Garden & Landscape Tips

Side yard garden gate
Old-fashioned daylilies and hydrangeas turn a side yard into a country garden. Large flagstones set in mulch lead the way to the pretty white gate.
© Marty Ross

Side yards, those often skinny and neglected spots in the garden, need some pizzazz to dress them up. Reclaim the space down one side of the house by turning "just a passageway" into a pretty and hard-working part of the garden.

Recycling bins are stashed, brickbats pile up, and good intentions often disappear in these underappreciated spaces. Instead of using a side yard as a hiding place, “make them fun,” says Kristopher Dabner, a garden designer in Kansas City. "Play with the fact that you have a long slender space and accentuate it."

A garden gate makes a side yard welcoming and begins to give it character, Dabner says. Why not turn a sunny side yard into a vegetable garden, just big enough to cultivate a small crop of tomatoes, peppers, and beans? If the soil is lousy, plant them in containers along the property line.

Perhaps your side yard is just a utilitarian path to your garden, a shortcut when you’re pushing a lawn mower or a wheelbarrow full of mulch? You can still make it pretty, Dabner says, with simple, pared-down, low-maintenance plantings. "It would be fun to repeat elements through there," he suggests. "You could plant boxwoods every six feet, and create a really strong vista. That’s something that is hard to create in a square back yard." Steppingstones or an attractive path surface draw your eye and your feet along the way, plus they are functional in wet weather.

Garden wall fountain
This handsome wall fountain takes little space and improves the view from a window. Wall fountains are available in many styles at water-garden shops and home-improvement stores.
© Marty Ross

In neighborhoods where houses are close together, the side yard is often shaded by adjacent structures. In this situation, create a focal point with a statue, a birdbath, or a bubbling wall fountain. This pulls your eye away from the neighbor’s house to something much more lively and compelling. Statues and fountains never outgrow their spots, and need little care.

Utilitarian side yards can still be charming. How about a decorative potting table, that provides you with space for tools and supplies without stealing space in the garage? Store potting soil in a lidded trashcan, and stack flowerpots neatly under the table. Provide a tarp or cover to keep supplies dry.

In Kansas City, in a neighborhood of 1920s bungalows, Dabner designed a deck for a narrow side yard outside a client’s dining room. French doors open onto the deck, furnished with a table and chairs, and sheltered by a wooden fence and a line of columnar maples. “It’s a nice tight, inviting, intimate space,” Dabner says. All it needed was a little imagination.

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