It’s where you put your air conditioning unit, your air vents, your gas meter, your family’s bikes and stray tools. It’s the way to get from Point A to Point B, it’s transitional, It’s a catchall, and usually —it’s ugly. It’s your side yard.
But what if there were ways to solve some of these problems: ways to hide ugly air conditioners, deal with the practicalities, even ways to make it pretty? Stick around my friend, we’ve got it covered. Here is what you need to know.
ONE: Subvert expectations
It’s not uncommon for the side area of a house to resemble a bowling alley with long and narrow proportions. How do you change this?
You introduce a curve or a corner that will interrupt the visual line and take the visitor around something. It could be as simple as curving the path through a perennial garden as we see in the photo above. By softening the lines and creating a curve we shift the focus from the destination to the journey.
If you like more modern lines, you could add a low wall about three feet high (perfect for disguising an air conditioner unit) coming out from the house or fence that bisects the path. The corner wall of the seating bench in the next photo is one way to break up the long distance line and introduce some functionality at the same time.
TWO: Get your storage act together
There are two reasons that this is important, a) if you have hoses, bikes, shoes, kids/dog toys, bbq paraphernalia lying abound you will never feel inspired to change your side yard (not to mention that it will be easier to see what you actually need to address in the design process) and b) no matter how pretty your side yard turns out to be, it will still be an eyesore if it is cluttered with the accoutrements of daily life.
Consider where you could use built-ins for storage. We all have different storage needs. If you have a young family, a seating bench that doubles as storage could be great for cushions or outdoor toys. A sleek shed could hold bikes or a lawn mover and other large equipment. Naturally, the surfing life requires its own solutions for board storage, and I love how the designer turned storage into a design feature.
THREE: Lose the lawn
Don’t even bother trying to get grass to grow, let alone assign someone to mow it. The best thing you can do is plant some low maintenance perennials or grasses. Most people have the exterior house wall and a fence bordering their side yard. In this scenario we have three flat surfaces meeting in sort of a squared off U shape. In order to soften the intersections, lush perennials work well. Ideally, you want something low and wide, for example a mass planting of hostas that are as wide or wider as they are tall. If you prefer modern lines, plant tall and narrow perennials or grasses. A Karl Foerster Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora) that is two to three times taller than it is wide could work well if you have a sunny spot. Make sure to avoid prickly plants in high traffic areas or you’ll be up against Murphy’s Law.
When you decide it’s time make your side yard spectacular, just remember these three steps: add a curve or a corner, make storage a priority, and soften your lines with plantings and you’ll be on your way!