Landscaping a yard--back, front or side--doesn't have to be a complicated procedure. Pick simple, easy-to-grow perennials, add some non-plant features like a fountain, a bench or a path, and you're on your way toward a beautiful, low-maintenance garden. But first, select a theme you can carry through the entire landscaping project.
For a Mediterranean garden, use lots of bouganvilla and trumpet vines (Capetown Honeysuckle is a fast-growing gem with bright orange flowers and rich, dense, dark-green foliage). Intersperse with rock orchids and Mexican marigolds. Plant some olive or jacaranda trees in the corners, but be warned--both are quite messy. Go with an effusive burst of colorful annuals along the front section of your perimeter beds. Snapdragons, foxtails, daisies and geraniums are all good bets. They're beautiful and when they die out, just plant new ones to complement the no-maintenance (except for an occasional pruning) ones you've planted toward the back of the beds. Carve out a nice patio area from your neatly manicured lawn with interlocking paving stones and set up a wrought iron seating area around a fire pit.
Historically, English gardens are set around a lake, with rolling lawns, groves of trees and classic temple-like structures. It's easy to recreate this style in backyard or front yard. For starters, plant cypress and junipers in your perimeter beds, and then fill in the front with gardenias, azaleas and camelias. Toss in annuals for color. Seed a lawn of Kentucky bluegrass and keep it neatly manicured. On one side of the yard, install a pond. It's easy to do--home improvement stores all carry shells and pumps. On the other side of the yard, put in a flagstone patio with concrete benches. Separate the patio with a neatly trimmed hedge. In each corner, plant a showy tree like an alder, a longtime staple of English gardens.
If you're in the right climate zone, you can easily create a tropical garden that rivals anything seen in Hawaii. Use a mixture of palms (king or queen), banana and giant birds of paradise in the back of your perimeter beds. Fill in the rest of the space with day lilies, regular birds of paradise, ferns and fuchsias and sprinkle annuals, like impatiens or petunias, in the front. Plant bright green Bermuda grass for your lawn and include a paver-stone patio with bamboo furniture, a fire pit and a tiki. Stick some bamboo torches around the yard to really drive home that tropical atmosphere.
For a desert garden, skip the lawn and create meandering paths of gravel. Plant tall cacti and succulents and be sure to incorporate rocks and driftwood. Throughout the yard, plant some tall desert trees as focal points, such as mesquite, palo verde or cascalote. For your patio, use paving stones and set up a bench with wagon wheel sides and a fire pit.