15 Great Landscaping Tricks

What you need to know from the Western Garden Book of Landscaping guide to designing beautiful paths, patios, plantings and more.

Picnic patioPicnic patio
Build a picnic patio
Locate a small patio like this one, of brick, as far from the house as possible, so it feels like eating there is a destination. Add a great picnic table and bring on the picnic basket. Using recycled materials can lower the cost of this do-it-yourself table.
See one of our favorite patios

Leaf gateLeaf gate
Build a leaf gate
Let your gate give a nod to your favorite plants growing nearby. To build this gate's leafy insets, Charlie Castro and Randy Hixon used foliage from the garden's red ginger plants as templates, tracing the outline of the leaflets on plywood, cutting around the leaf shapes with a saw, then enclosing the wood leaves in frames made of 2-by-4s. The gate is painted soft gray-green.

Succulent squareSucculent square
Plant a succulent square
Planted in square, custom-built concrete containers, these succulents resemble mini tidepools. Use a tall Aloe plicatilis to rise like kelp above silvery gray Dudleya and small sedums. Finish by covering the soil around the plants with fine blue-gray stone mulch.
Decorating with succulents

Pocket gardenPocket garden
Plant a pocket garden
Tuck a small row of echeveria between an upper and lower patio to remind visitors to step up. Use larger succulents, such as the three kinds of aeonium pictured, to signal where the upper patio drops off.
More gardening hints and tips

Use it as a backdrop Use it as a backdrop
Dress a fence
Looking for a way to dress up a plain wood fence? Try painting it white and using it as a backdrop for decorative metal panels with cutout circles or other shapes. The effect is especially delightful at night, when uplights give the impression of a projected image. Design: Shades of Green Landscape Architecture.

Soften the pathSoften the path
Soften a path with plants
Plant low grasses or ground covers along the path to fringe its edges. Here, 'Tom Thumb' cotoneaster and yellow Japanese forest grass fan out over a baby gunner.
Make a flagstone path in one weekend

Lamb's ears appear to flowLamb's ears appear to flow
Play with textures
For a pretty vignette near a patio, plant a soft stream of woolly lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina) so it appears to flow between two kinds of thyme. To accent, tuck in some striking whitish Dudleya brittonii, as shown in this Napa, California, garden. Design: Roger Warner.

A ribbon of grassA ribbon of grass
Grow a ribbon of grass
Turn a grassy border on a gentle slope into a work of art. Simply plant a curving ribbon of black mondo grass between creamy Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola'), and a flowering lime sedum ('Angelina'). As it grows, the planting will start to look like currents in a stream. Design: Dan Corson.

Bring in some bromeliadsBring in some bromeliads
Bring on the tropics
For quick hit of the tropics in the summer garden, bring in some bromeliads. Guzmanias (pictured) are widely available, and have green leaves and brightly colored flower bracts that last for weeks. Vriesias have wider leaves and vivid, paddle-shaped bracts. Both are easy to grow. Plant several in a wide bowl to display on a lightly shaded patio. Unless you live in the tropics, over-winter these plants indoors.

Table planterTable planter
Make a table planter
Tiny rosettes of Sempervivum cover this tray-top table except for the spaces left for pots of Kalanchoe luciae and the tiles set in to hold wine or martini glasses. Design: Harte Brownlee & Associates.
More outdoor projects

Try some vivid outdoor artTry some vivid outdoor art
Hide your storage
To camouflage a garden workspace, try this idea from Linda Ernst's Portland garden. Put up a sturdy hog fence in front of the offending view, then dress the fence with some vivid outdoor art--such as Linda's three panels of fused glass. The panels stop your eyes at the flowers instead of letting them travel to the storage shelves in the background. Design: Laura Crockett, Garden Diva Designs.

Hang up some pretty fabricsHang up some pretty fabrics
Get creative with fabrics
Hang up some pretty fabrics to lightly shade a patio for a tropics-themed party. Pareus, usually worn as wraparound skirts, shade this lanai in Hana, Maui. They also add charm, billowing with every breeze. That each is just one color on a white background unites them in theme.

Window-frame tableWindow-frame table
Build a window-frame table
Turn an old window frame with safety glass into a garden table by securing legs cut from a 2-by-2 and attaching them with door hinges as brackets. New brass screws give some sparkle to the rustic look. If your window doesn't have safety glass, add a sheet of sturdy transparent plastic cut to size by a supplier such as tapplastics.com.

Instant lightingInstant lighting
Add instant lighting
Place recycled plastic globes around a small patio, then put tea lights inside each one. When night falls, they'll glow like little moons. These globes lighten a patio built from recycled granite stones. Design: Matthew Levesque.

An easy water featureAn easy water feature
Put out an easy water feature
To add a cooling touch to a sunny garden corner, and invite thirsty birds, set an outdoor water bowl among stones or plantings. This one is just 8 inches across. Made of caramel-colored hypertufa, it's studded with small ceramic nuggets. Hose it out regularly to keep the water clean.
See our complete guide to backyard design