Our homes are our castles, our retreats, our memory makers -- and that goes for our outside spaces as much as our inside spaces. Many people have an easier time creating comfortable, welcoming interior rooms than they do exterior home landscapes that offer beauty and livability. That's why we've gathered these eight home landscaping ideas -- some great reminders, others surprisingly easy and effective solutions -- to give your house an outside boost. Do you live in an urban area? We've got great tips on creating a small garden.
Decades ago, homeowners commonly had expansive yards, which made it easy to include lots of different functions and home landscaping ideas such as play spaces, vegetable gardens, and public areas. Many of today's homeowners don't have that luxury, so they often have to cram a lot into a much smaller area. "Our modern lives are a lot more busy, and our landscape has to work harder as an extension of our home," says Amy Cooney, an architect and landscape designer with the firm CLIMATE architecture + landscape in Portland, Oregon.
That means homeowners have to establish home landscaping ideas that serve as the public outdoor "face" of their homes. "You have to have an area that's tidy and neat for people to look at all the time," Cooney says. "That way you can keep an area for yourself for more functional uses." The idea is to minimize the time you spend tidying the curb-appeal areas and to maximize the time you spend enjoying the functional areas.
Think about your favorite homes: When you walk in the front door, there's probably an apparent organization plan -- a spot for keys, coats, and shoes, as well as places for decorating accents and pieces that "introduce" you to the rest of the house (a mirror, bench, artwork, etc.). One of the simplest home landscaping ideas is to use your front door and the surrounding landscape in the same fashion to help people find their way into your home or the rest of the landscape. Include organizational elements, such as lighting and a path to get people to the door. Then layer in extra touches that introduce your yard's color scheme and style -- glazed containers planted with topiaries for more traditional landscapes, or an overflowing collection of annuals for a cottage-style garden.
When poorly executed, transitions between inside and outside can be disorienting. One home landscaping idea to prevent that jarring feeling is to transform some of the outdoor space near your home into a transition area. For example, a small back door can be replaced with a larger sliding version. A stand-alone deck can be covered with a pergola. An outdoor dining area can include a small cabinet to stash outdoor plates and glasses. "What we see is what we go to, and that connection to the home is a way to invite your family out to use your backyard," Cooney says. "Plan destinations within your landscape as a way of leading people out of the home and into the yard."
Not everyone has a defined front yard and backyard to create task-specific areas and implement home landscaping ideas. That's OK, Cooney says; what smaller yards require is a bit of creative reimagining. "Those two areas may be a little less black-and-white in their division," she says. "If everything is in the front, for example, you can design the area on both sides of a walkway as formal and then the rest of it more casually. Each house and each person needs to determine public and private."
Cooney's own yard presented some common challenges, with a large front yard facing a busy street and very few private areas. To create a bunker of privacy, she dug down, creating a terraced, extra-large window well to bring light into adjacent basement rooms. This affected both the interior and exterior spaces and is an ingenious example for other homeowners looking to carve out more space when thinking of home landscaping ideas. "You can make this very large area that's private right in front of the house with a retaining wall," Cooney says. "If you can't dig out, you can add a low hedge, a mixed border of small trees and plants, or a fence."
One of the biggest mistakes homeowners make with their home landscaping ideas, Cooney says, is to plant the wrong tree or plant for that region. "They forget to think about what that means for the big picture," she says. "If you choose a plant that can survive in your Zone, you don't have to do as much to support it, and it will thrive on its own and give back to you for the rest of its life."
The wrong plant selection usually results in overgrown trees that hide a house or flowers that wither and die from being planted in the wrong spot. That's why one of the most important home landscaping ideas isn't landscaping at all, but research. Figure out what you want from your plants, trees, and shrubs -- shade, ornamentation, screening -- and then choose them accordingly. If you want screening, choose a tree that grows from the ground up with foliage. If you want shade, pick one with a big trunk and foliage on top; deciduous trees will offer shade only in summer. Ornamentation should be a combination of plants that bloom at different times. "Don't just fall in love with a tree in the garden store," Cooney says. "Think about its larger function and life span."
The big picture should also include your time and tolerance for yard work. If you don't have hours to putter, choose plants that thrive with little tending after they're established. If you like things tidy, choose plants that stay in their place. If you find relaxation by keeping your hands busy, choose plants that need more pruning and tending.
"In this day and age, we can throw out all of those ideas that your house belongs in a certain style," Cooney says. So if you love garden ornaments but live in an English Tudor, who cares? Put in the old sign, the metal sculpture, or other personal elements as your favorite home landscaping ideas. "Make it real, and enjoy your creative side without following too many rules," Cooney says. "If it's your private space, no one will judge you, and you should plant things that make you happy."
Don't forget whole categories of plants. Bulbs, for example, are an easy option for home landscaping ideas and inspiration. "They're a good surprise in spring, and an inexpensive way to add beauty to a bare early-spring landscape," Cooney says. "You can plant them in the fall, play with colors and groupings, and forget them. And then when they pop up, you can really celebrate."
Make a list of wants and needs, go to a garden store with an open mind, and ask questions about your home landscaping ideas. "Garden centers can be really amazing," Cooney says. "If you give the plant expert your parameters, they can give you lists of plant species that will work. Let them show you what will fit."