Taimi Anderson is a writer and landscape designer.

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Reinvent Your Side Yard
by Taimi T. Anderson    

Side yards — those dank and dark narrow spaces of our property — are often forgotten about or pointedly ignored. This shady, pinched area between the house and the neighbor’s property is often merely the access that leads from the public space of the front yard to your private and more secluded garden in back of the house. But nevertheless, these narrow spaces are part of the landscape. 

With some creative design ideas, the side yard can become a pleasant passageway. The side yard can also include a space for a small and secluded sitting area or provide a pleasing vista of an intimate garden space to be viewed through a window from inside the home.


Creating a Path
To make this narrow walkway attractive, start by selecting durable paving materials of brick, stone, pavers or stepping-stones set in gravel. Avoid making a straight path from front to back, instead give the walkway a gentle curve, an angular configuration or even a zig-zag pattern to add interest and to give depth to the planting pockets on either side. 

Place an arbor covered with vines at the beginning of the path to entice visitors to proceed through the side yard. Once you are on the path, provide a focus by placing a handsome container, a small sculpture or a well-shaped shrub or small tree into your field of vision to lead you along to your destination.


Color and Fragrance
In a shady side yard only the toughest of evergreens will give you lush greenery. Aucuba (Aucuba japonica), with dark-green, elongated leaves, can tolerate the lack of bright light and thrive. Consider the variety ‘Aureo-maculata’, with a yellow-centered leaf edged in dark green to bring sunlight into somber spaces, or use A. japonica ‘Variegata’, known as gold dust aucuba, dappled with yellow on dark green leaves.

Cast-iron plant (Aspidistra elatior), which is as tough as nails as its common name indicates, is an attractive shade plant with over 2-foot tall lanceolate leaves that give a strong vertical accent among lower creeping plants or finely textured ferns. Try holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum) with shiny, holly-like leaflets along the fronds. It remains evergreen through winter, but remove spent leaves before new growth emerges in spring.

Add brightness and light by planting groups of white caladiums at intervals, or let creeping Jenny ( Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’) spread a glimmer of sunlight with its chartreuse-yellow foliage as it rambles between the stepping stones. 

Plant some bright, cream-colored tufts of the popular sedge Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’ to lighten the staid evergreens with it lighthearted mounds of grass-like foliage. If you can keep deer out of your side yard, a wealth of variegated hostas can brighten the scene with leaves edged or centered with yellow or white, and leaf colors ranging from deep green to chartreuse to blue green.

In a sunny side yard where bright light is reflected from the house wall, select flowering shrubs and durable perennials that can tolerate hot and dry conditions to enhance your narrow pathway. Try placing a trellis against the wall of the house to let flowering vines clamber up and provide color. In this narrow space you could also build a tiered herb garden, or lay out a formal patterned garden, where herbs are planted in containers set within boxwood squares, with a central feature of a topiary of rosemary or bay laurel.

The side yard’s contained space makes a great place for fragrant plants. Let subtle scents entice you through this narrow space by planting fragrant flowers or shrubs at the far end of the passageway, or grace an arbor at the entryway with evergreen vines. Armand clematis, with its handsome, dark-green foliage, has sweetly scented white blossoms in March. Carolina jessamine unfurls yellow trumpets with a pleasing scent in the early spring, and star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) can enhance the side yard with starry white blossoms that have a delightful fragrance through the summer.

Make it a Room
Within an 8 to 10 foot side yard you can create a small space for quiet contemplation. Take advantage of this often-neglected area to create a pleasant and intimate place to spend a few quiet hours. Place a comfortable bench or garden chairs and a small table surrounded by evergreens to give a sense of enclosure.

Enliven the space with a handsome container, a small bubbling water feature or even a bowl of still water to reflect bits of sky and bring in light. A dynamic piece of sculpture adds a strong focus, and pots with colorful annuals or leafy plants with attractive foliage colors yield bright accents and textures. 

To integrate a stark, tall brick or stucco wall into your side-yard garden, consider covering part of the wall with a diagonal or horizontal trellis to let vines clamber up and soften the background, hang pots with trailing plants to give color and softness or let suitable plants such as Boston ivy or climbing hydrangea (Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’) cover the wall with greenery.

If your side yard runs alongside your neighbor’s driveway, you can achieve some privacy and tranquility by erecting a fence. A solid-board fence would be suitable to dampen noise and give privacy. Above eye level, a diagonal lattice fence on top of the board fence can add decorative detail and help to lighten the stark enclosure of the solid-wood panels and provide air movement.

For evening enjoyment add subtle lighting. Path lighting allows you to see the way and uplighting highlights the structure of taller shrubs and small trees to gently illuminate your outdoor sitting area.



This article appeared in a previous State-by-State Gardening publication.


Posted: 07/05/19   RSS | Print


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