Inspiration for Your Backyard Landscape Design


If it’s time to rethink your backyard landscape design, the very first place I like to start is finding inspiration. At Royal City Nursery, we do a lot of landscaping projects and my favourite part is helping customers express themselves in an outdoor space. 

Both BLAs and horticulture professors at Humber College in Toronto, my husband Dave and I have been doing landscaping in the Guelph and Cambridge region for decades now, and we always start with an initial consultation. What we’ve observed is that, while many people have a good handle on how to arrange their indoor spaces, the outdoors is a whole other ballgame. If you’ve never done a landscaping project before, things like drainage, soil conditions, weather, sun exposure, and yard size can all throw a wrench into your creative process. When expectations and reality don’t align, it can lead to a big (and possibly expensive) letdown.

In response, we’ve found the best projects are a marriage of art and science. The “art” piece is shared—we work with your goals, inspiration, and style, to create a visualized outline of what is achievable in your space. The “science” is the piece Dave and I have perfected over years of experience—in other words, we know what will work, what won’t work, and how to build a space you’ll be happy with.

Sound good? Great, let’s start now. Yes, now. In October.

Why Start Your Landscape Design Now?

By starting now, I’m not talking about breaking any ground just yet. I’m talking about the fun stuff; imagining what you could do with the space you have. If we start our initial consultation while the snow is (hopefully!) a few weeks away, we can start brainstorming with you on how the space we’re working with could be transformed. Backyard landscaping is often a big project that takes substantial time. If we can agree on a plan now, we can get cracking as soon as spring hits and aim for a finish date that still gives you time to enjoy the results.

Backyard Landscape Design Ideas

Now let’s get to the good stuff! These yard design ideas are meant for inspiration to help you picture the ideal version of your property. Depending on the conditions of your space, the scale and materials of these fixtures may be radically different. Though, in my opinion, half the fun is watching an idea evolve into something totally custom-built for you.

Seating Area with Garden Border – One of my absolute favourite quotes (and lessons) from school is “form follows function,” and I believe it’s the true indicator of a successful design. Whether you are working with acres and acres or a parcel of land the size of a postage stamp, function should always drive your design. A multi-function table and chairs is the most versatile thing you can place in a small space. For something like this, we would hardscape with flat, uniform pavers and add an appropriately-sized outdoor dining set. Then, we would surround the perimeter of the yard with inset garden beds and container gardens to add height. We might even add an umbrella and overhanging bistro lights to add to the warm, cozy vibe.


Water Wall – If you thought having an itty bitty backyard meant you have no room for a water feature, think again! Water walls are, obviously, wall-shaped and can be placed against a fence or left free-standing as a divider between areas of the backyard. For instance, a water wall could be placed between a small patio and a plot of green space to create multiple spaces within the property, which makes the yard seem larger.

Hot Tub Deck – If you have a hot tub or want to install one, it probably needs to take up a sizable chunk of your backyard space. A freestanding hot tub in a tiny yard can look awkward, but if you devote the entire yard to creating an outdoor spa, it looks just right. Building decking around the spa makes it safer to climb in and out, and an adjacent patio is perfect for lounge chairs or conversation sets. Built-in planters complement the look with doses of greenery that follow the flow of the space.

Total Zen Pool Deck – A trend I’m fond of for homes with in-ground pools is the “zen”-inspired look, with rock gardens, clean lines, and structures built from cedar planks. Since most pools are built in a basic rectangle, the blocky lines play with the pool shape instead of fighting it. You can easily incorporate upscale features, like an outdoor shower or sauna that follow this theme. Plus, the rock gardens are perfect for those who are into low-maintenance luxury.

Grand Waterfall – Who wouldn’t want to make their backyard in Guelph feel like a trip to the Muskokas? The larger the yard, the more likely it is that we’re dealing with multiple grades, slopes, and hills. So, why not own it and turn that “challenge” into a focal feature? Building a waterfall into an existing slope looks the most natural, but they can also be built—along with a babbling brook and footbridge to match. Waterfalls are magnets for wildlife and are truly the crown jewel in any large yard.

Outdoor Kitchen and Garden – Imagine this; you’re cooking Neapolitan pizza in your stone pizza oven as friends gab away with you from the outdoor dining set. You pull out the pizza as soon as you can smell that perfect crust, then reach over to your built-in herb planter to pluck off some fresh basil leaves. As the pizza cools, you reach below into the built-in wine cellar and pull out a bottle of Chianti to serve with the meal. Can you think of a more perfect evening? I can’t.

Natural Stone Patio – If you have some space to play with, textured stone pavers add a tonne of character to the landscape. I especially like the look of a pathway in a matching stone material that leads to a larger stone patio and matching retaining walls. There are a million ways to execute stone patio designs, but my view is that they look best when they highlight the existing features of the property, like shade trees or an L-shaped corner.

Pergola Garden – This concept combines well with rock patio designs. Pergolas have a way of making people want to stay for hours, and nothing dresses them up better than climbing vines, like Virginia creeper and trumpet vine. Larger yards are an ideal fit for pergolas as they have enough room for the structure not to overwhelm the space. Surround the pergola with perennials, flowering shrubs, and hanging planters to create a relaxing, colourful escape.


With all this said, the best part about designing a landscape is that there are limitless ways to do it! If you’re hoping to walk out to a new space next summer, contact us today to get started.