How to create a garden getaway

Use these landscaping ideas to shape your own backyard escape

Credit: iStock / Pacifica Landscaping / Tom Meyer, Watermark Gardens

Use inspiration from nature for your own garden design elements

Create your own backyard escape using inspiration from some of B.C.’s top 
landscape-design experts

1. Take a hike

Achieving a natural effect is often more difficult than it looks. While the course of this waterfall (pictured above) by Pacifica Landscaping seems charmingly haphazard, each boulder is actually “strategically random,” explains designer Michael Bjorge, who takes inspiration from regular excursions to Tofino and Whistler. His advice is to turn to nature when seeking inspiration for your garden.

Next: Set design >

2. Set design

Sticking to shades of grey keeps an eclectic mix of materials and textures in line, while fountain-spray grasses prevent an all-rock 
landscape from looking barren. In soggy climates, take inspiration from a pebbled beach, and choose cool-weather grasses such as Miscanthus, sedges or Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’, zone 5). In drier regions, build a romantic desert scene with Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima, zone 6) or fiery purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea ssp. arundinacea ‘Skyracer’, zone 5), leaning more toward brown or clay-hued stonework.

Next: Patio flow >

3. Patio flow

Most people start with a deck and then add landscaping features around the edges. Placing the large Squamish-region boulders first, and then letting the patio shape itself around them, provides a greater sense of permanency, explains Bjorge. In laymen’s lingo: Aim for a yard that says, “This sweet little fish pool just happened to be tucked between naturally occurring basalt boulders in our backyard. We simply poured our concrete patio around it.”

Another water-feature trick: use square-ish, flat stones to expand the flow from a narrow trickle to a wider wall-like cascade. 

Next: Slow road >

4. Slow road

A wide sweeping path to the front entrance invites visitors to linger, rather than just charge directly from street to door. Tom Meyer used old-look 
pavers for a sense of established grandeur. A running bond pattern, where the pavers are laid in the same direction as the path, visually pulls guests through the garden, while the extra width encourages them to slow down and savour the adjacent plantings. Meyer advises choosing plants that peak in different seasons, ensuring there is an eye-catcher for every month and textures that are pleasing even 
during the bleakest days. 

Next: Sunny screen >

5. Sunny screen 

To shield your oasis from prying eyes without blocking precious sun, try a semi-opaque glass screen. Watermark Gardens had emerald-hued versions custom-made and mounted in solid-steel frames, so that these homeowners could make better use of a small front yard without feeling like they were 
sitting on the curb. For an antique look, try fitting coloured glass into a salvaged wooden window frame.

Next: Modern jungle >

6. Modern jungle

On smaller patios, maximize mingling areas by slipping a water feature in along the edges. Narrow it may be, but the length coupled with luxurious foliage spilling over the edges creates a tropical impact without surrendering living space.

Tip: Build up, rather than out, to make tight quarters seem expansive. The kelly-green wall behind (made of stucco-covered concrete) is not only fun, it also furthers the illusion of depth and layers.

Next: Playful paths >

7. Playful paths 

To add some fun to a “dead-flat” standard-sized lot, build a whimsical path to a secret garden within a garden, a quiet place for reading or guitar-strumming. (Leave the barbecue on a more public deck closer to the house.)

Next: Posy pockets >

Liam Robinson of Watermark Gardens used circular poured-concrete stepping stones to contrast with square-shaped pavers and patios elsewhere in the space, and softened the strict geometry with airy white Nicotiana and snow anemones.

Square flagstones laid over pea gravel in a hopscotch pattern seem casual and quirky, 
giving the impression of an eccentric English garden.

8. Posy pockets

To soften rocky hillside steps, tuck in some perennial and annual groundcovers. Spreading petunias are great for bare spots, as they grow so rapidly that within a few weeks their frilly petals will have filled in all the naked gaps left by shovels or backhoes.

Next: Pooling resources >

9. Pooling resources

Natural and 
eco-conscious materials are often pricier, but hard to resist. To make the overall project more affordable, direct resources to one or two focal points, and go for less-expensive methods in others. In this garden, the owners spent money on the stacked-slate retaining wall and a fish pond lined with river rock. Rather than a natural-flagstone patio surface, they chose to recycle the man-made pavers from the old deck.

Tip: Laying out coloured pavers in a random pattern looks more sophisticated than uniform rows, and blends better with natural elements.