Urban Backyard

The goal of any back yard is to have a private outdoor place where you want to hang out and enjoy the spring, summer, or fall. People should pay as much attention and time to planning the back yard as they would a room of their home. Every yard has a unique character to consider for design. This includes not only key asthetic features and elements, but also site restrictions.

When we bought our home, our whole yard, front and back, was more or less a blank slate. There were a few existing residents that we appreciated and kept, but we have changed everything up quite a bit.

Phase 1:

Phase one of shaping our back yard was removing big, old deck from the back of the house, replacing it with a brick patio, adding a main vegetable garden, adding a compost bin, and adding landscaping next to the house. Pieces of the old deck were cut and sunk vertically along the fence on one side to create a privacy between us and the neighbor’s yard, where none previously existed. Two grape vines, one wine and one Concord, are being trained onto these “walls”. At around the same time, we added a berm in the back corner of the yard and planted potatoes in it. It was huge when it was added, and had nearly become completely flat by the end of the season.


Phase 2:

We have now entered phase two in the back yard.

Phase two will consist of adding more texture to the yard with the use of berms and hugelkultur. This will give us more area to plant and grow food, it will soften the look of the landscape and give more places for the dogs to run around. We want the back yard to be our own little oasis where we can really enjoy being in the garden.

The berms that we are creating in the back yard will be hugelkultur berms.

The berms will be seeded with various plants such as beans, tomatoes, sunflowers, basil, greens, beets. Once the design is roughed out we will take inventory of our saved seeds and plan it out further.

Our back yard has a few constraints that we have to consider:

  1. Small size
  2. Steps from the sun room to the patio.
  3. The patio
  4. The air conditioner
  5. Privacy fences
  6. A dogwood tree in the center of yard
  7. A shed
  8. High traffic areas from dogs

Everything on that list is staying where it is so we will work around them or with them.

We have three fences. The back fence is on the north side and is wood, primarily blocking the view of the neighbor. There is, however, still an unsightly view of a broken down shed and satellite dish we would like to work on. The west and east sides of the yard they are chain link the west side the neighbor took care of the privacy issue for us by planting two large aborvitaes. On the east side the neighbor has planted tall grasses that break up the view of the garage but sitting on the patio we see directly into the enclosed back porch. It is something we hope to remedy with Phase II.

The shed we would like to move but it is not worth the work to move or rebuild so it is staying where it is.

Next to the patio we have the air conditioner. The model that we have is not too loud but we would like to block the sound more and limit its visibility. To do this, we built mounds of varying heights around it while leaving space around it to breathe and to give space for water to drain.

Water relief is something that you will have to keep in mind when working next to the foundation. If the ground slopes toward the foundation it will funnel water to the house, that can cause problems such as a damp leaky basement causing the sump pump to run more often. So try to keep the slope away from the foundation and create pathways for the water to travel away.




We have two dogs that love to run the back yard but they have a few paths that they follow the most. Since the grass does not have time to recover we decided to turn the dirt track the dogs made into a path. This was very simple. We took wood chips and spread a thin layer on the bare spots and as needed to will add more. This allows for us to cut the grass without worrying about the path, and reduces the amount of dirt and mud the dogs track into the house.