Design a Relaxing Garden Patio

Design and build an appealing and effective garden space or patio for entertaining and enjoyment with friends and family.

| October 2018

  • front patio garden
    Create a comfortable and beautiful place to sit on your patio with simple gardening design and landscaping tips.
    Photo by Minnesota Historical Society Press
  • evergreen shrubs
    Layers of evergreen shrubs at different heights give properties a comfortable enclosed feeling.
    Photo by Minnesota Historical Society Press
  • disorganized landscape drawing
    Learn the differences between a disorganized versus an organized landscape plan on paper before you begin planting.
    Photo by George Nicholson
  • organized landscape drawing
    Plan out an organized landscape plan on paper before you begin planting to achieve the perfect setup for landscape design.
    Photo by George Nicholson
  • informal curving landscape
    Informal landscapes are marked by distinct curves instead of straight lines.
    Photo by Minnesota Historical Society Press
  • Walkways and pathways
    Placing pathways and walkways is important because it directs people to important spaces within the landscape design.
    Photo by Minnesota Historical Society Press
  • waterfall garden
    One way to think about designing successful landscapes is to focus on any water elements first and the plantings that will be surrounding the,.
    Photo by Minnesota Historical Society Press
  • textured and colorful foliage
    Keep your garden and patio areas exciting all year roung by mixing plants with different colors and textures together for a stunning result.
    Photo by Minnesota Historical Society Press
  • straight lined formal landscape drawing
    Creating the perfect vegetable garden is possible using straight lines and a formal landscape plan.
    Photo by George Nicholson
  • book cover
    “The Northern Gardener” by Mary Lahr Schier is a compilation of tips, techniques, and stories from gardeners over the years about successfully growing plants and flowers in the wretched winters, humid summers, and tough soils of the north.
    Cover courtesy Minnesota Historical Society Press

  • front patio garden
  • evergreen shrubs
  • disorganized landscape drawing
  • organized landscape drawing
  • informal curving landscape
  • Walkways and pathways
  • waterfall garden
  • textured and colorful foliage
  • straight lined formal landscape drawing
  • book cover

The Northern Gardener (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2017) by Mary Lahr Schier is an A-Z resource guide for reader’s wishing to garden in the north that may not have grown up with a garden or family members with green thumbs.  Complete with a little history, how-to, and many accounts of trial and error, this book is for anyone looking for information and advice on what to plant and how to do it effectively in a climate that is not the most forgiving.  Detailed in this book are the best plant varieties for the climate in the north along with techniques from the past that worked well and continue to benefit gardens today, especially when paired with modern gardening advances.

A welcoming front yard, a cozy patio for enjoying food and conversations with friends, trees for shade, flowers for beauty, a space to grow vegetables or fruit, and an efficient spot to handle trash, recycling, compost, and other necessities of home life: We ask a lot of our home landscapes, and with careful design, it’s possible to meet all those desires, even on a small lot.

When Minnetonka-based nurseryman and garden writer Franc Daniels wrote his book Horse-Sense Horticulture in the 1950s, it was based on more than forty years of gardening and landscape experience, and he took a decidedly practical approach to designing a yard and garden. Daniels recommended dividing the yard into three distinct areas: the public area, the service area, and the private area. The public area is usually the front of the house — more visible to the neighbor across the street or the person walking their dog on the sidewalk than it is to the homeowner. For most gardeners, these front-yard spaces involve a tree or two for shade, a planting of shrubs and perennials to soften the look of the house, and near the door maybe a container or two filled with colorful annuals in the spring and summer and evergreen branches and red-twig dogwood sticks in the winter. If possible, you want your front yard to welcome visitors with plantings, walkways, and other signals to clarify where the entry is rather than obscuring it with overgrown shrubs. In sociable neighborhoods, a vine-covered front porch or chairs set in the front yard welcome conversation and visiting.

In Daniels’s system, the service area includes the driveway and garage, trash cans, compost piles, a vegetable garden or cutting garden for those who love indoor bouquets, and space for drying clothes outdoors. Today we would add recycling cans and, if garage space is at a premium, a shed or other place to store tools and lawn equipment. Service areas generally would be set to the side of the lot or hidden behind shrubbery or a hedge. Many owners of homes built in the past thirty or so years will have space under decks that can be used for a potting bench, tool storage, and other household necessities. Wherever it is, the service area should be easily accessible from the house but not too noticeable from the street.



Daniels called the private area of the landscape “an outdoor living room,” a term still used by landscapers and garden designers. This secluded spot, probably in back, is where you can install a patio, a spot for a grill, a table, and maybe a few chairs for relaxing. Ideally, the private area has screening — hedges, tall shrubs, or a fence — that keeps neighbors from peering in uninvited. This is the area where you can express yourself with plantings, a water feature, maybe a birdbath or feeder within your line of sight.

Daniels’s practical approach still makes sense. Modern homes might not have a clothesline (though why not?), but the idea of thinking of your garden spaces according to their function is relevant. Garden design, like house and clothing styles, changes with fads and fashions—and experts and homeowners have long held strong opinions on the subject. In 1918, landscape architect Wilhelm Miller proclaimed Minnesotans’ love of formal gardens as “about 40 years behind the times,” and that geometrical plantings with straight lines were “the worst possible standard of beauty to show your children — the false old idea of display.” By the 1930s, informal landscapes were considered “restless” and messy. The popularity of both formal and informal styles has come and gone several times since then — with most homeowners now seeming to prefer more informal designs.






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