Working with a Side Yard
What can you do with a stretch of land that serves no real purpose other than linking the front with the back? Use these great ideas to create a landscape wonderland.
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All too often the side yard is forgotten territory. Instead of looking at it as a lost cause, think of it as a new-found opportunity. Landscape designer Michael Glassman transforms this border wasteland into a landscape wonderland.
Addressing the Problems
The homeowner's side yard is very narrow — and directly adjacent to her neighbors' driveway. She would like to reduce the noise from the neighbors' air conditioner and driveway, and she'd like a new path from the front to backyard. The view from the bedroom window — directly into the neighbors' living room — doesn't allow for privacy. When it rains, the neighbors' driveway floods because it is lower than the street, and that means the homeowner's side yard floods as well.
As with any makeover, you must first determine the problems, then explore all the angles for the best solutions. The simplest, most cost-effective solution to remedy this drainage problem is to dig a dry well to give the water somewhere to go. Workers dig a trench 3 feet deep by 1 foot wide along the driveway and fill it with gravel (figure E).
Volunteers clear out the neglected plants from the side yard. When potted plants are left on the ground for too long, the roots find their way into the soil and drop anchor.
Michael has designed structural elements to provide some much-needed privacy. Using 10-foot-tall 2" x 4" posts, the crew builds three screens. Each post is cemented into the ground 2 feet deep and roughly 6 feet apart. While the posts are installed, the homeowner paints the posts black. Once the paint is dry, a 1" x 4" stringer is screwed into the post to act as a brace at the top and bottom of the screen for stability. Michael uses liquid nails to attach decorative finials along the top of the privacy posts. Next, he screws in eyehooks; each eyehook is spaced horizontally along the support beams and vertically along the posts. Next, he threads copper wire horizontally then vertically, connecting the eyehooks to form a grid (figure I). He tightens the eyehook with the wire attached to help tighten the wire.
Cutting Down on Noise
"Now that we've solved the privacy problem, we have to center our attention on the noise abatement, and I've got a great idea," says Glassman. Installing a water fountain (figure J) is an easy way to add a tranquil touch to the side yard, plus it drowns out the sound of cars and noisy neighbors.
Connecting the Yards
Sometimes, the simplest solutions make the most sense. In this case, Michael connects the front yard to the back, with a short path from the end of the driveway to the back gate, using two-foot-square slabs of slate (figure K). The slabs are positioned, then tamped into place.
Adding the Plant Material
Michael plants a potato vine along one of the decorative screens, and in the shaded area behind the screens, he plants an azalea and a triple-tiered azalea. Against the house, he creates the look of espalier roses climbing up the side of the house. Butterfly bushes and a dark purple penstemon will attract butterflies and birds to the area. Topiaries are placed between the screen for a touch of formality and more penstemon placed around the fountain. Finally, along the driveway, boxwoods frame the side yard perfectly (figure N).
This "polka dot garden" adds curves and creativity to an ordinary square backyard.