All landscapes are defined by their natural settings and their histories. Where glaciers once roamed, expect erratic changes in levels and accumulation of large boulders.
If the garden has previously been used as a car park, expect compacted soil and weed proliferation.
In this sense, the homeowners must play the hand they are dealt in order to make the most of their landscape. (For those living in the South Bay area, it’s a pretty nice hand!)
Landscape design begins with an objective assessment of assets and debits inherent in the site, balanced against a realistic projection of how you would like to use the space.
Resolving what you have with what you want is a giant leap toward designing a landscape to meet your needs.
After that, following some traditional guidelines of style, structure, plant material and color selection will help to move you through each phase and project.
Above all, plan thoughtfully and don’t rush. Sometimes the best landscaping results evolve gradually as you learn design and building techniques.
Use this step-by-step landscape planning guide as an example of how to plan your project:
- Determine your priorities for work to be accomplished this season. Include necessary repairs, improvements and upgrades to make the garden more useable, and special wish-list items.
- Prepare a full plan statement listing the changes you intend to make, the work you will do yourself and the special tasks that will require professional contractors.
- Prepare a scale drawing of the garden as it is and indicate the changes you want to make.
- Make a time-line plan indicating start and completion dates for each phase of the project, and showing where some tasks might overlap to save time.
- Apply for building permits if necessary.
- Establish a budget for the entire project, and also for each phase.
- Research and locate building materials and plants.
- Find contractors for special skill requirements like brick laying, asphalt installation, irrigation and lighting.
- Call utility companies to locate and mark buried service lines.
- Notify neighbors of the work schedule.
- Order building materials for delivery a week before your start date.
- Clear the site of anything marked for sale, gift giving, recycling or disposal.
- Salvage any materials like stone, pavers or plants that can be used in the new plan.
- Establish a storage area for building materials and new plants.
- Protect permanent plants like trees, shrubs, perennials and ground covers from construction damage.
- Reserve rental tools and equipment for the time they are needed.
- Arrange for a dumpster bin if necessary.
- Begin removal of plants in poor condition. Lift plants to be saved or moved and wrap their root balls in landscape fabric or put them in containers. Place them in a shady spot.
- Correct grades where necessary.
- Lay out hard-surface areas like patios, decks and pathways using stakes and string, and begin to excavate for foundation materials.
- Lay sleeves (empty PVC piping) across pathways at 10-foot (3m) intervals, burned in the foundation materials, and stuff each end of the pipes with a rag to keep soil out.
- Finish hard surfaces with stone, brick, precast concrete blocks or wood.
- Dig and install ornamental pond.
- Build fences and gates.
- Purchase new plants and store on site.
- Outline the shape of new planting beds and prepare soil with organic materials.
- Lift grass using sod cutter.
- Lay electrical and irrigation lines.
- Plant trees, shrubs, hedges and perennials.
- Mulch soil around woody plants and perennials with shredded bark.
- Install light fixtures and raised irrigation emitters in planting beds.
- Install new sod lawn.
Keep in mind that your plan should have a timeline associated with it. For example, let’s say the complete landscape renovation is going to take a total of four years.
During year one you’ll focus on repairing hard features like steps, walkways and fences to prevent further damage.
Year two you add some new structures that add style and character e.g. a fence. As year three comes around you tackle renovating lawns and flowerbeds…and you install new shrubs and trees.
Year four is earmarked for irrigation and lighting.
There’s no harm in taking a gradual approach to your landscape renovation.