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How to Design Gardens

Designing a Garden for Privacy

One economical way to expand your living space is to go outdoors -- patios and decks are functional and are significant design elements in the landscape. If you decide to add a patio, terrace, or deck, calculate how large it needs to be to accommodate all the people who will use it on a regular basis.

Also think about the type of furniture you'll be using; outdoor furniture takes up a lot of space. Study potential locations throughout the seasons and at different times of the day; you'll have to decide whether you want the deck, patio, or terrace in sun, shade, or both. If a shady site is not available, the planting of a single tree or the construction of an overhead canopy are possible solutions. It's best to place the deck or patio in relation to the house; entrances, traffic flow, and food preparation are considerations. A patio needs a fairly flat area; decks and terraces lend themselves more easily to sloped land.

Patios help create outdoor privacy.

A patio needs a fairly flat space for entertaining.

If an existing patio is in poor repair or too small, renovation may be in order. Loose and disjointed bricks or stones set in sand are easily repaired by removing disjointed pavers and regrading the sand surface. Matching brick or stone can usually be purchased for expansion. If an old concrete patio is cracked and deteriorating, either remove the old patio -- usually a massive chore -- or build a deck over it.

The shape of your patio depends on your creativity. Complement the shape and style of the surrounding garden and the style of the house. Squares and right angles tend to look formal and traditional. Use wide sweeping lines carefully and sparingly. Curved lines can make a space seem smaller and create awkward spaces that are not large enough to use. Integrate plantings to help soften lines, increase privacy, and add interest. Most of all, be creative; grid patterns and paving combinations are unlimited.

The choice of paving materials is the most important element in the design. Choose a material that complements your landscape and home. Wood decks add a modern yet often informal appeal to the landscape. They are easy to build but should be considered major construction. Concrete is strong and durable and should be done by a professional. Brick and stone are the easiest to construct.

Screening, whether by plants or fencing, is sometimes necessary for wind and noise reduction or for privacy. Patios and decks at high levels tend to be exposed to excess wind. To reduce wind, plant open crowned trees or shrubs that will reduce a gust to a gentle breeze. Vine-covered lattice or fence sections work well for protecting the seating area from wind. Where noise is a problem, as in urban areas, you'll need a dense planting of shrubs to significantly absorb sound. Thick-leaved, dense conifers work best.

An important concern for an outdoor entertainment area is privacy. Even if your home is an estate in the country, a patio or deck is most comfortable when it feels like an outdoor room, with some feeling of enclosure. Small trees and shrubs are effective in building the "walls," and a canopy of trees gives the feeling of a ceiling. Choose and place plants to achieve all these effects as well as providing screening for privacy. Keep part of the patio or deck open for easy traffic flow into the lawn space and other surrounding areas. Fencing can be effective in providing privacy as well as adding elements of texture, color, and interest to the garden. A simple eight-foot section of fence can screen an unpleasant view and provide privacy.

Use the landscape to your advantage for privacy.

Use the landscape to your advantage to secure privacy.

Edgings are used to permanently outline and separate garden beds and borders from lawns. They help define and organize space and make mowing easier; they keep garden maintenance low by preventing creeping grasses from invading the bed; and they restrain mulch from washing into the lawn. Use a string line to mark straight edgings. Lay a garden hose for long sweeping curves; keep curves wide for easy mowing. Before digging, view the hose line from all angles to make certain it is a shape you like.

Paving with Brick

To build a brick-surfaced patio, choose a paving brick from the wide assortment of sizes, shapes, and colors available. Mark the area to be paved with string and remove six inches of soil. To carry off rainwater, grade the slope of the patio two inches for every six feet of distance. Tamp the soil as flat as possible. Build a lumber, metal, or brick edging frame along the perimeter of the patio.

Spread a two-inch layer of gravel, then a sheet of landscape fabric. Next, lay two inches of sand. Use a screed to flatten the sand layer; firmly tamp the sand. If the sand is not tight, the bricks will settle, making an uneven surface. Following a pattern you've selected, lay the bricks flat and tap each one lightly into place. Sweep sand into the joints.

Using Fences for Privacy

Fences and screens can be constructed from ready-made panels or created by the builder. Decide the function of the fence, and determine the style needed to fit that purpose and position. Fence panels need not be completely solid to provide privacy. Long sections of solid-board fencing can be monotonous. Integrate lattice or patterns into panels and use plants to soften the space.

Another way to secure privacy is to design with trees, shrubs and vines. We'll explore those design elements in the next section.