Make Your Yard New, One Project at a Time

Renovating your landscape is not as difficult as you might think. A little planning, then taking on one small project at a time, can make a big difference.

A well-tended garden may look like a lot of hard work, but if you ask the owner he probably doesn’t think of it like that. I know I don’t. For me, my backyard is a haven, a respite from the mundane chores of life – laundry, cleaning, traffic – and a chance to de-clutter my mind of all the minor annoyances which hound me throughout my days.

Beautiful Garden

Getting dressed in my work clothes and gathering up my tools instantly puts me into a state of peacefulness. I am no longer preoccupied with whatever has been stressing me throughout the day. I am now focused on the immediate tasks in front of me, the appreciation and improvement of my yard.

The first step to making your garden a special place is to envision what you want. After all, an architect can’t design a building without knowing what the finished project is supposed to look like. I’ve found that one of the best ways to figure out what I want my garden to be is to add a wooden garden bench. This provides a space where I can sit and relax with my garden, and let it tell me what I should do next.

Having connected with my yard in this way, I usually break down the tasks I have to do into the following three categories. Landscaping, planting, and weeding. This helps me organize my mind around what could otherwise look like a daunting task.

Establish your goals for the space. For example, most gardeners want to differentiate areas of the yard, add year-round color, and control weeds.

Landscaping tasks include creating walkways, defining the borders between lawns and beds, and creating a sense of balance between harder structures and softer plantings. Planting involves adding a variety of flowers that will bloom at different times to provide colors and adding shrubs and perennials to provide texture. Weeding is a continual process, and usually involves weeding by hand, treating weeds, and fertilizing the grass.

Remember that yard work is never done. You’ll always be discovering new ways to improve your space, and, in fact, that’s part of the fun. Walkways are a great example of this. You will often find yourself adding them at a later date depending on what parts of the garden receive the heaviest foot traffic. It’s rare that the most-used part of the garden is the part you expected to get the most use, and adding a sitting bench can drastically change which paths get used.  Walkways can be made with a variety of materials including wood chips, gravel, paving or concrete, depending entirely on the feeling that you are trying to create.

You have a choice when it comes to the borders between the different parts of your lawn. Some people use formal borders made of wood or plastic. Others, however, differentiate beds and lawns more naturally through the use of careful pruning and trimming. I even dead-head flowers regularly to keep things tidy. Sometimes the local fauna don’t agree with my choices, and I find myself having to clean up after a crow or a squirrel that decided that there was something worth digging for right next to my favorite flower bed!

Plant life can help hide some of that damage, and it also provides color and structure. Low-lying ground-cover plants keep down weeds, and cover fabric edges. I usually then work from the back to the front, using larger shrubs and perennials to create a backdrop for the more colorful beds of flowers I place in the foreground. Make sure to check with a local gardening supply store to figure out what your hardiness zone is before buying plants, and to assess whether your choices are giving plants enough light.

Weed control is one of a gardener’s constant tasks, but pulling small weeds between flowers is a simple task compared to many of the other jobs associated with your garden. Weeds will often proliferate nine months a year, but if you’re not fussy your grass can be kept in acceptable condition by cutting it regularly but leaving the length over three inches. Using fertilizer every couple of months will help keep weeds at bay, too.

I encourage people to be sparing with the use of weed killers. These can be a major problem when the runoff winds up in local waterways. Sometimes they’re unavoidable, however, because unless you are dealing with a small lawn, weed-pulling can become a massive task.

If pulling weeds isn’t your style, consider replacing some of your lawn with a low maintenance alternative like a play-area for children, an exercise space for pets, or maybe even a greenhouse for seed-growing. Sheds are also popular, but if your primary need is a place to store your tools, consider a patio storage bench, which can be much less of an eyesore. A third alternative is planting more trees and using mulch to reduce your grass area.

After you’ve done all of these tasks, don’t forget the most important job: pat yourself on the back for all your hard work, and treat yourself to the enjoyment of the space that you’ve created. Remember that a backyard isn’t a chore, it’s also a form of exercise. After all, where else can you be in touch with home, nature, and yourself, undisturbed by the rest of the world, while creating a lovely space for you and your family to appreciate?

About Stan Horst
Stan Horst is a former carpenter who shares his love of fine craftsmanship as the editor and publisher of He lives in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains with his wife Deb and their two teenagers. His business renting vacation cabins allows him to share his love of camping, hiking, and the outdoors with people from around the world.

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