integrated throughout the entire site or yard. (photo courtesy Maureen Gilmer MoPlants.com)

Plants too large for the space will inevitably cause excessive maintenance. Once they mature to the maximum size of the space, you must perpetually prune and shear and clip plants to make sure they remain at that scale. Good planting design selects the perfect plant for every space in the landscape, so it is neither too tall nor too wide at maturity. A good designer knows the dimensions and character of every plant at maturity before she specifies it for a project. That ensures the plant is maintenance-free, saving you labor, time and money.

Design Mistake 5. Underestimating importance of good design.

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A beautiful, well-designed landscape costs the same as a poorly designed one. Well-trained landscape designers who work with a large palette of plants and materials as well as a range of styles are geared to give you a fine project. An installer who has little training may install a landscape, but it won’t be great. It will do even less for the beauty and enjoyment of your home. Carve out money to hire a good designer at the outset of your efforts. Whether you build it or hire a contractor, the results will be rewarding.

Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at MoPlants.com. Contact her at mogilmer@yahoo.com or P.O. Box 891, Morongo Valley, CA 92256. Reprinted with permission from the author.

3 thoughts on “Yardsmart – Five most common yard design mistakes”

  1. Thanks for posting the 5 common design mistakes for outdoor spaces.
    I would add the Home Designer also give thought to the Hardscape outside the building envelope when presenting the design to the client. The Designer may not get additional work but at least it would portray the designers understanding of connecting both indoor & outdoor spaces.

  2. Nice article and much appreciated post. Living in Colorado we are experiencing on going drought conditions and water rationing. I am redoing my landscaping and have realized I have a lot of areas that require water but should be designed to better save on water and still get the outdoor living spaces we desire.

  3. It’s nice to find articles like this that offer clear, helpful advice for people designing or improving their homes. Outdoor space are often thought of “after the fact.” And that’s not good. You should plan your outdoor spaces right along with your indoor spaces when you are designing or remodeling. That way you will ensure you achieve the proper relationships between rooms and spaces.

    Your comments about getting the size of outdoor spaces is important. I always encourage people to think of their outdoor spaces in the same way they plan their indoors spaces. Your patio or terrace is actually a “living room” that happens to be outdoors. All of the spatial requirements for furniture, walkways, etc. still apply. Thinking of your outdoor spaces as rooms will help you avoid making them too small or too large.

    And your discussion of connecting indoor spaces with outdoor spaces is right on the mark. One additional thing I might suggest is to use glass patio doors in the wall between the indoor space and the outdoor space instead of windows to reinforce the feeling of connectedness. Subconsciously, we can feel ourselves walking from indoors to outdoors through those glass doors. We become psychologically connected, even if we never actually stepped through the doors. Windows can never provide that strong a link between indoors and outdoors.

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