Keep the pond or take back that space? (pics)

Jowz(6B Northern VA)March 24, 2013

I'm determined to start adding life and color to my drab, sad backyard. But I'm struggling with a pond I inherited. I put netting up for the fall but after taking it off twigs, seeds and leaves from the neighboring trees still make their way into the little pond.

I get professional help for yearly thorough cleanings but in between I do some pond-cleaning myself. Cost-wise, I've estimated that instead of 7 years of maintenance I could take it out and get landscaping work that's easier to deal with. I'm scheduling consultations with landscape designers but I am also reaching here because I'm honestly lost about what to do.

If you take the pond out (and the surrounding river jacks), would you make it a green area and maybe plant a Japanese maple and other plants? Or use the area for corner patio seating? Or would you keep plants on the perimeter against the fence and fill in the rest with slate/pavers? I have an eastern exposure with heavy pm shade once the leaves come back.

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I would do as much as I could to soften the area with plants, whether that meant plant beds or containers or a mix. As for adding or removing living space, that's the sort of thing I couldn't answer from my keyboard. That's part of the design consultation, where you and I really dig into how you're going to use the space, how many people you entertain, etc., etc. Who knows, since you're in NoVA maybe we'll end up talking :)

    Bookmark   March 24, 2013 at 4:03PM
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Wouldn't a little screening from the looming structures across the alleyway be an asset? Something like a contained bamboo screen across the entire back would provide screening and plenty of tea garden atmosphere. There are many things that could provide a raised screen effect... a grove of lilacs for example.

Usually, you'd want to add more paving/seating only if you NEEDED it.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2013 at 9:24PM
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In a townhouse community, the "alleyway" is generally not at the disposal of individual homeowners. A lilac grove (or extensive plantings outside the fence) would find the clip board squad there tout suite with an order for its removal.

Dependent on what your designers say, I might just go ahead and celebrate the pond; aim for a more "professional" looking presentation. Arrange some hostas - simply because they're good all around utility plants, easy care and come in all sizes, color variations, and leaf shapes - here and there to drape and soften the rock edge, add a fern or two. There are interesting aquatic plants that wouldn't overwhelm. One clump of Louisiana iris or maybe even Siberian iris can be sunk right in the pot. That would be enough to add a little upright drama in the pond itself.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2013 at 12:13AM
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Duluth, you misunderstand. I didn't say place plants in the alleyway, I said screen the buildings that are beyond the alleyway. The screening plants would need to be located inside the homeowner's private space unless the OP knew that permission could be obtained to locate them outside of it.
It seems that the pond takes up a good bit of space for the size of the yard. OP should evaluate if this is justifiable.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 4:27AM
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It sounds like the OP has reached a frustration point with caring for the pond. It looks like a so-so homeowner project so removing it is not a great loss for the world of artistic hardscapes. That corner, if not needed for seating or other functional space, could be put to way better use with plantings.

I wouldn't even bother trying to screen the units beyond. With the exception of italian cypress (which don't work here in VA) you're not going to find something tall enough to matter and narrow enough not to eat the backyard. You can see where one of the neighbors behind planted a shade tree in their backyard. Look at how much it dominates that tiny space. You can certainly plant the heck out of your townhouse backyard to distract from the views of other units, but screening? No way. There are just certain realities of living there.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 7:38AM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

If that were my space, I'd swap the pond for a very simple water feature such as a trickling pot, and concentrate on design for a welcoming outdoor room. Use the area closest to the house for a table and seating, plant the outer third in a simple but elegant way. Maybe use the stones in constructing a berm for that japanese maple you mentioned, grow some tufted grasses, a potted bamboo for height. Keep it simple, symbolic, like ikebana.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 6:07PM
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Jowz(6B Northern VA)

Thank you so much for reaching out to me. I'm delighted.

I feel like it takes up a good chunk of space. Sqft-wise I have approx 130 sqft of walkable area. The pond is about 70sqft. So I stand to gain about 50% in garden/seating. Closer to the house is the HVAC so I don't think there is much wiggle room in that direction

Marcinde hit it - I'm frustrated with the pond (can you PM me?). I dabbled in water plants and they looked nice but it was like brushing under the rug. I'm conflicted, because my guests all go Oooh and Aaaah when they see the pond. The fella' wants the pond and claims a shade sail would control the debris. But I would rather sweep, water, feed, mulch, etc. which I can manage after work vice the weekend endeavor that is the pond.

Plus, yeah, I like the idea of treating it as an "outdoor room". The door is to the living room which is small too - so the yard could act as an extension. I may have made up my mind... Posting here is therapeutic! I'll have to come back with before & after's.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 9:05PM
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"You can see where one of the neighbors behind planted a shade tree in their backyard. Look at how much it dominates that tiny space."

If the looming houses in the background don't make one feel exposed, then an attempt to screen wouldn't be necessary. If I lived there I couldn't imagine NOT trying to do something to give myself more privacy from across the alley. But this doesn't mean "shade tree" or "Italian cypress." A 12' ht SMALL tree--like lilac--could block a major amount of the undesirable view as seen from the patio space itself.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 11:28PM
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Yard - fair enough. When I talk to homeowners and they say they want to "screen" something they mean BLOCK. That view is gone, hidden, kaput, no mas. So I just wanted to be clear on that point because you ain't screening an entire row of townhomes (as you and I know, but just laying it out there). I think you and I are def on the same page, though. I think you could *maybe* pull off as big as 15-20' at maturity (hard to say from the pics) and that would help stop the eye and keep the focus inside the backyard.

I love these projects. Estate properties are cool and all but man! I love small spaces. I used to study interior design and I really wanted to design yacht interiors. A guy can dream, right?

I totally agree w/ catkim, you can still have the sound of water with a recirculating feature. As tight as the space is, you could do a really cool sculptural fountain above a concealed reservoir and that way you can walk right up to it - way more usable space.

A shade sail might help - a little - IF you could set it so the broadest part of it is blocking the prevailing winds. Otherwise, it won't matter. They look cool, though. I did one last year for a client and loved it. Would your HOA really be cool with that?

    Bookmark   March 27, 2013 at 11:17AM
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Jowz(6B Northern VA)

Are there lilac trees that do ok in shade? The neighbor's birch is a monster. I could cut everything that grows on my side, but I'm not keen on that.

Anything with a vertical dimension (plantings, shade sail, pergola, etc.) will have to go to an HOA review board. I'll probably submit any landscape plans anyway to be safe.

I got a proposal back. Lots of nice plants, layering and year-round interest but no gain in space. I've been figuring things out as I go so I need to communicate my needs better.

This post was edited by Jowz on Wed, Mar 27, 13 at 14:09

    Bookmark   March 27, 2013 at 2:08PM
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Lilacs - a large shrub or small multi-stemed tree itself will survive when somewhat shaded, but to get a good bloom, you'll need sun. Lilacs that don't bloom aren't worth having.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2013 at 2:49PM
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When I say "like" a lilac, I'm using it as an example because it's something everyone knows. It gives the general idea of what shape/form of a plant could be used next to the fence to give a sense of privacy to the patio space while one is in that space. But since I can't see all of the conditions that affect plant choice, the OP should take those into account when they select the plant. There are many small trees that could reach the 12', or a little more ... 15', height without being oppressive to the rest of the patio space. As far as lilac goes, I don't think I could agree with the statement that "if it doesn't have bloom, it's not worth having." I like its form, foliage and trunk character as well as the bloom. It will take a little shade, but it does impact the bloom so it's an evaluation that must be made by someone who knows the site conditions. It's just one of many choices.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2013 at 8:10AM
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