Want to plan and landscape around new build

IowacommuteApril 23, 2013

Hello! I was wondering if anyone can recommend books or really anything on the principles of landscape design. Below is information on specifics of my situation if anyone is interested. The house has yet to be built, and we are currently not living in the area so I do not have pictures. I'm trying to be proactive in planning since landscape design can go so wrong so quickly.

We will build a house in a few years in NE Iowa on the family farm. We have a plan picked out

It will most likely face West with a detached garage and will be on a couple of acres which will be surrounded by cropland. The house will also have a shed dormer on the front with (possibly yellow) lap siding on the main floor and wood shingles on the half story. I know the picture has a very 'Southern' feel, but I am really going for an early '30's bungalow. I have found many historic home plans which are very similar and will use like finishes.

Since I have the plan, location, and many of the building details figured out I would like to at least have a rough sketch of the landscaping finished by the time we build. I think at least half of the acreage will be prairie grasses and flowers. Windbreaks will be necessary, and I will engage the Dept of Forestry and Iowa State University for help when the time comes. I will also want some trees closer to the house along with flowers around the house.

Thank you if you made it through my ramblings. I will be an owner/builder for this house so I am trying to do all of my homework now. This will be our forever home, and I can't take more poor landscaping choices.

Here is a link that might be useful: Deer Run Southern Living House Plan

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In the beginning, forget about planting and focus on siting of the home and other site features: drive, walks, utilities, fencing, outbuildings, topographical changes, etc. In thinking this through, take into account permanent features of the site and also adjacent off-site features. The easiest way to explore arranging all the features is to draw the site to scale on paper. On separate paper, draw (also to scale) the features you will build (home, outbuildings, play area, tennis court, veggie garden, orchard, etc.) and cut them out. Then you can place the various items on the site plan and move them around to explore possibilities in order to see what works best. As schemes are worked out, use tracing paper over them to add drives, walks, fencing, etc. Eventually, you'll work out a favorite solution to siting and arranging everything. You can refine and commit all the components of that scheme to a new drawing. Over that drawing (using tracing paper) you could then explore various planting schemes. Begin with locating trees and shaping planting beds before thinking too much about all the plants that will go in the beds. Without years of landscape design experience under your belt, it's not likely that you're going to produce great design schemes right out of the box. Many people post their early attempts at landscape design here and usually, there are plenty of things about them that need fixing. I suggest you also post and get feedback on your proposed solutions before you go too far down a wrong road. Along the way, remember that form follows function so don't get wrapped up in artistic details before making sure that everything works well.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2013 at 8:40AM
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Wow, what a charming house plan; I can see why you like it! I'm needing some inspiration as well, so I'm looking forward to seeing the feedback. The only suggestion I have so far would be to keep the design more informal and as enjoyable as possible, or hire a gardener!:) I love spending time outside, but not as a slave to my landscape. I've known folks who had impressive looking yards, but never actually enjoyed them, because they required constant "fussing". If your idea of enjoyment is trimming boxwood topiaries once or twice a week, then go for it, but make sure that you're enjoying it. Happy planning!

    Bookmark   April 25, 2013 at 8:53AM
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Sounds as though you are building where"the wind comes sweeping down the plain". Let's tackle that problem today:
1. Study positioning the house/garage locations on the site in a manner that allows them to interrupt the prevailing wind pattern.
Careful thought on this detail will give you one or more protected spots for a vegetable garden or patio area.

2. Plant your windbreaks yesterday. Seek the experts you need and get the trees/shrubs growing. Take advantage of your extra time.

3. And, the advice I always give those about to build. Design a structure that does not need landscaping. ie. Build a finished product which you plan to compliment with landscaping.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2013 at 12:45PM
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Nandina, I like all your advice. Expanding on point 2, I think that everyone developing property should get the landscape going as quickly as possible (instead of letting it wait until year 7 or 8!) and then reap the exponential rewards that plant growth delivers. I know there are always impediments, but they can be worked on. I'm just saying move it to a front burner, yard developers, if possible.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2013 at 9:04PM
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Thank you so much for the wonderful advice!

We are trying to sell our current home in Kansas so hopefully we will embark for Iowa soon. I do know the Department of Forestry still has their program to help pay for windscreens and the free use for arborists for your site. There are also several university extension offices in the area with arborists who will work with you to make a site plan. Since farming is such a big business in Iowa there are lots of people to help with your land. So I will certainly look for a local architect, work on the structure plan and then start working with the arborists. I'm hoping we can settle on something before we move up there since that seems to make the most sense. My in laws live about a half mile from where we will build so I know how windy it can be. They have a 150 year old farmhouse which has a lot of charm but no porch or patio to speak of. So needless to say they don't spend time outside unless my FIL is working of course.
There are actually two sites we can choose from. The 'in the middle of the field' approach which I describes previously or where my husband's grandfather lived. We would have to tear down the house and foundation, but it does have some very big, beautiful oak trees close to the house. Really the only downside is there are lots of 'farm stuff' and my husband doesn't think its an eyesore. So that's why I was just going with the blank slate spot.

I certainly don't want to be a slave to gardening. I have a green thumb, but if I plant things that are fussy and rely solely on me they won't make it. I know we'll have a garden, and much of the open space will be sort of prairie like.

I do love the advice about landscaping to compliment the house. I'm hoping I can achieve that and will have to start working on a layout.

There were a series of threads a while back in the Kitchens forum where they were given different themes of kitchens to design. People started making up stories to help them figure out the direction of their design. I think something similar would help here. I know my 'story,' but I'm guessing it would help to write down our intent of how we would live there and our expectations for our home and lanscape. I think it will just be the house and detached garage, and maybe an area for chickens and a couple of goats. My welding space will be at my in laws so at least I won't have to build that.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2013 at 11:31PM
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Very busy days here. Yet, this post continues to lurk in the back of my mind. Some general, quick thoughts which may or may not pertain to our OP's situation.

Mention made of one potential housing site with views of farm machinery scattered about. Old and rusting, suitable for welding into sculptures? Or, modern farm machines that are started at six in the morning for a day's work?

Grandfather site must have a water well which could be restored if necessary. Those mature oaks are a sign of abundant water beneath. If this site is selected your landscaping is at least 50% finished. The oaks provide character and anchor the landscape in a manner you will never achieve on the open flatland.

Also, mention of tearing down the old house and foundation. Hopefully there would be some recycle materials in the house. If you go this route take some time to study the foundation. Deep? Shallow? Steps down into it? Old storm cellar perhaps? Could it provide just enough protected garden space for a minimalist gardener? This approached worked well with two old New England homesteads where the foundations were retained and gardened.

If you decide to build on the property with oaks keep all construction trucks and vehicles far away from them and their extensive root system. Very important!

    Bookmark   April 27, 2013 at 9:52PM
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Thank you so much Nandina. I can't believe I didn't think of turning them into sculptures. After I read your post a couple of times I realized I could make a large picnic table and benches out of the parts. They would have a nice place to live under one of the trees.

My husband's aunt lives right across from where we would build (The aunt's house is on the far left of the screen). There are lots of other trees, and I know it's hard to tell in this picture since it was taken in winter and the drawn in roads now cover a couple.

The home we will build we will be about the same width but about 20 feet shorter then Grandpa's is now and will probably face the road "Bryantsburg" like the current house does. So we were hoping to move the house back a little from the road to allow some plantings and privacy. His aunt is nosy, but they are gone at least half of the time because of traveling.

The area on the bottom of the picture goes to Amish cropland. Yes we will live by the strictest sect of Amish in the country, but they will also be the ones to build our home. There are also four cabinet makers in their community so I should have some very beautiful custom cabinets in my future.

We would try to salvage anything we can from the tear down, but I don't think there will be much. The original house was a very modest (I believe) '20s bungalow. The best detail it has is arched doorways. It is also completely carpeted, and I am hoping there are hardwoods underneath we could reuse.

Probably my biggest concern though is the active cistern in the basement. My husband said that is what they used to power a shower in the basement. I would like a finished basement, and I know that will need to be addressed. I'll have to start researching cisterns.

This location is also where my husband would like to build. It does look nicer in person especially when the oaks have their leaves. There is also a gigantic white hydrangea that runs along almost one entire side of the house. I would like to try to save part of that. The soil is so rich and black in this part of Iowa (which is the reason we will build on the family farm ie. very expensive land) the huge garden was used for the farmer's market every week and to compete in the Iowa State Fair (which is a very big deal every summer). Needless to say we won't need that much garden.

Thank you again for your suggestions, and you do make me feel better about putting the house here. My husband felt bad about destroying expensive cropland to build when there is a perfectly good building site available. We will just have to figure out the cistern dilemma and my privacy needs for the back patio area.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2013 at 10:44AM
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