Welcome to our September article.  With school now in session we all have our routines for the next nine months.

This month we begin a discussion on a new yard.  However, before we get started, I would like to start with the question I am always asked: “If this was your yard what would you do?” It’s such a huge question that there is no way I can answer it without first asking questions, especially when it involves a slope. Therefore my normal response is to ask the client what are their  five most important things  they would enjoy doing in their yard. Sometimes the client knows, which makes my job a little easier, otherwise I have a series of questions I ask. By the end of our appointment I know my client fairly well and depending upon the budget, sometimes a phase two is required.

For this month’s featured yard our clients were in the process of building a pool when I first met them. Aside from the pool, they knew they wanted some lawn for their two dogs. However, the rest of the yard was difficult for them to visualize because of all the different elevations the yard had. Pat, the wife, enjoyed working in the yard and liked color, which spoke volumes to me for that meant I had to make a sloped yard accessible to her (when we started there was no level ground).  Gary, the husband, on the other hand, wanted to protect the spa and the pool from run-off, which meant terracing the yard. Protecting the water features that were below grade on the uphill side does take thought.  With complicated projects such as this one I follow a philosophy of “divide and conquer,” and it is especially needful for hill landscapes. Oftentimes I am called prior to anything starting, which I prefer. There is a correct percentage of water, cement and plants. On many occasions I have come in after the pool and hardscape and the percentages were off, and unfortunately there is no going back. For me, pool and landscape make the perfect marriage but when you are left with only four feet of ground, it makes it hard to try to marry these elements together. There is not enough ground left to create a feeling of invitation, color and pleasure. The pool itself cannot do it, nor can the hardscape (cement.)  Therefore, it is imperative that when starting a project to understand the interrelationship between these three elements. Done right the yard becomes everything it needs to be.   

As mentioned, for Gary and Pat I was brought in while the pool was in progress so there was not much for me to do in terms of design until I saw the finished deck and pool, which created its own elevation. That would let me know how much terracing would be required. However, there was still much to discuss. There was no lack of space in this case and the proportion of the pool looked right in the yard, so beginning to divide and conquer was the conversation we needed to have. Once I understood their relationship to the yard, it was easy for me to see it finished in my mind, explain it to them as well as put a rough price on it.  With hill jobs price is always a concern because of their difficulty and extra labor required.  In the early stages the project did not include a walk traversing the hillside, which I personally felt was very important. I could not picture them five years from now climbing up the hill to prune plants or check irrigation. Therefore, through the course of the job a statement I routinely made was, “Since this is your forever home, you need to consider   five to ten years from now. You will not want to be climbing that hill.”  With those words respectfully repeated several times I was able to build a walkway for them.

After we built the walkway the next concern I had was a handrail for the steps. The steps were included in the estimate and initially I had them attached to the fence for cost savings. Yet as I considered it more, I wanted the handrails to be independent of the fence.  And the improved handrail cost was not that much more than what was already priced out.  Aesthetically it matched the galvanized pipe supports we used to secure the walkway.   And for them, they liked the contrast of the galvanized pipe against the wood. For most clients we paint the galvanized pipe to match the lumber.  

Next came the lawn.  Gary’s desire was to have a level lawn to mow, therefore it meant we had to terrace a measured space that was enough for the two dogs and the “green” the homeowners wanted to see in their yard. The amount “carved out” fit nicely into the overall proportions of the yard.

The last detail to consider were the “landscape scenes,” a term I coined to describe the planters that are close to the viewing eye. It’s the area you would view if you looked out the living room sliding door, or from your kitchen window, or pulling into your garage. These “snippets” of the landscape are a big deal. They are often seen multiple times in the day whereas the rest of the landscape might go several days without being viewed. So priority wise these areas carry a lot of weight and as the founder of Jurassic Park repeatedly said, “I spared no expense.” What is cool about these areas is you can spend some money on them, however they seldom exceed 20% of the budget. So these final details are critical. For next month we will continue our conversation and re-visit comments I made in August articles regarding slope’s profile – so save it.

Gardeners, the nurseries now have fall/ winter vegetables, which are my favorite and unlike summer veggies that grow many times their purchased size, fall/winter gardening gives you more per square foot. It is a very productive planting with tasty benefits.  

Until next time – Good Gardening.