A long expanse of lawn or a huge patio is boring without flowers, bushes and trees. Bushes provide privacy, mark off a garden room or block an unsightly view. Flowers provide color and add joy to any yard. Choose flowers and bushes for your yard that will thrive year after year.
Sketch a map of your yard, noting where fences are, hard scape such as patios and walkways, current lawn, planting and trees.
Find out what USDA hardiness zone you live in (see Resources below). The zone is the average low temperature. Most plants will be happy a zone or two on either side, but won't thrive beyond that. Yards have microclimates that may provide shelter from the cold, such as against a wall or house, or expose the plant to colder temperatures such as on the downside of a hill. Make notes on your sketch of any of the areas that might be warmer or colder
Determine how much sun and shade your yard receives and where. The dappled shade under a high-limbed tree is different than heavy shade under shrubs. Again, note these areas.
Look at where the rain falls if the yard doesn't have supplemental irrigation. Make notes of any boggy areas or areas that are in a rain shadow such as under a tree or against a fence.
Decide what functions you want the yard to serve. Perhaps it's an area to have morning coffee, a vegetable garden, a water feature, flower bed with a bird bath or an area for entertaining. Sketch out the functions on your backyard map.
Decide what areas of the yard are the highest priority and landscape these areas first. You may decide, for example, that screening the view from the neighbors is more important than a water feature.
Select plants that serve their purpose with minimum fuss from you. Look at how wide and tall bushes grow. It may seem easy to keep a bush that naturally grows to 10 feet pruned to five feet, but in the long run it will less work to select a bush that tops out at five feet. Flowers that require a lot of staking, such as delphiniums, look unkempt if not staked. There's no sense in selecting perennials that are only hardy to zone 7 if you live in zone 4. They won't make it through the first cold winter.