An uninviting, under-used back yard was transformed into an appealing, easy-care city oasis.
The challenge: When Erika Benson and Mike Peterson bought their 1920s Tudor home in Minneapolis, the back yard was shaped by English-style gardens composed of mostly flowers, such as roses and dahlias, that required time-consuming care. “They were beautiful — but not for our lifestyle,” said Benson. The couple wanted to make a change to an all-season landscape with low-maintenance grasses, perennials, shrubs and evergreens. “We liked the soothing and calming feel of evergreens,” said Benson. “And they have winter interest.”
Plus they wanted to create a more attractive and welcoming back-yard seating and grilling area. The yard’s only sitting spot was a concrete slab that absorbed heat, next to the house. So after their first summer in the home, the couple dug out the gardens and removed some messy crabapple trees to create a blank slate for a new multi-use, low-care landscape.
The landscape designer: Daryl Melquist, Landscaping by Bachman’s, www.bachmans.com, 612-861-7655.
Patio paves the way: Benson and Peterson were considering a deck off the back door, but Melquist pointed out that the raised platform would give them less privacy. Instead, he designed a curvy 15- by 20-foot paver patio with two defined areas: one for a dining table and chairs and the other for a sitting area or “coffee corner.” “We split the functions with a walkway to the detached garage,” he said.
He mixed the hand-cut cobblestone-style concrete pavers in different sizes and colors, and inserted a decorative dark brown paver border that accentuates the shape of the patio — like an area rug. “It creates a little more expense, because of the cutting time, but the look is well worth it,” said Melquist. Benson and Peterson are happy with the prettier alternative to a deck. “The soft colors of the pavers are soothing and melt into the scenery,” said Benson.
Smart landscaping: To surround the patio, Melquist picked a variety of evergreens, such as weeping white spruce and upright Colorado spruce, which add color to the winterscape, as well as providing privacy to the corner back yard. “I chose dwarf evergreens that won’t overwhelm the space and will stay in scale with the small city yard,” he said. Other plants include burgundy-foliage ninebark shrubs along a fence and ornamental grasses and perennials, including Japanese forest grass, Shasta daisies, sedum and coneflowers. “The weeping spruces are gorgeous,” said Benson. “And the ‘Limelight’ tree hydrangea blocks the view of the garbage cans.”
Don’t forget the stoop: Homeowners often neglect the stoop or steps into the home, which is an integral part of a cohesive design, Melquist said. He modified the old concrete steps, placing a layer of thin bluestone on the top of each step and integrating stones that match the paver patio. “It makes the concrete stoop feel more like part of the outdoor room,” he said. Lastly, he removed one of the iron railings to open up the staircase leading to the back door.
City-sized: Benson was impressed with the way Melquist was able to fit the landscaping and patio into a “postage stamp-sized yard and not make it feel cramped,” she said.
Cost: $12,000 includes the landscaping, patio and stoop, installed in 2010. Homeowners who want to save money by doing some of the work themselves, can hire Bachman’s to design a landscape plan, then buy and plant the trees, shrubs and flowers themselves. Or they can dig out the old plants, have the landscape installed professionally, but then spread the mulch after it’s done, Melquist said.
The best part: At first, Peterson wasn’t keen on building a big patio, Benson said, but now he’s out there more than she is. “We have a 1920s home with no air-conditioning, so we eat as many meals outside as we can in the summer,” she said. “When it’s cold, we even sit out there in our coats with our morning coffee.”
Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619