If you're dreaming of enjoying a backyard oasis this summer, turning those dreams into reality might seem daunting. However, bringing in a pro to capture your sense of style and implement a coherent design, you're more likely get a space that works both esthetically and enhances the value of your home.
Landscape architect John Szczepaniak walked Ottawa At Home through two unique projects. Although both backyards are roughly the same size - between 2,600 and 2,800 square feet - the results are exquisitely unique.
Although the backyard had always been about family fun, it was in serious need of an update! John said the homeowners wanted to recreate the backyard so they and their daughters could entertain their friends. "When I listened to them it was all about recreation, so I really pushed that envelope. I told them, ‘We've got a kidney-shaped pool, so let's transport ourselves to California!' They got really excited about that, and the daughters were excited because it was going to be fresh and young."
John explained that with the backyard's elevation, there were few strong elements on which to pick up and the dimensions were tight. An aging wooden deck was in poor condition, there were no big trees or shading for the summer heat, and the stairs into the existing in-ground pool were too small and not very usable.
The Finished Project
The redesigned backyard is now sleek and modern. Although it's the same pool, the update has created the illusion that it's much bigger. A bench and larger steps have been added to provide perfect seating in the water, plus a spa with a waterfall feature. Next to the pool, a large storage shed with resin panes shines like a glowing light fixture at night.
Part of the wood deck area is now reinstated, broken up by natural stone. Ultra low-maintenance plantings - mostly ornamental grasses, some yucca and smaller trees - combine with beautiful planters to create a minimalist palette. River rock surrounds the greenery so that dirt cannot blow into the pool. With no room for planting next to the garage, John designed funky screens and detailing on the fence.
He also found a solution to provide much-needed shade. "We added the canopy and came up with a really creative sail-like shading pattern." The clean lines and fresh colour create the feeling of a backyard resort.
Built in the 1930s, the house was beautifully landscaped in the front, but needed a fresh entertaining space in the back. A new pool was also on the must-have list. As one of the homeowners is an avid gardener, John developed a more complex design and planting palette. "They relied on me getting them a really strong concept with the right proportions. Once the framework was set they could take over and personalize things," he said.
The biggest challenges came with a driveway that wasn't integrated into the overall design, plus the homeowners' plan to add a pool. "I said, ‘The space here is really small, so we have to be creative and blend the driveway as part of the back garden,'" said John. Fortunately, as the garage was only being used to house a plane the homeowners were working on, the driveway didn't have the wear and tear of a conventional one. As for the pool, finding the right spot to capture the available sun was key.
The Finished Project
The homeowners' new yard is now a perfect sanctuary for relaxing and entertaining. John designed the pool with broad steps for entry and located it to catch optimal sunlight by pushing it toward the back of the property. A trellis detail, surrounded by a generous range of perennials, creates a year-round backdrop for the pool in addition to planters that can change with each season.
Strategically placed stone pillars help to visually separate the garden space from the driveway, which now has grass and interlock paving designed to reflect the vintage of the home. While the overall space is now updated and livable, it stays true to the architecture of the home. The structure that connects the garage to the house and along the back blends the elements with the feel of a garden room.
"I think I've done a really stunning job when I see how people are enjoying the space and how their daily lives are made so much better," said John, who concentrates on functional gardens with dimensions for entertaining and lounging. "It's not just about choosing plants or picking out a pool, it's really creating a total experience."