Before and After: 4 Outdoor Makeovers Transform Oddly Shaped Lots

  • Megan Douglas
  • 07/2/20
If you’re looking for design ideas for your unusually shaped outdoor space, take a peek at the following gardens that all make the most of challenging starting points. Steep slopes, a narrow side yard and a backyard shaped like a pie slice have all become beautiful, inviting garden spaces thanks to creative design moves. Take a look and tell us: Could you see any of these design ideas working for your outdoor space?
Before Photo
Seed Studio Landscape Design

1. Walled-In Canyon Becomes an Inviting Outdoor Living Space

Designer: Seed Studio Landscape Design
Size: Total exterior space is 700 square feet (65 square meters)
Before: This San Francisco side yard had good bones, including existing cedar fencing and slate pavers, but felt more like a walled-in pen than an inviting garden.
Seed Studio Landscape Design

After: Landscape designer Steve Ritchey treated the side yard more as an indoor-outdoor living room than as a planted garden. He added wooden crossbeams overhead to create an outdoor ceiling, emphasizing the room-like feeling of the courtyard. 
Instead of breaking up the slate patio into planting areas, Ritchey kept the floor space open, save for one area for a Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) in the corner. He added planter boxes at the top of the fence filled with blue chalk sticks (Senecio mandraliscae), native island alumroot (Heuchera maxima) and western sword fern(Polystichum munitum), creating a cascade of foliage and an attractive view from upstairs windows. New steppingstones set in gravel help alleviate the canyon-like feeling of the pathway leading to the small back garden.
Seed Studio Landscape Design

With the sliding doors flung open, the new side yard seating area flows into the indoor dining room. A handsome new outdoor sofa and side chair provide a destination for relaxing.
Before Photo
Green Tree Garden Design Ltd

2. Pie-Slice-Shape Lot Becomes Dynamic Garden With Curves

Designer: Green Tree Garden Design Ltd
Before: This long, tapered backyard did little to inspire getting outside — save for retrieving something from the garden shed — and wasn’t much to admire from inside the house. The patchy lawn and encroaching trees from neighbors’ property emphasized the odd shape of the property, which is in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, England.
Green Tree Garden Design Ltd

After: A welcoming patio set off the back of the house provides a viewing area to appreciate the much more dynamic garden. Designer Fiona Green used a series of interlocking circles to define areas of lawn and planting beds. A cobblestone path meanders between the different areas like the path of a river down a valley, drawing one’s eye from side to side rather than just straight down the yard.
The central position of a Japanese maple in a circular bed halfway down the garden gently interrupts the sightline and encourages a visual pause.
Green Tree Garden Design Ltd

While the original shed remains, a new cobblestone patio and cafe table make the end of the garden not just a practical destination but one that’s lovely to view from across the garden as well.
Before Photo
Abigail Hazell Landscape & Garden Design Ltd.

3. Steep Ravine Becomes Terraced Garden With Soaking Tub

Designer: Abigail Hazell Landscape & Garden Design Ltd.
Size: 1,240 square feet (115 square meters); 46 by 89 feet, plus balconies and terraces
Before: Positioned on a steep slope above a ravine, this site in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, England, presented little usable space. It did, however, offer the promise of dramatic views of the limestone rock face and water below. The original garden was overgrown and filled with construction rubble from the previous owners.
Abigail Hazell Landscape & Garden Design Ltd.

After: Designer Abigail Hazell carved the slope into three terraces: an upper tier with sun lounges and a romantic, ruin-inspired fireplace; a middle deck with an in-ground soaking tub; and a bottom terrace planted with meadow grasses and spring bulbs.
Abigail Hazell Landscape & Garden Design Ltd.

While the steep slope presented a major initial challenge, the terraced design has turned the vertical drop into an asset. The elevation change separates areas while keeping views of the gorge uninterrupted from every level.
Here, in the bottom meadow section of the garden, gentle rock retaining walls prevent erosion down the hillside to the ravine, and a hanging swing seat provides one more place where someone can hang out and enjoy the view.
Before Photo

4. Sloped Lawn Becomes Meditative Garden

Landscape designer: Sarah Herman Landscape Design
Landscape contractor: Earth Lines Landscape
Size: About one-tenth of an acre
Before: While this lot in Berkeley, California, offered fabulous views of the San Francisco Bay, the original yard didn’t provide the homeowners with what they were looking for in an outdoor space.
Sarah Herman Landscape Design

After: The new garden offers spaces for outdoor living, entertaining and quiet contemplation — ticking all the boxes on the homeowners’ wish list. A decomposed gravel path winds through multiple garden spaces; it starts at a fire pit patio, then curves around a flagstone labyrinth, then moves past a native meadow garden and finally ends at a kitchen garden, set off by a redwood arbor.
Plantings include many California natives, including California poppies (Eschscholzia californica), toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia)and western redbud (Cercis occidentalis), as well as low-water staples such as rosemary and agave. The climate-appropriate plantings offer far more to local pollinators and wildlife — and interest for the homeowners — than the expanse of clipped grass did before.
Sarah Herman Landscape Design



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