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Help! Trying to Develop a Complete Backyard Plan (many pics)

Posted by GardenGuyZone6a Central CT (My Page) on
Wed, Apr 25, 12 at 22:59

Hi everyone.

Well, I finally got my 10x16 shed for the riding mower and now I am ready to get down to business with the football field that is my backyard. We have a raised ranch in central Connecticut that faces south (yeah!). Here is my overhead layout:

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Notice the evergreen privacy screen along the north property line. Arborvitae & eastern red cedars are doing their job although they are thinning with age (installed when the house was built in 1972).

From left to right:

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The bare spot here is where we recently had a large tree removed, stump ground, surface root runners ground, 3 yards of topsoil and seeded.

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The blue tape on the house show where we are thinking of replacing the double window with a slider. Yes, we planning to reside the house very soon!

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Because I wanted the shed in the northwest corner where there is a sloping grade, we had a stacked stone foundation built to put the shed on. We also dug a trench from the house to the shed for electricity.

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We dug another trench and did the same from the shed to the northeast corner for an outlet for future potential use.

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Right now, the backyard looks like a gently sloping football field. With (2) 7 year old children, this is great, but I am now ready for some serious landscaping back there.

In doing some research about gardening styles, I have to say the "stuffed perennial bed" look is not for me. And although I like to garden, I don't want to be burdened with a large workload.

The park-like look really appeals to me with mulched burmed beds, if that makes sense. Manicured, simple, orderly. Photos of Japanese style gardens appeal to me also.

I also love the idea of attracting birds more. I have seen blue jays, cardinals, sparrows, and morning doves. A water feature would be great but I don't think I want a pond.

We also love the idea of doing raspberry, blueberry, blackberry bushes for the kids and birds, but I hear the roots can be very invasive.

I was thinking of doing climbing roses and clematis on the shed, but I want to develop a clear plan before I start buying plants.

Can anyone help me pull together a cohesive looking, park-like design? Thanks in advance for everyone's input.

PS The 9x9 back deck is puny and we want to build a larger one. But we are hesitant to design it until we have a landscape plan in place.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Help! Trying to Develop a Complete Backyard Plan (many pics)

It sounds like your'e talking about planting only. Are there other needs and objectives that must be taken into account?


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RE: Help! Trying to Develop a Complete Backyard Plan (many pics)

I think climbing roses and clematis work.
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RE: Help!99 Trying to Develop a Complete Backyard Plan (many pics

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RE: Help! Trying to Develop a Complete Backyard Plan (many pics)

Yardvaark - No, not necessarily focused on plant selection yet, just a cohesive, park-like design concept based on my previous thoughts, that integrates and encompasses the whole backyard. Trying to avoid the look of a disjointed hodge-podge of ideas, which I think I would ultimately end up with, without an overall plan. Hope that helps.

Facing West:
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Facing East:
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RE: Help! Trying to Develop a Complete Backyard Plan (many pics)

I'm not talking about plant selection yet either. What I meant was are you after things that fall outside of the realm of planting... a swimming pool?... an ice skating rink?... a trampoline?... an extension to the driveway? You did mention new deck and I'm wondering what else needs to be tied into the mix.

If the only thing is a deck, then I'd go ahead and start formulating your needs and desires about that as all planting will be subordinate to, and able to accommodate it. You can get suggestions, but you'll need to kick off with the basics... ultimate sq. ft., number of levels, etc. If you want more than one level consider that usually, there is plenty of movement back and forth between the kitchen and deck when cooking out. So if the barbecue grill is on another level or too far away, it's not convenient. Other than that, it can become a little more free form. In design and construction it's hardscape first, then planting.


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RE: Help! Trying to Develop a Complete Backyard Plan (many pics)

Yardvaark - Yes, that makes sense. Thanks. Well, we would love an entertaining deck. So our initial unoriginal thoughts were for a large 2-level deck that extends 10-12' deep and runs the length of the house (50'). Of course so are very open to suggestions if a better deck design would be more harmonious with the landscape...

No pools, no tramps (!), my 7 y.o. son would love a skating rink...but no.


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RE: Help! Trying to Develop a Complete Backyard Plan (many pics)

Nice shed...! There are no fences currently - is that a requirement of the neighbourhood? How big an issue is privacy for you - i.e. do you need fences or hedges?


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RE: Help! Trying to Develop a Complete Backyard Plan (many pics)

Some things I would consider with the deck are making it two levels... a utility size (sort of what you have now) close to the kitchen and an outdoor living room size a couple of feet lower...toward the left where there seem to be no windows at the first floor. I'd also consider diagonally cutting off the decks outer corners (octagonalish) and using stouter vertical supports to get rid of the barracks look. Consider what you want it to look like below as these spaces can turn into worthless square footage. I'd even consider screening it in below with lattice or such and making it appear as a room extension to the house. It could possibly be configured to become useful for another purpose. You might say something about the intensity of investment you are willing to commit over the long haul. Keep it cheap as possible or make it look good? These two are usually at odds.

The 10' - 12' dimension sounds OK for just a cooking area, but inadequate for furniture and entertaining. For that part I'd make it wider and maybe less long. In general, how good it looks has to do with its details, finishes and looking like it fittingly serves its purpose... not just it's overall size and shape.


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RE: Help! Trying to Develop a Complete Backyard Plan (many pics)

Woodyoak- No need for a fence, but probably want to screen out the neighbor's shed.

Yardvaark- This is a rough first sketch, of course not even close to scale. We will probably have to scale it back when we find out the cost though.

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RE: Help! Trying to Develop a Complete Backyard Plan (many pics)

I like that for a first sketch. It utilizes the full space and ties in the stone details from your shed to the deck, which is a nice gesture. In order to cut space I would consider flipping the bottom set of risers so that is runs where that couch looking structure is now (towards the house). Pull the couch/bench thing forward in front of the stairs, and put the middle deck level (which is now out in the yard) against the house. This will divide up the large expanse of deck on top, and reduce the total amount of deck you will use ($$$).

The drawback to this is that the space under this portion of the deck wouldn't be usable other than for storage.

I agree that getting this aspect down is really important to the final design. You're going to want to set up the bones of the yard before you worry about the planting plan.


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RE: Help! Trying to Develop a Complete Backyard Plan (many pics)

What I meant were levels that were only separated by 2 or 3 steps. I would call your sketch two completely separate decks. Not that you can't have what you want, but having one deck above another would present some technological problems. People spill things and it runs through the boards, etc. So issues like that would need to be solved. Is there a need for separate decks?


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RE: Help! Trying to Develop a Complete Backyard Plan (many pics)

No need for seperate decks, just trying to maximize the use.

There are products out there that line the underneath of the top deck.

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So... assuming the deck will look something like the one in my sketch, how would you design the backyard?


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RE: Help! Trying to Develop a Complete Backyard Plan (many pics)

"...our initial unoriginal thoughts were for a large 2-level deck that extends 10-12' deep and runs the length of the house (50'). Of course so are very open to suggestions if a better deck design would be more harmonious with the landscape..." ... "We will probably have to scale it back when we find out the cost though."

No doubt, it only takes money to solve all landscape problems which is why I'm bringing to light the sacrifice and additional cost that two separate decks creates. Seeing a single level upper deck makes me think that it makes more sense to create a patio at the lower level instead of a second deck.

"So... assuming the deck will look something like the one in my sketch..."? Glossing right over it sounds like you are not open to suggestions of greater efficiency, functionality or beautification of the deck. We can move on to the rest of the yard and come back to planting issues at the deck area it after you have your 1200 square feet of it planned out to scale.

You've showed your yard and mentioned some of it's features, but you haven't said what it is that you're dissatisfied with. What gripes you about your yard? What do you wish would be different? ...sun, shade, slope, privacy, usability...?

You've addressed that no fences are needed and that screening the neighbor's shed is, but not addressed the privacy issue along the length of both side lot lines.

Is there a desire to beef up the thinning screening at the back?

Do you wish to incorporate a veg. and/or flower garden?

To each person, the term "park-like" will invoke different meanings. To me, it means large trees with high canopies, not too densely spaced... so there is more shade than sun, but not like a "woods" ... more like a cathedral effect. Can you get us on the same page with that term? Also, you mentioned berms. Those cute little berms that started the craze (back about when your house was built) can be goofy looking if too pronounced. To look natural and harmonious, a decent berm takes a fair amount of soil. You might check what a dump truck load of dirt costs delivered (it could take several)... factor in some $ for placing to get an idea of how much berming you want to get involved with. Before you plan everything around two or three thousand dollars of berms, you should know it's what you want. It can be the ticket, but sometimes (usually) varying the elevation with shrub and groundcover mass can be just as pleasing for much less cost.


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RE: Help! Trying to Develop a Complete Backyard Plan (many pics)

The proposed lower level deck might look snazzy, but doesn't do much to alleviate the "football field effect" of the back yard. In my part of the country, we would be thinking about creating a ground level outdoor use area, incorporating the nicely shaded area around the cedar.

You're not trying to keep all that turf grass watered with a hose, are you?


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RE: Help! Trying to Develop a Complete Backyard Plan (many pics)

As far as my gripes, the north-south slope bothers me a little, but not enough to bring in truckloads of topsoil, regrade & reseed. I embraced the east-west slope in front of my shed as an opportunity to add the stone base for the shed.

Privacy on both sides is not a primary concern although hiding the neighbor's shed while delineating the two north-south boundary lines is important. I still want a turf grass yard for the kids, but not the unfinished look of a "football field" that I have now.

There are a couple of thinning spots on the back evergreen screen. This is a priority. Maybe a Colorado spruce? Or something with a blueish hue for contrast to break it up... I dunno. There is a grey-blue hue on my shed roof... and then the neighbors shed might not bother me so much...

A park-like effect to me suggests very defined mulched beds with manicured specimen bushes, not focusing on flowering perrenials so much, but some included. A bench would help with the park-like feel...

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...and so would a water-feature of some sort.

Whitecap2 - You're right, my deck sketch does accentuate the rectangluar football field that I am trying to get away from. Great observation! Perhaps a patio would be a better choice.

And no, the hose sprinklers are only temporary until I have my plan in place. :) Then I will install inground, with drip irrig at the bushes.


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RE: Help! Trying to Develop a Complete Backyard Plan (many pics)

"the north-south slope bothers me a little, but not enough to bring in truckloads of topsoil, regrade & reseed." When one solution is too much bother or too expensive, but not doing anything at all leaves us dissatisfied, we look for other ways of ameliorating the condition. Instead of bringing in truckloads of soil, what about pushing the existing soil into other configurations? ...which essentially means terracing or a modified form of it... flattening the slope of some areas and intensifying it in others. The transition can be accomplished with planted (grass, groundcover, etc) slope, retaining wall, steps, or a combination of those. It still means re-grading and seeding, but not buying truckloads of soil so the cost is much less.

You didn't say about the berms yet. (Or the garden.)

I have never viewed mulch as "the destination", but only as a way of getting to somewhere else (usually groundcover.) Mulch looks great when first applied. But after weathering and sun-bleaching it must be freshened with new. Year after year this becomes tiring and expensive. And it's appearance--dry, barren--NEVER improves beyond the original mulch. Groundcovers on the other hand are lush and green and give a feeling of sumptuousness. The personalities of groundcover plants are highly varied so there is usually something that suits. You are using grass that way now and are probably content with it. Most of the other groundcovers do not require mowing. But if mulch beds it is, how large are you envisioning such beds?


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RE: Help! Trying to Develop a Complete Backyard Plan (many pics)

Whitecap, I meant to acknowledge your comment but forgot before I pushed the button. Good observation and true. Garden guy, it's not whether it's a deck or patio; it's that linear, bleachers-like arrangement that makes it less than optimum.


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RE: Help! Trying to Develop a Complete Backyard Plan (many pics)

An overall master plan is what would work best for you at this point in your planning.
A professional planner will help your identify your needs, help you with placement and size of decks, patios, pedestrian and play patterns .
Much to many people's surprise there is quite a lot involved in creating a good looking and well functioning landscape.

One important peice of your landscape is the transition surface(s) from the house to the yard. A good designer will investigate how you will use the surfaces from the various areas and design them to the correct size , all the while a seamless integration between spaces will be pulled together.

Creating attractive space under a deck takes skill. All too many times I see deck or patio spaces placed under a top deck that is dark, small and uninviting.
One succuessful element to creating a satisfactory understory space is designing a welcoming ceiling that doesn't cover the entire lower deck and doesn't make you feel like you are in a cave. Another important aspect is your stair location and the location and style of the load bearing posts.

I think this project would benefit from some personal time with a good landscape designer to get it off to the right start.

Photo - an upper deck with a deck and terrace below. - three levels. two decks and one on grade bluestone patio all interconnected

From decks


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RE: Help! Trying to Develop a Complete Backyard Plan (many pics)

"An overall master plan is what would work best for you at this point in your planning." Deviant- Yes, I agree. That is why I titled my original post "Help! Trying to Develop a Complete Backyard Plan." I don't mean to sound frustrated or unappreciative, but after investing the effort of my original entry, I was ultimately hoping to just get some inspirational design ideas.

The very relevant advice that everyone has graciously provided above has given me alot to think about. I understand that I need to solidify what my goals and objectives are and that hardscapes come first etc. However, I feel like I am no closer to coming up with a plan than when we started.


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RE: Help! Trying to Develop a Complete Backyard Plan (many pics)

Take the money you were going to spend on the irrigation system, and hire a good design pro. Be prepared to do your homework to find the right person. It's not somebody who know their plants, but somebody who can tease out of you what you are really looking to do.


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RE: Help! Trying to Develop a Complete Backyard Plan (many pics)

You have to understand designer psychology. There are several gifted designers here but (unlike you and I), they're a sensitive tribe, and are reluctant to expose their thoughts to possible rejection because of some requirement that should have been previously revealed, but wasn't. This means that, in order to avail yourself of their creativity, you probably need to be a little more specific about what you wish to accomplish, and how much effort and expense you are willing to dedicate to the realization of your "vision."


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RE: Help! Trying to Develop a Complete Backyard Plan (many pics)

Gardenguy, it's true you're little further ahead. It's too bad that this forum doesn't come with some instructions that lay out a few ground rules and give posters an idea of what help they can get... and how to best get it. As Deviant points out, there's actually a lot of work and thought that goes into good landscape design. A professional can make it seem quick and easy. But that's usually the result of years of experience. With your nice presentation I see that you're ready to go and you're not afraid to draw. That's good because people here can't actually do your design; we can just help direct you to do it better. An essential part of making that happen is that, as questions about various aspects of the project come up, you must fill in the missing information. As people make comments that beg a decision, you must declare your preference or intention. If you don't do this, then the thinking of the people who are waiting for the answer or the decision, is locked from advancing. In that information vacuum, their thinking is not likely to turn into good advice for you... if any advice at all.

I'm not trying to withhold anything from you because I'm sensitive or a snobby prima donna. I'm just waiting for you to answer the questions I asked and make decisions about the comments I offered.

One other bit of advice... don't withhold information or be misleading about your answers. That will only take us in the wrong direction and to the point of complete purposelessness.


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RE: Help! Trying to Develop a Complete Backyard Plan (many pics)

Your sketch is very clear. With that configuration, your under-deck will be an unlivable cave. (I have a configuration just like it--it stinks!) You are putting the steps right in front of the long, shallow front--your major source of sunlight. Move the steps to one end.

As far as the rest, you are far too vague for anyone to help you! You have to decide what spaces you want in the yard first.

We have a LOT of living space in out front yard, so our back yard has to do less work, but its sections are this:

-A mixed vegetable/cutting garden.

-Storage shed for yard and garden things.

-The play area, which has a wooden swing set and a zip line and will be getting an arbor this year or the next. Right now, it also encompasses a steep slope that's used for sledding. Post-kids, it may be terraced.

-The living area, which includes a top deck and will include a lower patio, once berms are put in place and the stairs are moved. (Next year, likely) It also requires firewood storage, and an outdoor kitchen is planned.

-The natural area, which is the back acre of land and already has a storage shed which is used as a playhouse as it is 200ft+ from the yard down a narrow path with a steep slope on either side. This one day may or may not hold a woodland garden and, at the edge, a pool.

So, decide what activities or areas you want out there. make a PLAN. Take your layout and circle different areas and label what you want them to be used for. THEN ask for hep with making that plan happen.

You're asking for people to read your mind and figure out what you want when you don't know yourself.


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RE: More...

I really, really like hrigsby's idea with the deck. Under the deck storage can be for kid stuff--they can keep their outside playthings there, from bikes and scooters to enormous waterguns. Enclose it and make it a closet.

>I was thinking of doing climbing roses and clematis on the shed, but I want to develop a clear plan before I start buying plants.

You are totally overthinking this. If you want the look of a clematis and rose-draped shed, get a clematis and a big climbing rose. Go to the species forum and ask for advice, and then go and buy your New Dawn rose and whatever clematis everyone's enthralled by now. Plant them. Mulch their roots so they don't get weedy. Done. You are not going to throw off the entire garden plan by choosing the wrong rose and the wrong clematis. The rock work on the shed foundation is awesome, but as far as plants go...could you possibly do worse?

>The park-like look really appeals to me with mulched burmed beds, if that makes sense. Manicured, simple, orderly.

You mean commercial and/or parks-and-rec sorts of plantings? This seems to be what you're saying--shaped hedges floating in seas of mulch... This takes a lot of weed killer and a BIG budget for mulch. It also will look, at best, like a rather nice office building.

I think you might need more exposure to various kinds of gardens. What you're imagining is mass-maintenance, not low-maintenance. And it's unsuited to a home, though many builders of cookie-cutter homes throw in the cookie-cutter shrubs like this.

>Photos of Japanese style gardens appeal to me also.

Not low maintenance.

>I also love the idea of attracting birds more. I have seen blue jays, cardinals, sparrows, and morning doves. A water feature would be great but I don't think I want a pond.

If you want a wildlife garden area, circle where you want it on your layout. Do you want to see it from the patio? From the windows of which room?

I'd advise a prefabbed, plug-in type of water feature for low maintenance. Most are hideous. Some are nice. Eventually, you can find one you like.

>We also love the idea of doing raspberry, blueberry, blackberry bushes for the kids and birds, but I hear the roots can be very invasive.

Why didn't you go over to the fruit forum and ask? The very nice people there would have explained to you that you need a 2' deep root barrier for the raspberries but none for the blackberries. (The lazy way to do it is a 2' deep raised bed, but that may not be smart in your zone.) You will want to plant this either on the east or west side, parallel to the property line but with a pathway at least as wide as the mower. You want this on the OPPOSITE side of property than the wildlife garden, if you really want it for the kids. If you want it mostly for birds, there are better choices of plant--far more attractive for people. If you want several types of raspberry, each needs a 2' deep root barrier between them, or the more aggressive types will take over. The bed needs to be 2' wide. Mulch it well to prevent weeds. Each plant needs 3' of length along the bed.

Put a hedge up along the other side, between you and your other neighbors, to reduce the feeling of exposure.

As far as the existing arbs, I'd personally do a mixed shrub border, but I fear you will want an orderly row of evergreens that will do nothing to soften the shape of the yard and will grown unmanageably huge themselves in time.

I can't really see the commercial berms and sterile plantings plus wildlife combination. It does not at all work in my mind.


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