Feb 24, 2013

Inside Out

Well folks, I made it through 2012 with my $0 landscaping budget (barely).  But now 2013 is here.  You know what that means?  Crazy landscape planning to be followed by landscapery.  I know it's not a word, but it should be.

I'm so excited I can hardly stand it.

But I've also never really (successfully) planned my own landscaping before.  My mom and my mother-in-law both have green thumbs, but I wasn't looking for some help with planting.  I needed help with a complete yard overhaul.  So I pulled out the big guns-- I sent an email to a local nursery that offered landscape planning and installment services, McAuliffe's.  For reference I offered these photos.

Southern exposure looking west

Southern exposure looking east

Northern exposure looking west

Eastern exposure (and the only flowerbed on the property)

A few days later, I received a really helpful email that got me started on solidifying my thinking about landscape plans.  Here's what Lauren from McAuliffe's had to say:

Looking over the photos that you sent, your landscape has LOTS of potential!  A few things to consider before getting started:
  • Think about the time and maintenance that you are willing to put into your landscape and what you would like to get out of it.
    • Weeding and mulching beds versus mowing lawn care
    • Private coffee breaks or croquet
    • What kind of access and storage do you need?

The north side looks a little tight and shady, which means not so great for lawn or large shrubs. You might want to consider:
  • Low,  evergreen, shade tolerant groundcovers (ferns, wild ginger, strawberry)
  • Gravel
  • Pavers
  • Trellis or lattice with vines (evergreen clematis)

It looks like there is a lot of traffic around the back porch area. It would be fun to extend this with pavers to give you more usable space and use bright planted containers for decoration and color.
The front yard has great bones with the paver pathway and picket fence. Some perennials near the gate and some flowering evergreen shrubs or trees would add some nice color while screening the street.
Reshaping the beds against the house would be a nice start. Consider using plants that will have year-round seasonal interest (evergreens, deciduous, spring-blooming, late summer-blooming, etc.). Also, by planting in groups of single plant types instead of planting lots of individual types of plants will be more calming to the eye since it is a smaller space.

I have to admit I laughed out loud at "private coffee breaks or croquet," but otherwise her advice pointed us in the right direction.  We had already been thinking about screening the street, doing something with gravel and shade-loving plants along the north side of the house, making an outdoor space that would be more functional for summer entertaining, and reshaping the flower bed along the front of the house.  Maybe I wasn't as clueless as I thought!  I thanked Lauren for her advice and told her we'd visit when it came time to purchase plants.

We decided to start sketching, to help us get a handle on what exactly we were looking at for the whole property.
Putting my art skillz on display.

It looks a mess and is hard to see here, but this step was really helpful because we nailed down some of the big stuff.  Once we knew where we wanted screening evergreens to be, we could research types of screening evergreens that would work there.  Once we knew we wanted raised beds along most of the north side of the house, it became obvious that we'd need a shallow step at either end of the long skinny pass-through to adjust for elevation change.  Clearly defined areas emerged- a place for the dogs to play and explore, a place for growing our own food, a place for entertaining, a place for flower beds and curb appeal.  Things started to fall together and make a more cohesive picture for us.

But it wasn't quite enough.  I had a million ideas from browsing Pinterest that I wanted to incorporate (more on that later), but my ugly sketch had pretty much no sense of scale.  And just like when you're shopping for furniture, the dimensions and scale of a room are really important to think about.  How wide should my shrubs be?  How many do I need to purchase?  Will there be enough room for raised beds and a paved walkway?  Which direction should the gates swing?

So I drug Steve outside to help me with a tape measure, jotted about a dozen measurements, and then like the true math nerd I am, I made a scale rendering of our property as it looks now- the perspective is flipped from the chicken-scratch version above.

That's the front fence line along the top of the paper- the east edge of the property.

And since I have such a hard time visualizing things, I colored and drew on it to show what kind of landscape elements we already had in play.

Now you can tell what's house and what's not!

You can see the gravel with weeds growing through it along the north side of the house, the lone emerald green arborvitae on the northeast corner of our property, the covered front patio with the makeshift steps off the side and the walkway leading to the front gate.  The sad flowerbed and porch to nowhere are there.  Our patio furniture is on the back patio with the smoker nearby, and the far west end of our yard is covered in bark and weeds.  Except for the hot tub on blocks we had removed from the backyard, this is essentially what things have looked like since we moved in 18 months ago.

Next comes the fun part- rendering a version that reflects the landscape plans we have in mind!!

Have you ever planned a complete landscape overhaul before?  Rendered to-scale illustrations to help you plan?

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