Need Design Advice for Backyard Landscaping

almondstriationsMarch 12, 2011

My husband and I moved into a new construction home 6 years ago and did our own landscaping design and work (with some help with the hardscape labor). Neither of us had any landscaping experience to speak of, so needless to say, we made a lot of mistakes and I have a lot of regrets. We have a fairly deep, rectangular backyard and I think we could have done a lot with it, but what we have is a flat, boring, fairly narrow tree border with a few scattered shrubs and perennials. One long side of the yard is a huge fenced off veggie garden area that my husband cultivates each year, and the other long side of the yard is a fruit tree border. So it does have some some function, but I'd like it to be attractive too.

I eventually would like to modify our front and side yards in some ways too (extending some beds and revising some plantings), but for now I want to focus on the backyard and make some progress there.

Once I decided we'd made the borders too narrow to do the kind of layered plantings I would like, I became paralyzed and haven't done much in the backyard at all in the past few years because I'm so afraid of doing more things I'll regret. At the time, my husband wanted a lot of grass because we have a dog who loves to play fetch so I feel like we designed the yard for the dog more than for ourselves, and now that we have little kids we're not playing a whole lot of fetch anyway. We also ripped out a dog run we never used so now have a big ugly weed patch in its place.

Since we've had more time to think about what we really want out of the yard, I started making a tentative design plan for how I'd like to modify our yard, but I still feel paralyzed and can't seem to decide where to start. We'd like to eventually add a playhouse for the kids (that could later be a potting/gardening shed for me), a gazebo for evening dinners, wider planting beds all around the yard, and LOTS more shrubs and plantings.

I'm thinking of starting with just planting out the beds that we have in place (which will eventually make up the back of the someday deeper planting borders) until we have time & energy (or money) to tackle widening the planting beds and adding the structures and additional plantings. My husband and dad are extremely handy with woodworking so between the 2 of them can tackle the playhouse and gazebo structures, but my husband isn't excited about extending the planting beds and moving pop up sprinkler heads unless he's confident that the plan won't keep changing. I'd like to tackle the changes in phases, but I really want to have a long term plan in place before we do anything.

I think it would help a lot if I could work with with a good local landscape designer who understands our tastes and vision, but I'm not sure how to find one who I'm confident will give us good guidance. We live in a dry climate in Colorado so I want our design to be water wise but also attractive with a cottage garden/informal style that I don't see a lot around here. So many of the professionally landscaped yards in our area are heavy with ornamental grasses and more formal than what I prefer, so I'm hesitant to just hire any average designer in our area. I have gotten a lot of ideas and inspiration from Lauren Springer Ogden's book "The Undaunted Garden" and I love her style of gardening, but I can't seem to move forward on my own for fear I'll just keep making mistakes and regretting them. I feel like half the stuff I've planted I've wound up moving (some things more than once) and it's driving me (and my husband) crazy! I feel like if I could just get some help with the "bones" of our yard I could handle a lot of the plant choices and smaller details myself.

Any ideas on how to find a good designer in my area, or whether I should just try to get past my regrets and fears and do it on my own? I feel like I've learned a lot from my mistakes and I have a better idea of what I like and don't like, but I still lack confidence in myself to come up with a design that will translate to something that I'll be happy with. I could take and post some pictures if that would help, but I'm afraid I have too many questions and problems areas for this forum to tackle. I'm also not handy with Photoshop or landscaping applications. Everything I have done design-wise is on old fashioned graph paper.

Any thoughts or advice are appreciated. Thanks!


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Can you post pictures of the existing yard? and the dimensions?

Given a sketch I can give all kinds of advice.

Here is a link that might be useful: Create Your own Landscape Design

    Bookmark   March 14, 2011 at 5:39PM
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go to google maps, take a picture of it, label the existing plants and post it.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 9:04AM
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This is what I did. I went to my favorite nurseries and collected business cards from designers who left them there. Then I checked out the designers online. Most should have some kind of portfolio. The woman I chose for a walk about consultation came out for 2 hours and I took lots of notes. She did not draw up any plans but gave me great ideas. Plus she told me what I should move, what I should put in. She helped me gel ideas and gave me confidence to move forward. For a higher fee she would have drawn up plans.

Also, many designers now offer "garden coaching" visits for the DIY homeowner.

You mention taking up the dog run and having children. Have you considered putting in a small chicken coop and run in that area? Hens make great pets for a family, give you eggs, and... fertilizer! Many people now have 'backyard chickens" even in urban areas.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2011 at 12:43AM
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Please post a photo of your yard and I will try to help you.

Here is a link that might be useful: Garden Landscaping Ideas

    Bookmark   April 5, 2011 at 6:00PM
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I took some pictures and uploaded them to Photobucket. I will also upload a sketch with what is currently in our yard and some ideas we have for possible changes. I have a sketch with exact measurements and locations of trees, etc., but it's too big to scan in so I'll have to do a basic sketch on some smaller paper as soon as I get a chance.

The dimensions of the backyard are almost exactly 80' wide by 80' deep. It appears to be deeper than it is wide, but maybe that's because the veggie garden (which is 15' wide by 47' deep) takes up a good chunk of the east side of the yard.

I really like the idea of going to some favorite nurseries and collecting business cards from designers. I was trying Google searches and met with one company whose work looked nice, but it turns out that they don't do design work without being locked into a contract with them to do the bulk of the landscaping work. We'd have to sign a contract (telling them our budget range) and they would draw up plans within that range and do most of the work, subbing out stuff they don't do themselves, with the design being part of the package deal. I think I'd rather work with someone who has more flexibility in allowing us to do parts of the work ourselves without being penalized for it.

lazygardens and butterflygardening: Thanks for the helpful links- I am reading through them!

alygal- We love the idea of raising chickens (or ducks!), but unfortunately our city doesn't allow them in residential areas. Some of the towns around us havejust recently started allowing them, so maybe it will be a possibility in the future!

Here are some of our current ideas for making our yard more attractive and usable in the ways we'd like to use it.

- Possibly ditch the sandbox, although I am torn because the kids do use it when it's nice outside. The problem is that it's so close to the house that they always come in still covered with sand, AND it's location really limits the width of the planting bed around the breakfast nook. If we keep the sandbox, I think I'd at least make the flagstone path along it more narrow to allow for a slightly wider bed there.

- Widen pretty much all of the beds to allow more layered planting (to increase attractiveness and privacy in the yard). I would also like to have a nice bed along the patio and around where the sandbox is, so basically be left with an area of the grass in the middle of the yard.

- Possibly add a slight berm along the garden fence and plant a variety of shrubs and small trees to make the garden less prominent since it's not much too look at most of the year.

- Make the patio more usable by extending it a little deeper (it's now 20' wide by 10' deep).

- Add something to get more shade on the patio. It gets shade starting in the mid-afternoon and through the evening from our neighbors house to the west, so I don't really want to add a hard cover (my husband's idea) because I think it would detract from the look of the house. I am thinking a well placed tree would eventually have the right effect (and I'm content to use a patio umbrella as needed until then).

- Add a screened in gazebo (about 12' x 12') south of the patio area toward the south side of the yard for dinners and entertaining. My husband is a mosquito magnet so he really wants this for enjoying the yard in the evenings.

- Add a structure toward the southeast corner of the yard (about 8' x 10') to be used as a playhouse/garden retreat. I picture it looking like a little cottage style potting shed more than a mini playhouse, so that even after the kids outgrow it, I can still enjoy it as a garden retreat.

- Revise current pathways through the yard and add pathways as needed to new structures, to the veggie garden/shed, etc. Would like to maybe use some reddish flagstone in addition to the buff ones we currently have and mix them up a bit as the buff looks so bland to me against our house.

- Possibly cover the patio with flagstone to make it more attractive and more cohesive with pathways.

Thanks for any advice or suggestions you may have.

Here is a link that might be useful: Backyard Pictures

    Bookmark   April 10, 2011 at 2:10AM
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