Huge Yard - We're Slaves, Please Help!

youth4himApril 7, 2010

Hi there, I'll try to make this as brief as possible. We have 5 acres here in Montana, and when we had a designer do our landscape, she unfortunately decided to use the WHOLE yard as a canvas, which has more or less accomplished 2 things:

1) We're slaves to the yard.

2) Everything is spread WAY out on the property.

We have an acre of lawn, 1200sqft garden (raised beds), conifer and deciduous trees of varied maturity, a row of lilacs on one fence side, a small pond, a trampoline/sandbox/play structure area, and soon we're adding a 15x30 pool (we love to swim, despite the short season.

I'm looking for ways to bring everything IN closer to the house, lessen the lawn, move trees into the new lawn space, integrate the new pool and patio, and just get things easier to manage and nicer to look at.

I'd love to find a designer that I can send pictures too, since we are limited in our skilled designers up here. Any suggestions for how to find one?

I'd love to see designs of large yards that are designed without using this whole 5 acres. We also want to integrate the new pool into our patio area to make it all more usable.

We need help! ;-> I have access to machinery, so the labor part of it isn't too bad, it's the design/layout of it that needs the work.

Pictures are below (various stages over the years:)

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Why not plant something more practical to fill the space like a woodlot that can triple as windbreak, wildlife habitat, firewood source, and screening or praire wildlife habitat refuge?

    Bookmark   April 7, 2010 at 11:17AM
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I think for the size and scope of your needs, you probably are going to need another professional--but I have no idea how to get there.

You may have done this at one time, but I would spend some more time with your paper and pencil outlining what you want to DO on your property and set priorities--you've started some of that in your post. Also these might be time-line driven by ages of your children and plans for shifting activities through stages of life, if you are likely to stay in this home. Take a look at some design books that go through the "bubble diagram" process as well.

If you put in a pool, you will soon be a slave to your pool and all the equipment and chemicals (unless you hire a pool-person) and the views will be dominated by the not-in-use pool (can you tell I have pool-owner's fatigue?). I mean, how long is your swim season, exactly? So this becomes a driving issue, and you may not simultaneously be able to pursue, say, an acre of home vegetable and fruit gardening, even though you have the space for it. OTOH, you could likely incorporate a small herb garden or kitchen garden near the house and expand later if your time and energy permit.

I think I understand the desire to have less lawn, but even there you need to think what you actually mean and want--do you want to look at something different than flat lawn, do you want to mow less and what are you willing to trade for that? Meaning, you can naturalize large areas and therefore not mow it, but it can become so natural that it looks a little wild--including weeds and brambles. I actually think that could look quite good--as in, what might the property have looked like had it not been flattened for development? Or, was it naturally prairie and you might consider a no-mow grass (my geographical ignorance, here). If you want to be less of a slave, you would not want to try to trade lawn for very domesticated, park-like shrubbery and walkways which will have their own high-maintenance issues. For example, when talking about groundcovers vs. grass, you're usually not thinking about 5 acres.

There are several previous threads on larger properties.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2010 at 1:40PM
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I don't know what a woodlot is? Would this be something like a row of poplars? I've seen that done around here, they grow quickly.


Pool - understand what you're saying. We actually already have a pool, this one will just be more integrated into the overall design. I've actually got the science/heating, etc. down pretty well now that it's a low time issue for me, and we extend our season.

Garden - The wife already has a huge veggie garden, but we're downsizing a bit there too as it takes too much time, our season is too short, and harvest all comes in at once.

Lawn - The main issue I'm having here is the expense of making a HUGE lawn a NICE lawn just in terms of fertilizer, weeding, etc. Mowing isn't a big deal, we have a nice rider. It's just hard and expensive to get nice lawn grass in that size. Ultimately, I might not reduce the size of the lawn, but look for ways to improve my methods. We seeded the lawn, and my prep wasn't as good as it should have been (again, size), so I'm paying for it now...

We also already have the overgrown concern you describe. Where we don't have lawn, we have more native grasses, but mixed with weeds. I would actually love to just seed wildflowers over that whole area, but I'm not sure if it's practical. It would need to cover probably 2-3 acres.

I agree, I think I will sit down and repencil everything. I think my main goal is to really focus on the backyard first, integrating the pool, bbq, lawn area, trampoline, etc. as much as possible. We'll be in this house for a long time, so with our 11 and 12 year old kids now to use that stuff now, but keep it for the grand kids, I think that's going to be the plan. Then, when the GK's are done, we'll buy a condo in the islands. ;->

I'll do some more searching, thanks for the advice!

    Bookmark   April 7, 2010 at 2:22PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

The bottom line is you did not get the design you wanted. Start over again with the same designer, this time making it clear what you are trying to accomplish, or hire another designer. One who says they are going to show you how to get what you want out of it.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2010 at 4:51AM
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A woodlot would be any grouping of trees grown for the purpose of providing wood (see link below), but it could also double as a windbreak, and wildlife refuge. Just a thought, as this area could be managed with very little maintenance.

Here is a link that might be useful: Woodlot

    Bookmark   April 8, 2010 at 8:26AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

I'd probably plant some aspen there somewhere. Spread indefinite, sometimes a whole hillside or other large area is found to consist of a single clone.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2010 at 12:44AM
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We have friends who are on 5 acres of property.

Approximately half of their property is a mix of evergreens, aspens, etc. It's beautiful.

If your kids could help you plant a lot of trees, they could watch them grow, and tell their children how your acreage was transformed over the years. There's something about being able to say, "I remember when we planted those trees, how small they were, and look at them now!"

    Bookmark   April 9, 2010 at 1:11AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

In that environment I'd definitely want wind and sun protection.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2010 at 12:31PM
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The wind protection is a double edged sword. A big row of poplars would be great on the West side to block our primary wind (which is somewhat rare, but fierce,) but to block the wind is to block the main view of the mountains beyond. We almost have to adopt a "batten down the hatches" approach in making sure everything is attached.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2010 at 1:23PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I guess my question would be - and I don't mean this in a snarky way: What did you think was going to happen when you bought 5 acres?

I'm the champion of having no clue what I was getting into all my life, whether it was buying an old house or getting married or having kids, so I really do understand if you are just figuring it out as you go along here. But that could be just what the problem is. The lesson is that land requires maintenance, end of story. A little forest is probably the least work, but even that has to be weeded and staked as it grows in, and then thinned.

When you drive by someone's land on the highway, you just get a snapshot; you don't see the work they do to make it look like what you see. It's easy to crave the land without realizing that the work comes with it.

I think you're actually very fortunate to have had a designer who used the whole property as a canvas. The alternative would have been to design you a suburban fenced yard in the middle of an amorphous weedy plain.

What you are sounding like you really want now is a smaller property. If that's the case, can you subdivide, or lease out the further reaches of the property to someone who wants to grow something? If not that, perhaps it's a sense of enclosure you seek, and it would be easier if there were, say, a hedge around the "yard" and the outer limits were something you could manage, or mentally manage, as a discrete entity from your living space.


    Bookmark   April 9, 2010 at 4:23PM
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That's a fair question, and I actually did more or less know what I was getting into with 5 acres, but poor planning on my part made it about the WHOLE 5 acres. The usual Montana Homestead way, whether 5 or 500 acres is you concentrate around the house as your main "canvas." The mistake here is we have made the canvas too large.

In all reality, using the whole thing wouldn't be inherently bad, but requires some additional planning. Example are the Olive Trees we have beyond the lawn. The grass out there is kind of nasty brohm grass, which isn't irrigated. Most of our moisture is from snow, so by mid July, anything not watered is brown. So, I have a nice little 10' radius green patch in the middle of high brown. I mow the field to offset this. My preference would be to simply let the prairie grass grow without the little "landscape islands" I have now.

I'm not sure what farmland looks like up there, but out here, you'll often see a 20-100acre plot with a house in the middle of it. A lot of times, the only way to tell there's a house is that it's surrounded by trees, which are the only trees on the property. I'm not big on blocking the views, but that same basic concept would be okay.

I really don't want smaller, I just want more efficient, if that makes sense, and more deliberate.

I'm meeting with a designer next week out here, so I'm hopeful he can help me get things under control.

Point well taken though. One thing I've been saying is the bank should require you add $10-15k for a tractor into the mortgage on any lot bigger than 2 acres. ;->

    Bookmark   April 9, 2010 at 4:48PM
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The Bro's house sits well back from the road on a 5 acre lot. He keeps a small lawn greened up in front of the house, but between this and the road is weeds and wild grasses. He seeded this area with bluebonnets, and they put on quite a show about this time of year. He set up an old windmill there, for a nice "down home" touch. On afternoon he came home to find a gaggle of Yankees having a picnic and photo shoot right in his front yard. He mows several times a year with a tractor, just to keep the weeds under control. Excessive watering is severely discouraged, because it lowers the water table. One thing he does have is trees in his back yard, which he has made into a green and pleasant place. I don't understand the benefit of the lawn you're trying to maintain. Sure, it's nice to gaze upon a vast expanse of greenery, but look at your patio area. I would be concentrating my efforts and water resources on that.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2010 at 10:20PM
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What you're describing is what I'm working towards. I DON"T want to maintain this much yard, part of my underlying mistake. I'll be cutting back the lawn area significantly.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2010 at 10:27PM
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There is a reason there are no trees in those long sweeping views. You have five acres of prairie. Anything you do to alter that fundamental fact is going to generate maintenance. In your case watering grass seems to be the biggest problem.

Are you a native of Montana? I ask because how the prairie is should be familiar and comforting to you if you are a native. I recommend checking out the Montana Native Plant Society and work on restoring 4 1/2 acres back to some semblance of a native grassland that could be mowed or burned once a year.


The other half acre directly around the house could be more intensely landscaped to integrate family activities and needs. This landscape around the house should blend right in to the native prairie grassland if done well.


    Bookmark   April 10, 2010 at 10:36PM
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