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Planning and design principles apply to natural yards just the same as for traditional yards. Without these, the space will look like a poor copy of a natural habitat and reinforces the idea that native plants do not have a deserved place in the urban residential landscape. 

Avoid the temptation to purchase your plants just yet; there is an important process behind those well-planned, beautiful landscapes you see. 

If you own your home, print a copy of your Real Property Report (RPR) so that you know the exact boundaries of your yard and have a ready-made to-scale plan to work from, showing your house location in relation to your lot. 

Planning

Existing Features

What existing features are there that you wish to keep: mature trees? Deck or patio? Walkways?

When building a new home or undertaking any construction projects, it is important to protect mature vegetation, especially trees, from damage.

Needs and Wants

How do you currently use your space and are there different ways you would like to use it? Consider:

  • How you walk through your yard?  Do you need paths for high traffic areas?
  • How much lawn space do you need? Do you have kids or pets who need this space to play? 
  • Do you eat meals outside in the warm weather? Would you like to be able to?
  • How many people does the space need to accommodate on a regular basis?
  • Do you require a deck? 
  • Do you need a shed for storage? 
  • Is privacy a concern?
  • Will you be vegetable gardening? 
  • Are there views to highlight?
     
Water

Water is the element that can cause the most issues if not properly accounted for. Grading your site appropriately will save many headaches. The ground needs to slope away from your house to prevent water entering your basement during rainfall or snowmelt.

If you have an older home, note the drainage pattern of your yard. 

  • Where does the water flow when it rains heavily or when the snow melts? 
  • Are there areas where water collects? 
  • Does grading around the house need to be corrected?

Tip: For new builds consider using mulch along the sides of houses in case grading needs to later be adjusted after settling.

Sun Exposure

Mark down areas that get sun throughout the day, for part of the day and the shady places.

Note: Newer subdivisions may not yet have their neighbours’ houses/garages built. This will influence where future shade areas are in your yard. 

The sun’s movement should be considered when planting trees. Avoid planting large evergreen trees to the south of your home otherwise you cannot take advantage of warming winter sunlight. 

Using a tool like Suncalc.org is helpful to see how the sun travels through the sky and the angle of shadow at different times of the year. 

It is helpful to consider the sun and shade areas in the peak of the summer as well as at the beginning/end of the growing season to determine what light conditions your plantings will be in.

Constraints
  • Are there any covenants for the area you live in?
  • Do any easements or rights-of-way run through your yard?
  • Identify where your property lines are.
  • If you are building a deck (or platform structure), there are limits on how far into the property setbacks that it can extend.
  • Call Before You Dig so that you know where any underground utilities are located and what precautions are needed. Also, note if there are any overhead power lines as this will later affect locations for trees or shrubs that are too tall to be planted beneath them.

Mark all of these constraints on your plan so you can see what spaces are available for and are best suited to your wish list. An important reality to recognize is your budget as it may impose limits to the scope of your project or influence your material selection.

Designing

Have you already created a natural yard and are seeking ideas to ‘tame’ it, to help it blend into the neighbourhood a bit more seamlessly?

For a natural yard to fit the context of the urban environment, you need to humanize it, make it feel more welcoming to people. Some of the options below may suit your space well:

Diagram With Legend Numbers

  1. Add a mow strip if you have medium to tall plantings and/or if there is neighbouring property with lawn
  2. Add a path if you would like a route between plantings
  3. Add a seating area if your front yard is underutilized
  4. Add an Ornamental fence or garden wall if you have a space to frame
  5. Add decor if you wish to include a more personal touch in your yard
  6. Incorporate vertical interest if your landscape feels flat

Extra Design Tips

Architecture

Yard and house should not be viewed as separate entities. The style of your home should inform the style choice of your landscape.

The shape of yard features (such as patios, pathways, lawn space, planting beds) should complement the style of the house.

Views

When planning the layout of your yard consider the main views:

  1. Views from inside your home; what do you see and focus on when looking out to your yard?

  2. Views from outside of the yard; how you see your yard when approaching it.

  3. Views from within the yard; how does the space look and feel when spending time in it?

Also, keep in mind how plantings may affect light received into the house (for example a tall shrub close to the house may block light coming into small basement windows).

Proportion

Awareness of proporation (the size relationship between house and landscape elements) and applying it to the human scale (size of a human body) is critical in creating a space that feels good from both a visual aspect and for spending time in.   

Shape

Balance - The ‘weight’ of landscape features needs to be considered in order to create a sense of balance, not having one part of the landscape feel too ‘heavy’ compared to the rest.

Rooms - It can be helpful to think of your outdoor space in terms of rooms. Each area has a different use; it is a way to organize.

Numbers - As a general rule, a planting scheme within any one bed looks better with odd numbers of a specific plant.

Colour Palette - Colours have the power to create different atmospheres. Bold, bright colours can be fun and energizing, while soft pastel colours can create a calm, serene place.

All Season Interest - Winter interest of plant material should be a checklist item to ensure that there is something to look at in our landscape when the weather is bleak.

Negative Space - The space not filled with plant material can be used  to draw attention to specific areas as it provides a visual break in a planting mass.

For More Information

311 Contact Centre

Online Contact 311 Online
Telephone

In Edmonton: 311
Outside Edmonton: 780-442-5311

TTY 780-944-5555
Email 311@edmonton.ca

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