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How to Make Expansive Yards Feel Intimate

The feeling of special space and intimacy is essential to the Houston outdoor living experience.
On smaller properties such a feeling is a given because there is only limited space. On a larger lot, this is more of a challenge because there is so much space that the landscape designer runs the risk of creating excessive homogeneity that overwhelms the senses.

Variety is necessary for the spice of outdoor life, we might say. Breaking up the landscape into smaller, more unique areas of activity, interest, and special décor is essential to making the outdoor space around a large property feel personal and inviting.

The majority of Houston’s larger properties are locating in River Oaks, Rivercrest, and Memorial. In this region of the Houston landscape, close proximity to Buffalo Bayou and its tributaries encourages heavy tree growth.

Since trees have a tendency to make a lot look even larger than it is, we are especially challenged at those times when we have to create zones of enclosure and privacy on a property that is already massive to begin with and which looks that much more expansive with the visual factor of the trees.


Some people would suggest removing some of the trees. We oppose this approach because we feel that trees are the pillars of true Houston landscape design. Any special environments can be developed around them in tree friendly ways using garden design, custom hardscapes, and strategic placement of outdoor pavilions.

Such environments can often be created with very simple methods. Take, for instance, the creation of an outdoor room in a garden built around a lighted fountain. Such an outdoor room does not need “wall” per se in the same way a room in a house does. Outdoor rooms typically use plant material to create a feeling of warmth and enclosure.

On a large River Oaks estate, something as simple as low-level ground cover surrounding a seating area is all that is needed to remove the gathering from the overwhelming expanse of the surrounding Houston landscape. Trees and taller hedges can be used to build a wall, if necessary, to shut out the view of neighboring yards or the street near the front of the home. Such simple techniques are often all that is necessary to separate a portion of the yard for special guests and special occasions.

Simple hardscape variations can also help break up the large scale of the landscape into multiple areas of interest, gathering, and seating. Patios can be built at different elevations, and they can be built around virtually anything that can be used as a visual focal point or center for human activity.

Stone patios can also be paved large scale stone that will distorts one’s sense of perspective and focus the attention of the eye more on the patio than the surrounding Houston landscape.

Outdoor buildings can be built strategically between different points of interest to new landscape design zones. An outdoor living room, for example, can be built in a garden that will create multiple viewpoints originating from the same space. An arbor can be built between a luxury swimming pool and an outcropping of trees in the back yard to create the sense of separation between refined space and more open natural space.

Special ornaments can also enhance both the organic and the inorganic elements of landscape design. For example, one excellent way to give a patio a special touch of luxury is to hang outdoor curtains around it. This instantly sets the area within the curtains apart from the rest of the Houston landscape without completely blocking off one’s view of the world outside.

In front and back yards where there is a great deal of brick work and masonry, large-scale planters can be built to either run parallel to home walls, architectural walls, or elevated patios. They can also be constructed as actual parts of more sophisticate hardscapes such as outdoor fireplace patios and custom fountains.