Planning Your Landscape: Just the Basics

Planning Your Landscape: Just the Basics

The dry heat of August prohibits much planting, but it's perfect for planning a new garden. If your home is surrounded by a sea of dirt, a featureless lawn or a jungle of overgrown plants, you might be thinking about an upgrade. Where do you start and what do you need to know? You don't have to be a creative artist to design your landscape. There's lots of help available and, if you do a little homework, you will transform that yard into a beautiful and functional landscape.

Step one is to draw a site plan of your yard, including dimensions and elevations, according to Gary Krause, owner of Gary Krause Landscaping. Graph paper will help you put things in perspective. Elevations are needed if you plan to install drainage or irrigation systems, and will help determine whether you should include a retaining wall. In areas such as hilly East Medford, water may flow down onto your property or even into your house. "Grade away from the house at a one-percent grade," says Krause, which means for every 10 feet, it should fall one inch.

Next, ask yourself, "How much water do I have?" says landscape designer Sharon Creek-Siewert. Limited or abundant water will play a big part in defining your landscape and choosing plants.

Prioritize your use of outdoor space, including areas for children, entertainment and leisure. Do you want a pool or tennis court, water features, patios, walkways, or a gazebo? Include what you want to do with a difficult corner or narrow strip — anything you might want in your landscape. If you are uncertain, study garden books and magazines. A yard for entertaining might include a patio, sitting area, dining area, barbecue, umbrellas, or even a complete outdoor kitchen, adds Jani Lockwood, designer and owner of Lockwood Landscape Designs. Features are limited only by your budget.

Pictures can also help you decide on a "style" you like, says Creek-Siewert. Looking at pictures of plants will help you decide on colors, combinations of colors or a goal such as a cutting garden, fragrance, fall color or successive blooming. Your theme may be formal, Southwestern, Zen, or an herb garden for culinary or medicinal use.

She cautions, however, that a French country garden is not a "no-maintenance" garden, so you must make sure your desires are compatible. "Drought tolerant" means it will survive a drought, but it may not look too great, she adds, and "when established" means you will have to water new plants for a season or two.

"Is there something you want to hide or something you want to make a focal point?" asks Lockwood. Is there a view you want to enhance or change or even block? Looking out your windows is a good way to determine what you'd like to see from the kitchen, dining or living room window as opposed to a room you rarely use

Once you've made these decisions, you can develop a layout, placing your permanent hardscape (patios, walkways, pool, etc.) and planting layout, making sure you use plants that will tolerate your site, says Krause. Consider sun and shade requirements. And consider how much maintenance you want to do.

"I like to design for winter first," says Creek-Siewert. It's important to add evergreens for color and shape, as well as deciduous plants and spring and summer flowers. Otherwise when winter comes, you'll be back to a blank slate.

With a little research and planning, your dream garden will not only become your reality, but will significantly increase the value of your home.

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