We all want our yards to be something we can use and enjoy, season after season. But some of us are settling for what we have instead of what we want, for lack of time, decisions over what you actually go ahead with, and money. As a landscape designer, I get a lot of clients telling me things like, “my yard could never be what I really want” or “I don’t have enough space” or “that wouldn’t ‘fit’ with my house” and of course, there’s budgeting issues. That’s where a little planning and thought comes in….even with 20 by 25 city plot, the right plan can work wonders. It’s all about the right design, materials, and imagination (of course zoning laws as well!) when creating a space that you and your family will actually use. I use the term ‘interactive’ when referring to the outdoors. When I’m designing, I try to keep in mind how much the family will interact with a certain feature. The higher the interaction, the more successful the space will be. A simple deck with no features has a low interactive score, but to a family that loves golf, a putting green would be a better fit for them, and the interaction score would go way up. They would get a lot more use out of something they enjoy. Think about this when planning for your next outdoor project. If you want to be able to enjoy the yard you have, read on…
“What does your yard do for you?” That’s usually the first question I ask, followed by, “What do you want it to do?” If your current space does not even come close to meeting your needs/wants, it may be time to think about upgrading. Start with a full ‘wants assessment.’ What are your family’s interests? What will draw you outside?
Also think about who will be enjoying it. Be sure to have something for everyone, including kids and pets. You want to be able to enjoy the space with your loved ones, so include them in the planning process.
Another way to maximize the interaction with your space is to prolong its use within our short season. Create an all-weather, all-day space. Incorporate shady areas, perhaps a covering from the elements, lighting to allow for use at night and an outdoor heat source to enjoy on a chilly fall evening.
As I talked about earlier, build a space that will be interactive, rather than simply just functional. You’ll be more apt to use and enjoy it. Think of it this way: many homes in Killingworth simply have a 10 by 10 deck, or something similar off the back of their home. While that still costs money and time to put up, it houses just a grill and a four person table. How much will you actually use that? It certainly won’t fit company, and you’ll run out to throw food on the grill and bring it back to the kitchen. I’d say that functions, but does not interact. Now, imagine a two tiered patio, constructed with materials that match with your home’s character, space enough for a shady intimate seating area, a bistro dining table, accent lighting, and to top it off, a wood fired pizza oven and workspace. Clearly the costs go up over the deck, but so does the interaction and its use. It’s a space that invites you out to it. There’s aesthetics, comfort, and a reason to head outdoors. We got feedback from a similar build from a couple years ago that a space like this had them forgoing vacations simply because they now had it all in their backyard.
If pizza’s not your thing, the possibilities are endless. This is where your wants assessment comes in. Do you entertain or want a quiet retreat? Sun or shade? Accessories? Pool, spa, kitchen, bar, cozy outdoor fireplace? Putting green for the golf enthusiast, batting cage, beach setting, even just a spot for a cozy hammock to read your favorite book. Taylor these to fit your lifestyle.
Some tips to create the backyard you’ve always wanted, even if it’s DIY:
Always start with your lifestyle and what you’d like to include. Reference your ‘wants assessment’.
Use resources. Check out local stone and garden suppliers for material and design ideas, as well as displays. Magazines and landscape style websites are great. I personally love Pinterest for inspiration. Our own library has a great selection of landscape books. Contact local landscapers. Most are happy to point you in the right direction. Remember, even if some of the landscapes you find during your research seem unattainable, they are there to inspire and give you ideas, not to discourage you.
Come up with a budget, even if it’s something spread out over time. You don’t want to have costs get away from you but you also want to spend enough for the space to last and to be something you’ll actually enjoy.
Choose whether you’ll enlist the help of a professional. Is it worth your time, effort, energy to DIY? Especially if you’re spending money on quality materials, it’s worth the cost to have it professionally installed. We have a little joke in our industry: DDIY or don’t do it yourself. We’ve fixed too many sinking patios to advocate for the weekend warrior. Just do your research if you are hiring… How long have they been in business? What’s their portfolio like? Are they bonded and insured? Do they have any certifications? Will they be on the project until completion? Ask them for references. Trust your instincts. They will be on your property working closely with you and you want to make sure you have done your homework.
Think about your setting and also foot traffic when choosing materials. You want to match into your surroundings, not clash and you want it to be durable enough to withstand your lifestyle.
From there, a well thought out plan is a must, that way, if you do it in stages you’ll be working toward an end goal. I start out with a preliminary plot and tweak it until it includes even the tiniest details, right down to where furniture will be placed. You’ll thank yourself for a thorough plan when everything flows nicely in the end.
Once you finalize the plan, the install brings your dreams to reality. It never ceases to amaze me when my ideas on paper become a useable space to be enjoyed over and over. I hope this inspires you to see the potential in your own yards. To quote Hazrat Inayat Kahn, “Some people look for a beautiful place, others make a place beautiful.” Stop looking and start creating one in your own backyard!