Design for everyday living

We have all seen fabulous gardens – the ones with elaborately shaped shrubs, manicured lawns, intricate floral borders and life-size statuary.

Chances are, theses landscapes are kept by hordes of workers wielding pruners, ladders and power tools. However, it is doubtful that folks actually relax, play or entertain in these formal spaces.

What most homeowners crave is an outdoor space that’s designed for everyday living – one that accommodates pets, children, barbecues and recreation. This type of landscape is practical, but it can also be beautiful. And since most people do not have the resources to hire a horticultural staff, these sites should require modest care. Tips for designing a landscape for day-to-day living include:


Determine which sections of your yard work best for each function you desire, such as play space for children or an area for outdoor dining. A large property does not require large living areas. To be practical, create only what is needed in the most logical spaces. You may then concentrate your efforts where they are most needed. And you will expend fewer resources. Plant low-maintenance shrubs, trees and grasses in excess space.


Develop a design that best incorporates lovely views, which may include bodies of water, blooming plants, wooded lots, golf courses, valleys or peaks, etc. Be sure to include seating areas so that your family and guests may linger while admiring the scene. Incorporate plantings, such as evergreens and flowers with a limited color palette, that complement but do not detract from the view.


In Texas, sunshine is both friend and foe. In summer, many outdoor activities are best enjoyed when shade is available. Add shade by planting trees, shrubs or vines that grow large and spread to block the hot sun. Also add shelter, such as vine-covered arbors, pergolas and roofed patios. Install blinds or shades that may be raised and lowered when needed.


Even the most beautiful house begs for plantings to make the entryway inviting. Create a welcoming entry by using a colorful, layered approach. For example, easy-care roses and perennials, low-growing/drought-tolerant groundcovers and ornamental grasses add depth, fragrance, color, height and texture. Incorporate plants that look good all year or use a mix of plants that together provide an attractive year-round display. Frame the front door with plantings and make the pathway leading to the door a delightful sensual experience.


Plants require more maintenance if they are planted in poor soil. Incorporate organic matter, such as well-seasoned compost, into your planting areas. After adding plants, use a layer of mulch atop the soil. Continue building the soil as the plants mature. Limit fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, which have ingredients that can linger in the soil, run into waterways or kill beneficial insects and microorganisms.


Limit water use by planting species known to thrive with minimal supplemental irrigation. Water well at planting time and in the weeks/months following until plant roots are well established. Afterwards, water only as needed to sustain the plants.


Turfgrasses such as Bermuda and St. Augustine are not particularly durable or drought tolerant. To thrive, they require regular chemical applications and mowing. Reduce lawn space to a size that is functional for you and your family. Do not plant lawns only to fill empty landscape space. Substitute drought-tolerant plantings or low-maintenance hardscapes (patios, etc.).


Fences, walkways, patios and structures are functional, but they also add character and help define a garden. Pathways facilitate maintenance and help guide guests from one area to the next. With the addition of seating, patios become outdoor living spaces. Use and repeat similar materials to create a cohesive look. For instance, use the same stone to create a pathway as well as a patio and planting bed.


Defined planting spaces help gardeners to design their overall space. Even in casual settings where plants are allowed to run wild, borders are typically constructed in an orderly fashion to facilitate walkways, maintenance, etc. Structures, such as arbors, give plants a place to climb. Other structures provide the background for colorful plantings. Always keep maintenance in mind when adding structures. Do not create a space that is difficult to maneuver, trim, tidy or irrigate.


Give plants the conditions they require. Use raised beds to improve soil drainage. Create gardens that can be realistically maintained. Incorporate plants that provide the biggest bang for the buck. For example, use plants that serve multiple purposes, such as herbs or evergreen shrubs. Select materials that endure the elements. Install drip irrigation to conserve precious water supplies. Use mulch to insulate roots. Ensure plant health by using mostly native or well-adapted species. Grow what you enjoy!

For answers to your horticulture questions, call the Texas AgriLife Extension at 817-579-3280 and ask to speak to a Master Gardener or visit