Plan the Perfect Backyard Garden

Take these tips, and design a personal oasis.
Ellen aRuoff Riley / Photography Ralph Anderson

Just like space inside the home, a garden designed for outdoor living takes time. Needs change, potential improvements become apparent, and tweaking is always an option. The process is half the fun, and the rewards are immeasurable. Listen to Cindy and Jim Ware, in Lexington, Kentucky: "Our garden is a state-of-mind thing for us," Cindy says. "It adds another room to the house and dramatically expands our square footage. We spend so much time out here, either working in it or sitting and enjoying it."

Over the past 12 years the Wares have worked on making their garden a place that has it all. Most recently with help from designer Joseph Hillenmeyer, they have created a haven for quiet mornings with coffee and the birds as well as a place to entertain. The layout accommodates a big get-together or an intimate dinner party with equal finesse.

"The garden has had four evolutions," Cindy says, "and now we have it where we want it." Here's how, over time, they have made it their perfect sanctuary.

Hard structure:
The arbor stands as the only part of the Wares' original garden. They've gotten over grass. ("No mowing!" Cindy exclaims.) Instead, they added paths, a water feature, and seating throughout the garden.

Soft structure:
Boxwoods define the garden's formal pattern with soft evergreen foliage. The hornbeam trees along the back wall provide privacy and height, and the apple trees espaliered on the garage wall break up the large space with a continued emphasis on formality.

Attitude:
After an initial perennial planting wore them out, Cindy and Jim decided they wanted a tailored look throughout the garden. "We wanted it to be a little less floppy," Cindy says. Now color is concentrated in carefully planned containers, and the style is consistent throughout the landscape.

Color:
By using strong color accents in key places, the Wares invite the eye--and guests--to important places in their garden. They use containers to drop color near seating areas and the water feature; hanging baskets soften the edges of the arbor and frame the tables underneath.

Making It Personal
While entertaining is a priority, the Wares' daily routine thrives on the personal aspects of the garden. "My favorite place to sit is at the table, with my back to the driveway. I can see the whole garden. To sit out here on a Saturday morning with my coffee and crossword puzzle--I believe I think better out here," Cindy says.

"And we love the birds," Jim adds. "Some of the grasses attract them, as well as the feeders. And of course we have the ubiquitous squirrels."

When asked about their favorite time of day in the garden, the answer is unanimous: "Morning!" In the next breath, Cindy says, "And the evening too. When the sun moves behind the neighbor's house--right as it goes down--the garden is stunning. It just glows."

Tips for Success
Cindy and Jim offer these thoughts based on their experiences in their garden.

  1. Start simple. Don't expect perfection right away.
  2. Be willing to adjust. See how things grow, and modify them based on how you want to use the garden.
  3. Be open to change.
     

"Planning for Perfection" is from the March 2008 issue of Southern Living.