Your yard can do more than just look pretty. Consider the following landscaping ideas, which are not only aesthetically pleasing, but quite practical as well.
Plants grown on trellises create an effective screen that allows light and air to pass through. “Trellises are very handy because they take up very little space,” says Doug Gagne of The Mixed Border Nursery and Gardens in Hollis, NH. They can be made of pressure-treated wood, plastic, iron, copper, or aluminum—just make sure the trellis is sturdy enough for the plant you grow on it.
Most trellises have stakes that go into the ground. If you’re going to use one on your porch, you’ll also need to secure it to the frame or soffit. If you use a trellis to screen your deck, you may have to combine it with a structure like a pergola across the top for support. Good perennial vines to grow on a trellis include clematis, honeysuckle, and Dutchman’s pipe. Popular climbing annuals include morning glories and scarlet runner beans.
Hedges can be as tall or short as you like, and can fit in small or large spaces. Select shrubs or trees that won’t grow taller or wider than you need, otherwise you’ll spend lots of time pruning. When planting, calculate how much space the full-grown plants will fill so they don’t encroach on your house or the neighbor’s yard. Leave breaks in the hedge, so you won’t be boxed in or send an unfriendly message. “You want privacy but you also want it to be inviting,” says Patricia St. John at St. John Landscapes in Berkeley, CA. “To enclose it all the way makes it seem very uninviting and tells visitors to go away.”
When planning your hedge, remember that deciduous plants drop their leaves, so most of your screen will disappear in the winter. For year-round privacy, evergreens may work better. Arborvitaes are fast-growing evergreens that come in many sizes. “They have the effect of looking like little soldiers, but if you have a narrow area, that might be your best alternative,” says Judy De Pue, owner of New Vistas Landscaping in Goshen, IN, and president of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers. If you have lots of space and need to screen your yard from a multi-story building next door, larger evergreens like blue spruce, white pine, or hemlock can do the job.
If you’re using deciduous shrubs, mix different kinds and colors to make your hedge interesting. One of De Pue’s favorite combinations includes burgundy ninebark, variegated red-twig dogwood, dwarf lilac, golden privet, and Onondaga viburnum. You can also incorporate herbaceous perennials, ornamental grasses, and annuals into your hedge for interest and variety.
Carefully positioned small trees, especially those that branch out at the base, also help create privacy. “We find trees give all the benefits of a hedge with a lot less maintenance,” says Judy Drake of Sunscapes Landscape Design in Jacksonville, FL. Options include magnolias, flowering dogwoods, Japanese maple, Japanese tree lilac, stewartia, birch, and palms. Bamboos make good screens, but the aggressive roots of the running variety need to be contained.
If you’re planting trees you may want to mix the sizes. “That way your screening will look more natural because in nature trees are all different sizes and have different rates of growth,” St. John says.
More landscaping ideas: you can also plant shrubs to fill in under the trees, or for a beautiful but high-maintenance privacy wall, consider an espalier or flat, broad screen, made with trained apple, pear, or fig trees.
You can build a private “outdoor room” in your yard with greenery instead of solid walls. Use posts covered with vines to establish the boundaries and enclose the sides with trellises, planters, shrubs, or perennials. You can also create a pergola effect by connecting the posts from above with wood, wire, or chains and training vines across them. Make sure you match the materials, colors, and style of your outdoor room to the house. “It’s important that this outdoor space doesn’t look like it’s been stuck on,” Gagne says.
Another option for screening your property is an earthen berm or mound with plantings, which serves as a living hillside. The berm should not be too narrow or steep, because a broad, gently rising area blends with the yard more naturally. Use drought-resistant plants when creating a berm, because water tends to run off the incline, leaving plants thirsty and undernourished.
Recent advances in LED outdoor lighting technology have created many new energy efficient choices for outdoor lighting. While it may not make sense to pull out working fixtures or incandescent bulbs and replace them with LED’s, it makes good sense to design LED’s into your next outdoor project. There are energy-efficient LED’s for all purposes, including holiday lights, decorative lighting, walkway and security fixtures. Now widely available, the bulbs are on average 10x more energy-efficient and 20x longer lasting than incandescent. For some decorative applications like Christmas lights (where they have been used for years), LED’s are no more expensive than incandescent bulbs. In newer applications (i.e., PAR and MR lamps), the LED bulb may be 2-3 times more expensive.
The future of LED lighting is visible today in a new generation of solar fixtures where the wiring (and electric bill) are completely removed. These fixtures include small solar panels (often no larger than a book cover), batteries capable of storing a 10-hour charge, and light or movement sensing switches. Energy sipping LED bulbs ensure a lasting charge even on a cloudy day.
Cool Your House with Smart Landscaping
Trees shade roofs from the hot summer sun. Shrubs and vines can be planted to keep walls cool. Shading your air conditioner can reduce energy costs by as much as 50 percent. These are just some of the ways that thoughtful landscaping can work to keep you cooler and save you energy dollars.
An experienced landscape designer, who may be a landscape architect or a veteran hands-on professional, can do for your site what the interior decorator does to the interior. He or she decorates, too, only the raw materials are bushes and trees and plants. He also has an architectural function in that he may advise you to add a stone wall, to regrade portions of the yard, or to make other topographical changes in its configurations.
A fully trained landscape architect will have studied horticulture, history, and engineering; the experienced landscaper may have less book knowledge, but years of experience in what plant material survives in your climate and what doesn’t. The landscaper’s expertise will extend from which perennials will survive in the shade to the design and placement of retaining walls and drain lines and paved areas.
Of course, you could integrate the afore-mentioned landscaping ideas into your yard alone as well; either way, each one has plenty of benefits and are worth considering for your outdoor space.