Back Yard Triage: 5 Landscape Design Tips to Bring Life to Your Outdoor Spaces


Back Yard Triage...5 Tips to Bring Life to Your Outdoor Spaces - Redeem Your Ground | RYGblog.comI know…with these hot and humid days we’re still having, you probably don’t want to be outside in your yard for very long. But now is actually the perfect time to think about your yard, because in the fall…which is just around the corner…it will be the perfect time to do something in your yard so that you’re ready to enjoy it to its fullest this spring. In light of that…keep reading.

Back Yard Triage...5 Tips to Bring Life to Your Outdoor Spaces - Redeem Your Ground | RYGblog.comOkay…because my dad’s a physician, words like “stat” and “triage” were used on a fairly regular basis while I was growing up. So when I started our landscape design business, performing a “back yard triage” at the beginning of a client project seemed to make a lot of sense. After all, like triage in an emergency room, it’s about prioritizing your efforts to increase the chances of bringing life to something…and in the case of your yard…to a threatened or otherwise lifeless space. So as you perform your “back yard triage”, here are 5 landscape design tips that I’d suggest you consider.

[I originally published this post on Apartment Therapy as a guest blogger. If you have a chance, check it and my other posts out on AT.]

Tip #1: Define what life means to you

Unlike in an emergency room, however, where the meaning of life is clearly understood, life in a backyard is a more subjective term. It’s personal – what brings life to one person or family may not bring life to another. So before you do anything, it’s critically important for you to pause and consider how you want to live outside at home?  Or perhaps it’s easier to consider, what do you want to do outside? Regardless, gaining clarity here will not only help you get to where you really want to go…but probably more quickly and for less money too.  And who doesn’t want that!

Back Yard Triage...5 Tips to Bring Life to Your Outdoor Spaces - Redeem Your Ground | RYGblog.comNow don’t over-complicate things. All you really need to do is make a list of anything you want to do or have outside…or not do, not have. Allow yourself to dream a little…don’t let reality hem you in at this point. For example:

  • Provide creative play spaces for your kids
  • Have a place to relax and retreat and/or work outside and get your hands dirty
  • Have cooking and gathering spaces for entertaining or just hanging out – patio, deck, pergola, fire pit
  • Grow food (fruits, veggies, herbs) or flowers
  • Raise chickens or bees
  • Add a water feature for various forms of relaxation…pool, spa, or fountain
  • Focus on form over function…or vice versa
  • You hate insects and really only enjoy looking at your yard from inside your home

Back Yard Triage...5 Tips to Bring Life to Your Outdoor Spaces - Redeem Your Ground | RYGblog.comSome of these things might conflict with each other, but none of them are wrong, per se — unless they conflict with your meaning of life. So make your list…doing so will help you prioritize what to do going forward…and is the best first step to bringing life to your outdoor spaces.

Tip #2: Make a quick sketch

With your wish list in hand, draw a rough sketch of your yard, starting with your property lines, house, driveway, sidewalk, larger trees, and any other major element in your yard. Don’t worry about straight lines or it being too accurate or pretty — just sketch something out. Then draw designated areas or blobs (I know, a really technical term) with labels where you’d like to do the things on your wish list. Think of these blobs as you would rooms in your home (e.g., dining room, living room, play room, etc.) and consider the following:

  • Place your food prep and dining spaces closer to your back door, nearer the kitchen so that all the back and forth will be made easier.
  • Living and entertaining spaces are more flexible and less dependent on being closely tied to your home…so you have a bit more flexibility there. But don’t forget about the storage and access needs (e.g., cushions, electricity, plumbing, etc.).
  • Locate your kids’ play spaces in view from the kitchen window or wherever else you’ll likely be looking out. Consider a small seating area nearby (that even doubles as toy storage) so you’ll be comfortable and enjoy being out there as much as your kids do.
  • Your veggie garden should be placed where there is a good deal of sun…but also near storage and easy access to water. Otherwise, your food-growing days are likely numbered.

Back Yard Triage...5 Tips to Bring Life to Your Outdoor Spaces - Redeem Your Ground | RYGblog.comPlay with your blobs a bit and move them around while considering your options. It’s a lot easier to move things around on paper than after you’ve already installed something!

Tip #3: Consider the Views From Inside Your Home

All too often people forget to consider how their indoor spaces flow with their outdoor spaces. And while the physical flow between the two is vitally important, the visual flow is just as, or even more, important (since most of your time is spent inside).

  • So walk around the inside your home and pause at those windows and doors where you spend most of your time looking or walking through, e.g., kitchen window, bay window, back door, etc.
  • Rearrange and center your outdoor spaces (i.e., blobs) to reflect what you want to see or not see from inside.
  • Add symbols to your sketch indicating what aesthetic element you want your views to focus on. For example: a specimen plant, planter, bench or other interesting architectural feature.

Back Yard Triage...5 Tips to Bring Life to Your Outdoor Spaces - Redeem Your Ground | RYGblog.comDon’t forget this step…it’s vitally important to make the most of both your indoor spaces and outdoor spaces by thinking of them at the same time.

Tip #4: Determine Which Elements to Highlight or Hide

Good landscape design always considers what to hide from view or draw attention to. In the front yard, you want to highlight your front door and how you want your guests to get there.  And likewise, you don’t want to hide your front door with a wall of shrubs or the ubiquitous crepe myrtle. By taking the guessing game out of where you want your guests to go, you’ll create a much more welcoming space for them to enter into.

Back Yard Triage...5 Tips to Bring Life to Your Outdoor Spaces - Redeem Your Ground | RYGblog.comYou should also take into consideration those things that you want to hide from your guests. For example:

  • Views of the neighbor’s home or something else beyond your yard
  • Unsightly, but necessary storage (e.g., trash cans)
  • Utility boxes

In your back yard, you want to do the same; however, instead of thinking of it in terms of from the street to your home…as you do for the front, it’s the opposite – from your home, out. Fortunately, since your back yard is typically less formal and more functional than your front yard, you can be more creative with how you do that and the materials that you use. Plant selection and placement, paths, and lighting are all great ways to direct your guests…but that’s for another post.

Tip #5: Make a Decision & Do Something!

I guess this isn’t as much of a tip as it is a final plea! As my dad has always said, the only bad decision is indecision, followed by inaction.  So if you’ve been talking about doing something in your yard…make a decision to do something and then just do it.

Back Yard Triage...5 Tips to Bring Life to Your Outdoor Spaces - Redeem Your Ground | RYGblog.comBut I get it…most people I run into seem to be paralyzed, unable to make a decision. The reasons why run the gamut:

  • Overwhelmed with all the options of what could be done…not knowing where to begin
  • Analysis paralysis
  • You can’t reach agreement…on a major issue or even the slightest of issues
  • Thinking that it’s going to cost more than you can afford – thinking being the key word…because you haven’t done anything to quantify your thoughts
  • Believing that you have to do everything all at once

The good news is…if you’ve followed my first 4 tips, you’re moving in the right direction. But if you’re looking for ways to establish greater momentum, consider the following:

  • If your yard is overgrown, tame it. Cleaning things up and clearing things out may not only help you see things more clearly…but the thrill of doing something… anything, just may get you to do something else.
  • Stop talking about how much something might cost…find out what it would actually cost. Call a few landscape installers to get a quote. Having actual data will allow you to narrow the options and potentially help you make a decision.
  • Don’t feel like you have to do everything all at once. Instead, break things into phases or smaller projects. Not only will this make things more doable financially, it will also allow you to start enjoying some of your spaces sooner. Just take one step at a time.

Back Yard Triage...5 Tips to Bring Life to Your Outdoor Spaces - Redeem Your Ground | RYGblog.comAgain, just make a decision…do something. Please.


I hope these tips will help you start enjoying all those living spaces waiting to be realized just outside your back door. It’s really our hope at Redeem Your Ground to help you extend the walls of your home outside…whatever that looks like for you!

Take care all,
Doug initial

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  1. Maureen on September 21, 2015 at 12:47 am

    How insightful! I wish I would have read this 7 years ago when I bought my house. Instead, I spent 5 years paralyzed and didn’t do anything but water the few plants that were here when I bought it. This cost me probably 80 hrs per year and my yard still looked like a desert with a couple of plants. The drip system took very little time to install and was not expensive. Had I done this right away, I’d have saved myself the equivalent of probably 10 workweeks and my trees would be huge, providing tons of shade, and making the yard inviting, rather than an arid fright. Do it! Do something! Especially get the trees and automatic irrigation in while you save up for everything else. You won’t be sorry. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Doug Scott on September 21, 2015 at 1:48 pm

      Thanks Maureen! Good luck with everything! – Take care, D.

  2. Karen - on October 12, 2015 at 1:41 am

    Hmm good tips. My mother do all the gardening. She has a lot of orchids all over the place from all over the state. No flowers though. Okay, sometimes they bloom…but it is very rare. Haha. Anyway, my mother asked me recently to make good use of our garden. Like you said, a design or sketch could really help. I helped me see how it may not be as hard as I thought. Thank you Doug.

    • Doug Scott on October 14, 2015 at 11:25 am

      Thanks for chiming in Karen…and glad the tips were helpful. Good luck with your garden…I look forward to hearing how everything turns out. Take care, D.

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