House & Home

New home, new landscape: Where do you start?

Around an established home, freshening up the landscape changes your perception of the house and the neighborhood. Instead of planting on either side of the traditional front walk, this homeowner decided to plant a front-yard garden to one side, near the property line. It serves as a privacy screen and leaves the home at center stage.
Around an established home, freshening up the landscape changes your perception of the house and the neighborhood. Instead of planting on either side of the traditional front walk, this homeowner decided to plant a front-yard garden to one side, near the property line. It serves as a privacy screen and leaves the home at center stage.

If you’ve recently moved into a new home, the world outside your windows is waiting. It’s time to tackle the garden.

Turning a piece of property into a garden that reflects your style and meets your needs is quite a project, whether your home is a brand-new place on an empty lot or an established home with a patchwork of landscaping going back through a succession of previous owners. Either way, the possibilities are unlimited.

The first step is to give yourself permission to dream a little.

“Look at your property and ask yourself what your long-term goals are,” said Cheri Marie Stringer, a landscape designer and owner of TLC Gardens in Longmont, Colo.

General goals are fine, she says. You might want a lawn for the kids to play on or a patio for entertaining. That’s a good start.

But perhaps you’re also thinking of a sheltered place to sit outside, a small vegetable garden or a flower garden that welcomes you home when you pull into the driveway.

Stringer most often works with clients who want to renovate an existing landscape.

“When I meet with them, they’re trying to work around what’s there instead of imagining how it could be completely different,” she said. “They can’t see what it could be.”

On an empty lot around a new home there are no distractions, so it may seem easier to imagine your new garden, but the process is the same, Stringer says. Figuring out what you want comes first.

She guides her clients from an initial list of goals to a list of priorities. The two won’t always coincide.

Then working with both lists, she helps clients envision developing their garden one step at a time. Working with a garden-design professional helps even if you’re an experienced gardener. It’s less about digging holes and planting things here and there, and more about coming up with a coherent plan for a beautiful and inviting garden.

Sally Wittkofski, a landscape architect and owner of SWW Landscape Design in Richmond, Va., goes through the same process with her clients in the rolling terrain and relatively mild climate of the mid-Atlantic area that Stringer does in the Rocky Mountains and high plains of the West.

“Don’t be afraid to start,” she tells them. “Starting is the hard part.”

Wittkofski suggests shopping for ideas in the pages of magazines and on websites such as Pinterest or Houzz. When something appeals to you, she says, “ask yourself why you like it, what draws you to it.”

Working with a designer will help you develop your own style, so it is important to try to find the right professional and to be willing to listen to the voice of experience. You could order a pallet of rocks from the local stone yard and lay a patio yourself in one weekend, but having a conversation with a designer before you start will help you make some crucial decisions about the location and shape and size of the patio, and about whether stone or bricks or pavers are the right choice for your site and your needs.

After talking with a designer, you may decide to hire her and her crew to build the patio, or she may give you the encouragement you need to do it yourself, with the assurance that the results will be satisfying. Professionals are familiar with local codes and covenants. Designers or their contractors can help you address drainage issues and can level uneven ground where necessary. They are also adept at looking at the overall picture of your property and helping you decide where you can save and where you should splurge.

Whether you do all the work on your own or collaborate with a professional, dividing the project into phases helps make it more approachable and affordable. If your budget is generous, you may only have a couple of major phases — the front yard and the backyard, for example.

To spread the work and the expense, you could divide your garden plans into eight phases, based on your list of priorities. This year you can put in a patio, or build some raised beds for a vegetable garden and plant a couple of trees. You’ll find yourself and your garden making satisfying progress as time goes on.

Getting started

When you’re landscaping your property, don’t be intimidated, designers say. Savor the opportunity: This is a chance to make your garden your own. Here are some tips and ideas:

▪ Ask yourself how you want to use your garden. Where will you spend the most time? What do you want to do there: entertain friends, play games with the kids or relax on your own?

▪ Take an inventory of what’s on your property. Existing trees, shrubs and flowerbeds should be on your list, but also structures (garage, potting shed) and features such as walls, fountains and paths. This will help you get a better feel for the possibilities and problems.

▪ Make a note of every idea you have for the garden, even if it’s a long list.

▪ Don’t forget to look around your neighborhood. If your neighbors have beautiful landscaping, you may be able to incorporate ideas from their property into your own layout.

▪ Don’t be afraid to remove plants you don’t like.

▪ Go for instant gratification, even in gardening. A fence provides privacy much faster than a line of shrubs. If you put up a fence, you might want to plant shrubs or trees in front of it, to give the landscape depth and texture.

▪ Plants come last. They are the finishing touches in a great design.

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