Design & Decor - Design Ideas

Turn a barren yard into an outdoor room

Designer tips for transforming a dry lot into a peaceful sitting area. Illustration by Shelagh Armstrong

PROBLEM:The removal of a shed left a square of compacted soil by the back fence. Neighbouring spruce trees drain moisture from the soil and block light from the south.

SOLUTION: This almost empty space is every gardener's dream-a blank canvas just waiting for new ideas. With no-fuss flowering shrubs and a commitment to laying down soaker hoses, this drying yard in Calgary can be transformed into a graceful outdoor room.


First, I would suggest covering the fence with inexpensive trellis panels attached to five-by-five- centimetre blocks of wood, allowing vines to grow in and out of the gaps. Vines such as golden hop vine and ‘Dropmore Scarlet' honeysuckle would be happy here in the shade.

Move the compost bin about three metres along the garage wall toward the window to open up the lumpy corner for planting with cutleaf staghorn sumac. The dry, compacted area can become a special-interest feature, with gravel, large- and medium-sized rocks and a bird bath. Beds extending out from both sides of this area will unify the disparate objects (house, fence, garage) and pull the garden together. And finally, a comfortable bench would offer a place to contemplate a pretty clump of serviceberry. The drying frame can still be used on laundry day but hopefully will be removed when not required.

According to the Calgary Horticultural Society's website, the city has Zone 3 through Zone 5 areas, as well as fluctuating frost and warmth in winter, so the recommended plants are pretty tough customers.

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