Don't Start Digging Until You Have a Design

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When it comes time to doing some landscaping in your yard, often the hardest part is knowing where to begin.

Many of us have Pinterest boards or magazine clippings loaded with ideas and grand visions of outdoor oases.  We’re eager to get out and implement these ideas and are often tempted to dig first and figure out the details later.  However, that approach may end in frustration, especially when landscaping a new yard or doing a larger renovation.

Think of a landscape design as your recipe for your yard.

Imagine building a house one room at a time with no overall plan.  Barring a miracle or a super talented craftsperson, the end result will most likely be a shack filled with incompatible elements.  The same applies to your landscape. Start with a landscape design to unlock the potential of your yard and ensure a satisfying result!

Have you ever had the problem of not knowing what to prepare for dinner?  You gaze into your fridge and cupboards in the hopes that something will jump out at you, but nothing does. You begin to browse recipe books or online for inspiration and, eventually, you are able to narrow your choices.

The recipe you finally decide to go with was chosen based on what flavours or style of cooking you have a hankering for, what ingredients you already have on hand, what your budget is for new ingredients, and your comfort level in the kitchen.  A good recipe will provide you with all the instructions necessary to successfully prepare your meal.

 The unique shape of this lot made it a fun challenge to design.

The unique shape of this lot made it a fun challenge to design.

Think of a landscape design as your recipe for your yard.  Just as you probably wouldn’t start cooking without a plan, you shouldn’t start landscaping without a plan, especially if you are inexperienced.

A design will help you visualize the goals you have for your yard before you begin messing around with it.  At this stage, it’s much easier to work and rework your landscape to make it work with your space. You may have to erase and redraw lines numerous times, but this is better than installing landscape features then needing to redo or remove them later.

Have fun with the design process and experiment with the shapes and locations of things!  

Keep in mind things like traffic flow, shelter and privacy concerns, and problem areas (like drainage issues or excessive sun) so that you can incorporate solutions to these in your design.

The overhead view that you’re designing from gives you a unique perspective of your landscape, so take advantage of it.  If you’re going through the trouble of creating a landscape design, make sure there is a scale of some sort attached to it.  It’s crucial to have a scale to get a true sense of yard space. Without one, you may be disappointed when things — whether they are patio furniture or shrubs — don’t fit in their intended spots.  You’ll also want to have one when it comes time to figure out what the installation of this landscape design might cost.

Whether you’re planning to tackle the landscape installation yourself or plan to hire a contractor to do the work, your landscape design will provide you with enough information to get a good idea what your project will cost.  All parties involved will be providing prices based on similar products and similar dimensions and, as a result, you’ll be able to compare apples to apples, or paving stone to paving stone, as the case may be.

With prices in hand, you can now decide whether or not it is within your budget to tackle the project immediately, in the future, or in stages.  As long as you’re following your plan, you can rest assured that your landscape will look unified when it’s done, even if it happens to take five years to complete.

During the time that it takes to implement your vision, though, a landscape design will also prevent you from hastily doing something in the yard that you may regret later.  For example, when you're in a pinch to plant that pine tree your kid brought home from school for Arbor Day, you can pull out your landscape design and find a spot for the tree that won't later be in the way when construction continues.

 This is the completed project of the above landscape design.

This is the completed project of the above landscape design.

I once had a customer that, prior to meeting with us, did not have a landscape design in place. As we begun working on her project and started our excavation, it became evident that she had never anticipated that the pet cemetery she had accumulated over the years would also be the perfect location for a patio.  The mummified remains were promptly dug up then returned to a more suitable spot in the yard.

Prior to starting your landscape project this season, consider taking the time to create a landscape design first.  Not only will the design process help you layout a yard that will suit your needs and that you’ll be happy with for years to come, it will also let you visualize your landscape before installation, helping to avoid frustration during construction.

Perhaps more importantly, a design should give you enough information to help you prepare a budget for the project, both in terms of money and time.

Take these steps and you’ll be on your way to unlocking the potential of your landscape!