Planing Your Landscape

Stephen, thank you so much for submitting your question.  Most people give little thought to what their yard should be.  Stephen’s question is, “I have a town-home with a 10 x 20 backyard. What would you suggest for landscaping/improvements for the simple lawn that is there now.”

The above plans are two design options I made for a condo that has similar dimensions to the town-house Stephen has. The clients wanted very specific items in the design both designs have the same items but with different designs. I would be happy to give you to give ideas for small spaces but I would rather give you some things to consider for your plan.

The truth is most people just want to have an instant yard.  We want it to look nice right away.  The typical home owner will get sod and throw it on the soil without much preparation then maybe decide to add a flowerbed using any flowers that looked nice at the store that day.  Sometimes we might even find a discount tree we throw in the middle of the lawn. 

When we fast forward a few years down the road we start to see the effect of our instant yard.  We often find the grass is not looking as nice as it did when it was first put it down.  The flower bed now looks like an island of weeds in the middle of the lawn.  Your discount tree is not quite what you had in mind.  So, what went wrong?

The problem was not that you wanted it to look nice quickly, it is that you did not have a well thought out plan.  Planning is often overlooked in many aspects of our lives but when it comes to our yard a lack of planning will cost money down the road.  The wrong tree can drop branches, send up shoots, overgrow your yard, or break your sewer line.  Not planning your flower beds may mean that the plants you like will not grow there.  It may seem like there is no need to plan a lawn but even a lawn if done wrong can cause problems for years to come.

Now I need to explain how Stephen’s can answer his own question.  As i said earlier, my answer could be different for every person that asks me this same question.  The best way to answer is to explain how I would decide what would be best for your yard. Here are the steps I would follow.

Figure out what do you want:  This might sound like common sense but it is easy for me to jump in to planning a landscape for someone that gives them what I want but may not meet their needs.  You may want to entertain, you may want a garden or fruit trees.  The best way to start off is to come up with a wish list for your yard and then figure out how to make it happen. Just because you have a small space does not mean you have to settle for small ideas.

Figure out who the Landscape for:  Are you landscaping for curb appeal?  Who is it that is going to spend time there?  Is it going to be a rental?  Do you have to impress future buyers?  Do you have kids or pets that need a place to play or is it a place for you to go with friends to relax?  The answers to these questions will help you decide if you need a lawn, a sandbox, a patio or something else.

Decide how much maintenance you want to do:  Believe it or not some people enjoy pulling weeds.  Everyone has different likes and dislikes.  If you don’t have time to mow weekly you would need to make sure you are either willing to pay someone to mow or come up with a design that would not require weekly mowing.  The truth is there is no such thing as a maintenance free yard.  However, with a little planning you can make it low maintenance.  If know you hate raking leaves you would want to avoid trees that will drop a lot of leaves.   It is important to figure out how much time you are willing to spend on maintaining the yard before you put something in you can’t take care of.

Put together a plan:  Coming up with a plan can be tricky. There are so many factors to consider. You can take the easy route and talk to a Landscape Designer.  It may cost a few hundred dollars but it may save you money in the long run.  If you prefer to do it yourself do research.  You will want to know not only what your yard will look like right away but what will the plants you select look like 5 or 10 years down the road. There are a lot of free books you can check out at the library and several resources online.  One book that I would recommend for inspiration is “Sunset Western Garden Book of Landscaping”.  You can find it on Amazon by clicking my link. Many other bookstores also carry it and it may be at your local Library.

I hope this has been insightful for you and has given you some things to think about. Feel free to hit me up if you have other questions. Thanks again for your question Stephen!


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