Landscaping is one of the most cost-effective ways to customize a home to meet your needs and tastes. Good landscaping will add value to your home, enhance your lifestyle, and bring long-lasting satisfaction to the entire family.
Landscape Design Ideas
It used to be that creating your overall landscape design required that you hire a landscape architect or that you strive forward blindly on your own. Now you have a host of resources to help you plan your landscaping. Landscape architects are still the best trained professionals. While the ideal choice for large projects, many landscape architects will also help you with more modest projects-typically on an hourly basis. Having a trained professional review your ideas before you start buying and building can save you a lot of time and trouble.
Many garden centers and nurseries now provide landscaping advice. Such advice is usually available free or at low costs, but the quality of the advice can vary from very sophisticated to downright lousy.
Another resource is your local Cooperative Extension Service. You can find their number in the local government listings in your phone book. While originally set up to help farmers, the service has adapted its mission to serve gardeners and homeowners interested in landscaping. While their specific technical advice is quite good, they are not normally set up to help you formulate an overall plan.
Involve the whole family. Landscaping affords ample opportunities for meeting the widely varying needs of family members of all ages. To get the most out of your project, involve everyone in the idea-gathering phase. Go to home centers, garden centers, and nurseries. Pick up brochures and pamphlets. Pick up a few landscaping magazines. Check out some books from the library. Go to a couple of home shows. Have everyone look for ideas that appeal to them. Place brochures, pictures, articles, photocopies, and pamphlets in a big idea file. Once you’ve opened your eyes to all the possibilities, you’re ready to sit down and plan.
Landscape Design Planning
Good landscaping can provide ideal venues for entertaining. Outdoor events can often accommodate larger crowds comfortably in an open, relaxed environment that allows people to let their hair down a bit. Children in particular welcome the flexibility and informality of outdoor events. Think about the ways you would like to entertain outdoors.
If you’re going to spend time outdoors, how important is it for you to be either visible or invisible to your neighbors? Some folks want to be able to see and speak with neighbors. Others want privacy. Perhaps your landscape design can accommodate a little bit of each.
Swimming and Bathing
Besides full-size pools, you can consider permanent or temporary above-ground pools. Small children delight in even a very modest pool during the summer months. Some people are installing small pools with artificial currents that allow a swimmer to work out by swimming against the current in much the same way as one jogs on a treadmill.
Swimming pools are not the only aquatic options anymore. Outdoor spas and hot tubs are becoming quite popular. Many can even be used in winter. There is nothing quite like lying in steaming hot water, being massaged by gentle jets of water, and looking up into a swirl of snowflakes!
From goldfish ponds to fountains to waterfalls, people are using water features as a focal point for many landscape projects. The visual effect is enhanced by the soothing sounds of cascading water.
Landscaping can make a home safer or more vulnerable to crime. Generally, you want entrance ways and access points, like windows and doors, to be well-lit and visible from a distance.
Shade and Solar Energy
Shade trees can offer a comfortable cool place to sit or play, and can be part of a passive solar heating plan. Deciduous trees help shade the yard and house during hot summer months and let warming sunlight through when they lose their leaves in the winter.
Color and Ornamentation
From leaves to flowers to bark, plants and trees offer an ever-changing pallet of colors. Think of each month as a different canvas and select plants that contribute the right colors at the right time. Consider including some flowers that are appropriate for cutting. Besides allowing you to bring some of that color indoors, cut flowers make a terrific gift.
Children’s Play Equipment
Small children will get years of enjoyment from a swing set and sliding board. Place the equipment away from the street and in plain sight of a window. If you include a sandbox, make sure it can be covered to keep out debris and animals.
Kids of all ages love to play outdoors. Plan for areas with durable grass surfaces where folks can play without fear of killing some prized ornamental shrub. A horseshoe court is inexpensive and simple to install and appeals to all ages. Consider a paved area to accommodate sports like basketball and hopscotch.
Vegetable and Herb Gardens
Whether it’s to save money, get some exercise, get your hands dirty, play with the hose, or just guarantee the freshest possible salad, you may want to join the legions of folks who have their own vegetable gardens.
For chefs or for people with small yards, herb gardens are increasingly popular. Some people even manage to grow a wide selection of herbs in patio planters!
Birds, Birds, Birds
If you enjoy watching birds, consider putting in one or more feeding stations. Plan the stations so that refilling is easy. Position stations so they may be seen from nearby decks, patios, and windows. Tree and plant selections will also affect which birds are most likely to be attracted to your yard.
Integrate your shed into your landscape plan. Your shed should provide ample storage space for lawn and garden equipment and can include a potting station and space for outdoor sports equipment.
When planning walks, patios, and decks, consider layouts and grading that eliminate the need for steps. Everything from strollers to lawn mowers to wheelchairs will be easier to use as a result.
If you use or would like to use a clothesline, find an out-of-the-way but accessible location that won’t interfere with recreational activities. Consider a pulley system that allows you to hang items onto a high line accessible from a porch or deck.
Lighting is a central element in good landscape design. Motion-activated lights can enhance security. Floodlights can light parking areas. Spotlights can highlight trees and decorative features like fountains. Low-voltage lights or indirect lighting can accent decks and patios.
Don’t forget to plan for a well-lit house number sign. An easy-to-read house number makes it easier for friends and pizza delivery persons to find your home and may save critical seconds should fire or rescue crews ever be called to your home.
Anywhere there is a step or sloped walk, you should install good sturdy railings. While critical to everyone in the icy winter months, seniors or others with physical challenges will appreciate them all year.
The front entrance is the emotional centerpiece of the front of your home, and it warrants special attention. Besides welcoming you home each day, it is the most important component in what real estate agents call curb appeal. As such, money spent improving your front entrance is almost always completely reflected in increased resale value of the property.
Driveways and Parking
This is your chance to add off-street parking if you need it. Is your driveway wide enough that someone stepping out of their car can walk on pavement without hugging a car? Ideally, driveways should be 12 feet wide. Is there room to make turns without tearing up the lawn? Can you see clearly up and down the street before pulling into traffic? Are there conveniently-located, paved pathways from the parking area to the door?
Retaining walls can often be used to level out sloped areas of the lawn. The level area created by the wall is generally more functional and much easier to mow. Does your yard contain any forgotten sloped areas that can be reintegrated with the landscaping with the use of a retaining wall?
Decks provide elevated areas for dining and entertaining. Because they can be built at any height, they provide a way for virtually any room to be linked to the outdoors and the rest of the landscaping.
Patios and Walks
Patios don’t have to be rectangular and attached to the house. They can float out in the yard and curve around gardens and trees. Walks can lead you into the landscaped yard and invite you into pleasant retreats.
Fences provide privacy, contain pets and children, keep out the bad guys, and divide functional and visual spaces. Many fences now come in maintenance-free plastic in contemporary or traditional styles. If you’re planning a fence just to contain a pet, consider one of the new pet containment systems based on a pet collar that picks up a signal from a buried wire at your yard’s borders.
Many people make the mistake of buying and planting shrubs that look great now but end up looking horribly overgrown in a few years. Plant selections should include consideration for future growth.
Remember that with each plant you buy, you are buying a legacy of maintenance. Choose plants that require little ongoing attention. Consider what debris the plant generates. Make sure the plants you choose don’t leave you buried in excessive petals, seeds, pods, leaves, bark, twigs, etc.
Some plants are poisonous if eaten. Care should be taken to avoid these plants altogether or keep them away from areas frequented by children.
Unless you’re planning to alter the natural soils in your yard radically, make sure that you buy plants that thrive well in the soil you have.
Power and Water
As you lay out your new landscape, think about your power and water needs. Are there locations in the yard where an electrical outlet or faucet would be very handy? It may be possible to run lines to that location.
The Landscaping Process
While specifics vary from job to job, the following order of events is typical:
* Gather ideas-lots of fun and a great way to involve other household members.
* Plan your budget-what you think you can afford.
* Plan and design-the details of what you want to do.
* Develop a final budget and phasing plan-if (like most of us) you find out you can’t afford what you want, plan for phase one this year, phase two next year, and so on.
* Establish the overall grade-often done with a backhoe or small bulldozer.
* Run buried pipes and wires.
* Build structural elements-walls, walks, patios, decks, fences, fountains, sheds, etc.
* Enhance soil-import topsoil or add organic matter and/or fertilizers.
* Define beds-demarcate all garden and shrub beds.
* Water intensively-all new plants will need this until they are established.
* Furnish entertainment and dining areas-chairs, tables, umbrellas, planters, etc.
Good landscape design can increase your home’s resale value, enhance the joy of homeownership, provide versatile new entertainment venues, facilitate gardening and birdwatching hobbies, and encourage kids of all ages to enjoy some wholesome fun.