Throw open the back door, step outside, and survey your empire. What have you got? Let's say it's a boring sweep of turf with all the allure of an overgrown billiard table. Across that monotonous swath of green lies another monotonous swath of green -- your neighbor's backyard. And just beyond that stands their house. You've got an unobstructed view of the place, which is exactly what you don't want. Backyards, after all, should be a place where your imagination can run wild, a place of sanctuary where you can entertain with style and relax in grace. And they should be places where gardeners can realize their wildest dreams.
We asked three designers to envision a backyard like that--one filled with potential, but not much else. And we gave them a few more particulars too: a space 50 by 100 feet, bounded on the south side by the house. The yard is flat and devoid of trees. It's sunny and the soil is good. The hypothetical clients are a couple in their 50s who work full-time but still enjoy gardening and hosting small dinner parties. The kids have left home, so the clients have time and some money -- about $25,000 -- to devote to a backyard makeover that they hope will give them a little outdoor privacy. They're willing to do some of the work to cut costs and they look forward to tending the gardens they envision.
For each designer, we suggested a different approach to restyling the basic backyard. Jeni Webber, of Oakland, California, would create a rich flower garden -- decorated with interesting trees, shrubs, and garden structures -- highlighted by a hidden oasis. Gary Keim, of Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, was to design a naturalistic garden with a secluded feel. It is screened by unusual flowering trees and shrubs. It also features a garden structure and borders where the owners could putter with perennials. And we asked R. Scott Lankford, of Seattle, Washington, to create a private, pond-dotted retreat with a formal flair. For a look at the designers' plans, plant lists, and a sketch of the picture in their mind's eye, keep reading.