July 2017 – Turning Problems Into Opportunities – Part I

Welcome to our July edition. Hopefully some vacations have been taken, as before we know it school will be starting up again. 

I appreciate the positive comments regarding the articles. I enjoy writing them, though it takes time away from the normal work of running a landscape business, the opportunity to teach and share is worth the investment. Being able to write about our landscape experiences authenticates who we are as a landscape company and my goals as the owner.  I thank you for taking the time to read our articles and viewing the pictures I’ve taken of our completed jobs.

Now, let’s get to our article. Last month we covered the front yard of this home and gave a good overview of our intent and the reasons for why we approached the front as we did. This month we will move to the back. 

As you look at the before picture, like the front, the back is uneventful other than the swimming pool. There is nothing in the backyard that calls you out. So, if you had the responsibility of transforming this yard how would you approach it? What are its problems? 

In early spring, we featured a large yard and in the first article I shared how the design came together; it all begins with the requests or needs of the homeowners. Routinely we are asked to give our opinion, however without knowing needs, family size, time for the yard and activities that are enjoyed outdoors I could give my opinion – and completely miss the mark. Therefore if needs are not clearly known, through a dialogue of questions and answers a needs list is established. With three or four needs identified, we have a landscape. 

 For Steve and Leann, the owners of this home, though they were a little lost with what to do with their front yard, they had some ideas about what they wanted for the backyard. Steve liked lawn, like most men, however they were losing the battle. Between the shade from the trees and their roots the lawn was struggling to survive. And though we could fix the root problem by installing root guards, it’s hard to fight the shade. 


Next, their existing patio, especially for entertaining was extremely limiting. It was only large enough to entertain elves. Leann said Steve had a few in his family but her family was normal. So here were our first two problems, lawn that was losing the battle, and a restrictive patio (I like to see needs or problems as opportunities to think outside the box). So the question is do we take advantage of a shady area that will not grow lawn to create a “go to” place with a patio and a free standing cover, or do we bust out the existing patio and pour a larger one, and was there room to extend out a patio from the house with the pool being so close? 

The answer was there was not enough room to go straight out and Steve and Leann both liked the idea of maintaining their small patio for coffee, reading, etc. And since it was just the two of them, maintaining the small patio close to the kitchen worked for them.  However, building a larger patio area for family functions seemed like a win, win to them. This was a major decision, the rest of the yard would develop from it.  

We were making progress, however there were still more decisions. What size would be the patio be and of what material did we want to make it from? How large is the family, elves or otherwise, and how often does everyone get together?  Based on that number we determined a 16′ x 14’ patio would be a good size. Also, Leann wanted to incorporate some small scale seat walls along the patio edge just in case more familia or friends showed up.

Deciding the type of material the patio would be was important for it influenced the feel that the patio would have. Would it be flagstone, concrete or pavers? Since the existing patio and pool deck was exposed aggregate it would be hard to match and for “go-to” places I like to offset them (make them special), by using flagstone or pavers. Being that this was a front and backyard landscape, saving a little money was appreciated. Going with flagstone, which has a larger footprint, covering more area and requiring less prep time became the logical choice for Steve. 

Selecting the flagstone was a bit of a challenge.  The selection is fairly extensive, however being that Leann liked fall colors, Autumn Flame with its multi colors became her choice. It is a very beautiful flagstone with varying browns, oranges and tans.

 Now that we had the patio decided upon, we could begin the prep work. Digging out the surface roots, going below grade about 4 inches to build our base was the task at hand. From here it was all procedure. Time, talent and “Gator Dust” (combination of mortar, sand and polymers) used for the joints completed the job.    

Next month we will get into the plant selection and design. However, the layout of the yard helped me. There were three distinct light zones: full sun behind the pool, morning sun against the house and shade between the patio cover and fence.  Therefore, in studying the light I received the clues I needed for the design which we will get into next month. 

Gardeners, the harvest is going strong if you’ve kept up with fertilization and dealt with the bugs. Some pruning or staking might be in order to keep the larger growing plants from leaning over and potentially having the underside of the leaves burn and exposing the vegetables to the sun, potentially scorching them when we have our heatwaves.

 Until next time – Good Gardening. 

P.S The little humor in the article comes from the friendship I have maintained with Steve and Leann over the years.