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Patio of the Week: Keep a Secret Garden on the Side

“The side lawn of a residence is often overlooked, abandoned in favor of their heavily used front and back yards, but this is what’s so good about them they have the perfect capability to develop into silent getaways within a home’s landscape,” says garden designer Bill Dear.

This lovely side yard patio and garden takes up a place that readily could have been overlooked, creating beauty and calmness. Though the backyard has a number of places, including a pool, a deck, an open yard and vegetable and perennial gardens with amazing views of rolling meadows and woodlands, the side yard has a more enclosed flower-lined path, garden and patio that produce a different feeling of sheltered privacy.

Garden at a Glance
Who lives here: A busy family with young teens and frequent guests
Location: Philadelphia
Size: The patio ranges from 7 to 16 feet wide.

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The garden beckons back past the pool home (right), with a stepping stone path bordered by colorful blooms.

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The path leads from the pool home down to a stone pump house. The curved stone wall into the left is a retaining wall, which provides a grade switch; the timber one to the ideal covers unsightly air conditioners. The location where the path navigates between both is a “pinch point” that’s 7 ft wide, giving a more enclosed atmosphere across the path.

The wet-laid retaining wall is confronted with a sandstone indigenous to the area. The stepping stones are irregular, lilac-colored flagstone. Plants, including varieties of sedum, thyme and veronica, fill in the gaps between the rocks.

Other plants seen here comprise Cotinus coggygria, Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo,’ Hosta ‘Golden Tiara’, Iris sibirica ‘Ceasar’s Brother’, Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’, Salvia nemerosa ‘Caradonna’ and Stachys byzantina.

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A wide variety of heights provides the makeup maximum interest; the higher ground above the retaining wall as well as low, medium and tall perennials and shrubs produce undulating waves of color. These include Cotinus coggygria, Buddleia davidii ‘Lochinch’, Calamintha nepetoides ‘White Cloud’, Geranium ‘Rozanne’, Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Beckyand Rudbeckia fulgida.

A lot of these draw butterflies and hummingbirds.

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Once past the pinch point, the space opens up, and also the same stones used on the road spread into a stone patio. Two lounge chairs provide a personal place for getting away from all the activity in the garden.

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Plants were selected for attraction year round. “Native Sweetbay magnolias (Magnolia virginiana) flower later in the year than many magnolias, adding white blooms and sweet scents into the garden in late spring,” Dear says.

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The low-profile perennials and herbs planted between the rocks not just stand up to warm and arid conditions and light foot traffic, but also the thyme releases a brand new odor when stepped upon.

Plants seen in this opinion include Magnolia virginiana, Clethra alnifolia ‘Hummingbird’, Hamamelis x intermedia, Hydrangea quercifolia, Alchemilla mollis, Coreopsis verticillata ‘Moonbeam’, Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’, Iris sibirica ‘Ceasar’s Brother’, Sedum acre and Thymus serpyllum ‘Alba’.

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A charming stone spring house marks the close of the side yard garden. Climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala subsp. Petiolaris) partially covers its facade.

“This great blossom has year-round interest and is very versatile,” Dear says. “It becomes self-supporting by using small holdfasts, which attach to the surface of trees, walls, arbors and pergolas, and it also has the potential to drape itself delightfully over both sides of walls or across steep embankments as a ground cover. Its flower is a white lacecap.”

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As you might have noticed, the photos in this ideabook were taken during different days of the year. “it’s very interesting to me to pay attention to the same plants seen in various seasons,” Dear says. “For instance, plants like the Siberian Iris (Iris sibirica ‘Ceasar’s Brother’) flower early in spring, but the seedpods which develop in the following weeks have an interest all their own. The foliage is still an awesome textural contrast long after the flowers have long gone and also has a terrific fall color as the seasons turn.”

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Dear can’t say enough about the potential for often-neglected side lawns. Look at your own with new eyes to see whether there is potential for a secret garden, even if it’s only a path with plants running vertically on a trellis beside it.

More: How to Turn a Side Yard Into a Dramatic Garden Room

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