FIELD NOTES: Starting With A Landscape Plan

BEFORE - Entry Drive at a newly constructed home

Do you ever hear a friend or neighbor — a would-be gardener — express frustration? “I tried to do it myself. But I don’t like the results. I’m wasting my time. And my money. It’s just not working.”

 Usually these are enthusiasts — and it could be you or me — who have jumped right into a project. They have lots of energy. Plenty of ideas. And now they’re lost or frustrated.

Why? They’re working without an important landscaping tool. (And I don’t mean a wheelbarrow or a gardening trowel/shovel.)

What’s missing? They started without a landscape plan. Really…it’s one of the most basic tools for reaching a successful conclusion to an outdoor project, no matter how big or small.

 Think of working on your yard as similar to taking a journey. Would you head out on a trip without a map or driving directions from Google? Or you’d use your GPS system (mine has a fabulous British accent) programmed with the address of your destination.

My point is that you’d use step-by-step guidance on how to travel safely and arrive successfully. You’d use a map to get you there: start to finish.

Landscape Master Plan

 A landscape plan works the same way. It’s a “big picture” of how an outdoor space will function and look when it’s been fully planted, landscaped and built out. It provides a map of where important elements of the landscape will go. It’s a flexible timetable of what steps to take first, and how to fill in the details later. It’s the basis for a realistic budget that allows for big purchases as cash flow permits.

During construction of the walk and entry drive

 Landscape plans help you identify and determine locations for major elements such as:

  • Structures (ex: decks, gazebos, trellises, arbors, sheds, fences or walls)
  • Major plantings (ex: trees, hedges, locations for shrub and flower beds or vegetable gardens, areas of open lawn, etc.)
  • Hardscape materials (ex: driveways, walls, walkways, paths, pool decks or patios)
  • Garden features (ex: rock garden, cutting garden, herb garden, water feature, pond, etc.)
  • Focal points (ex: vertical or cone shaped plants, large boulder(s), statue, sculpture, birdbath, bench, etc.)

 Remember that old anecdote about filling a jar with rocks? It works best when you put in the biggest stuff first, and then the medium-sized stones, and then the smallest pebbles.

 Think about the major features of a yard in the same way. If you know where the main elements will fit into your yard (like a swimming pool or a garage or a vegetable garden), then you’ll make space for them. And you’ll fill in the details around them.

 You can safely invest in each phase of work, when you know that everything has a place. A landscape plan assures that all the parts work together. For example, you’ll know that the fence you add this year, and the shade tree you plant next year, will all contribute to a safe and fun outdoor play area for kids and dogs. And you’ll be sure that your garden is planted where the children and pet are less likely to dig for buried treasure, and pull up expensive bulbs and tubers instead!

 With a step-by-step guide in hand, you can do the work at your own pace. You can do it all at once or over several seasons or years. Maybe you put in the front walkway one year and the shed another. Maybe you plant one large shade tree, and then add a pond the next season.

Completed entry drive with plantings (1st year)

 Sometimes, when you identify a few major projects, the landscape plan helps you save money by taking advantage of having big equipment on site and addressing different projects all at once. Who wants to have a backhoe in their yard any more than necessary? (And I’m not talking to 3-year-old boys or heavy-equipment operator wannabes!)

 Here are a few insights I can offer for anyone who is considering work in their yard:

  • If it’s a renovation and you’re adding landscape elements to an existing site, you may want to keep some of the plantings or other structural elements. Identify what you like and what works, and save it. 
  •  If you’re starting work at a new location, take your time. Live there a while, and learn how you use the outdoor spaces. It’s okay to wait a year before you make big decisions about your lawn and your yard. You make more mistakes when you rush.
  •  While you’re living there, ask yourself big questions. Do you have children or a pet now or in your future? Do you want major elements like a swimming pool or a shed or a patio? Do you need a fence or shrub screen to create safety and privacy?
  •  Pay attention throughout the seasons. Look through the windows year-round, and see what the view is like. (Did you know that in the French and English tradition of gardens, landscaping decisions are designed to capture views — from indoors — of attractive outdoor spaces?) After all, in New England our seasons are extreme, so the views will change, and there will be times we’re grateful to look out the window from the safety of a warm indoor space.
  •  Know the site conditions before you start any work. Examples include: type of soil, problem drainage areas, the style of home and plantings that are in keeping with its setting, property lines and neighbors’ boundaries, views from inside and outside the house, and convenience considerations such as accessible storage and safe and easy access to and from a vehicle.

Entry Drive planting – 3rd year

 Did you know the cost of a landscape plan might be the equivalent of one large planting?  If the landscape plan saves you the cost of making one impulsive — and expensive — purchase that won’t take root, then it’s already paid for itself!

 If you want to arrive at your destination with the least number of detours and wrong turns, use a guide…invest in a landscape plan. (But you’ll have to use your imagination for the posh British accent!)

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