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Functional Landscaping: 10 Tips to Turn Your Backyard Into a Unique Space

By Clayton Ditzler

Photos courtesy The Landscape Artist Inc.

In today’s busy world, more and more homeowners are looking to get additional value out of their properties and there is no larger investment you can make than in your home. Lately, there has also been a conscious push by families to increase the amount of free time they have together, while also improving their quality of life beyond the reaches of the ubiquitous electronic devices that have become such a big part of our lives.

When it comes to landscaping, one of the most common questions from homeowners during a design consultation, beyond solving the logistical requirements of the site, is “I want some ideas of what I can do with my property to make it more functional for my family.” In response to this popular inquiry, keeping practicality in mind, here are 10 items to consider when planning your backyard landscape.

1. The backyard pool
This may seem like the obvious choice, but there are few items you can add to your landscape that will rival a professionally designed and installed pool. Not only will a pool appeal to every member of your family—from swimming for exercise to free play and lounging by the water with a cool beverage—nothing can compare in terms of the ultimate focal point. There is just something about the way light reflects off the water that draws you in. Even though the pool lifestyle may not be the answer for every family, those that install one often say it becomes the hub of their outdoor space. In fact, if you install one, you will likely find yourself choosing to stay home and enjoy your backyard rather than travelling somewhere in search of the same experience.

2. Who does not love the beach?
Although this landscaping feature is more commonly incorporated into a waterfront property, there is no reason to be restricted if you are landlocked. Sand beach areas can be created adjacent to patios or other hardscape areas and can increase the play appeal of these spaces. Your kids will love the fact they can create sandcastles, while other family members may enjoy using the sand as an area to sunbathe. Visually, a beach setting can also serve to remind you of your favourite vacation spot.

One consideration with a beach area is to try to provide enough buffer between it and your pool or hot tub to control the amount of sand that may be tracked into these wet areas. One way to achieve this is by taking advantage of topography, whereby including a low retaining wall as a barrier between the beach and the rest of your property.

Good quality sand should also be a priority. Before committing to the whole project, test some sand samples to make sure you find the qualities you are looking for. Keep in mind, the more uniform in size the sand particles are the more likely it will remain loose and not pack hard, or become soupy and unpleasant feeling when wet.

3. Dedicated play structures
Encouraging safe outdoor play is a priority for today’s families and these spaces can take on many different forms. At the design phase, it is important to consider how your use of this space will evolve over time, as some items may be practical for only a few years.

Dedicated play structures with swings, playhouse, sandboxes, etc., are great for a young family, but can become outmoded in a remarkably short amount of time. These items can be treated as ephemeral and placed in a turf area or some consideration can be given at the design stage as to how you may be able to transform this space as time goes on. For example, once your kids outgrow the play centre, it can become a firepit area.

A popular general purpose addition to a backyard landscape, specifically for family outdoor play, is a games court that is large enough for several people to participate in a sport. With the objective of using a product that is durable, low maintenance, and safe, these areas often comprise plastic tiles which are installed over a concrete or asphalt base to provide the perfect surface for games like basketball, hockey, or volleyball, etc., depending on the size of the court your backyard and budget will allow, of course.

Site fixtures such as nets, lighting, and boundary lines can also be incorporated into the court. Younger family members can ride their tricycles on these surfaces, which allow for all sorts of imaginative play within the safety of your backyard. For full, four-season functionality, some sport courts can also be flooded in the winter and made into an ice rink. While a 9.2- x 18.3-m (30- x 60-ft) court is considered optimal, half of this area will still provide adequate space for your family to play many sports.

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4 comments on “Functional Landscaping: 10 Tips to Turn Your Backyard Into a Unique Space”

  1. What a fantastic article with some really unique and innovative tips for homeowners looking to better utilize their outdoor living space. I particularly enjoyed the tips about growing your own garden and devising an outdoor cooking area. Our spring/summer seasons seem to be growing shorter and shorter so when we can get outside and enjoy it is time to make the most of it! Our company provides landscaping, lawn care, and garden maintenance and we will definitely be incorporating some of these suggestions into future jobs Thanks for sharing!

  2. I’m planning to sell my home next year, which is why I’m thinking of hiring a service that focuses on hardscaping projects. I actually like your idea of having a beach setting in my pool area because this will make it look like a vacation spot. You’re also right about the importance of having retaining wall constructed.

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