How to Design a Backyard from Scratch?

I often hear clients say that they can design the landscape for their home if there is already something there. Adding new items can be easy if the walkway is already there and the plants are already in place. But what if your backyard is completely empty, not a tree in sight, where do you begin? Or maybe you want to redo your backyard completely, how do you “erase” the current design from your mind and think newly?

In this article, you will find 5 recommendations that will help you organize your backyard landscape and design the oasis you truly want.

What do you like to do? Every home is unique to the people that live there. Some families like to have pool parties, some like to play Bocce Ball with the children and adults, others want a quiet retreat, garden and pond to sit by, or maybe your property size provides space for all of these. This is the fun part of the process – brainstorming and imagining!

Make a list of all the fun things you wish you had in your backyard. Don’t hold back! It’s always easy to chop the list down later, but at this time, gather all of those dreams you’ve had when looking at House Beautiful and Dwell magazines, and clipped pictures on Pinterest. Here are some that I usually hear from clients: herbal or fruit garden, meandering walkways through the trees, dinning area, fire pit and sitting area, putting green, gazebo or pergola to sit under.

Select a style, colors and a theme. Do you like a rustic look or a contemporary finish? Or maybe you are like me and like to infuse both? Do you want to match the roof, the color of the walls or window shades?  Here setting inspirational pictures aside when looking through the “style lens” would help you figure out what style you like. Keep flipping through the pictures and putting aside the ones you like, eventually when you look back at the ones you liked, you’ll start to see a pattern.  Identify what you like about each picture and note them for yourself.  That it what you will like to see in your backyard.

Once you select a style and color scheme, think if you want to add any special theme.  This is where you can really get personal with your property and bring out something unique about you and your family heritage. Maybe you enjoyed your family trip to Italy and would love to bring that experience home, or maybe you like sailing and would love to have a small lighthouse fixture in your garden, or maybe you love sports and want to have the space to watch your games outdoor.

I once worked with a client who liked gargoyles. He had them placed all over his backyard but they looked too spooky among the patches of half-dead vegetation and wood chips ground covering. To really create the enchanted garden the client wanted, we put the gargoyles on different pedestals both short and taller ones  to give the space more dimension, and soften their appearance with blooming perennials and leafy plants.

Narrow down the wish list and mark the space.  As you have been looking through the styles, themes and designs, you’ve probably collected some ideas that you would really love to bring to life in your backyard.  And if you’re still having trouble narrowing it down, this next step will help.

Get a colored outdoor thread or chalk, and start marketing the spaces you’d like to see built.  Some practical tips: It’s best to place the dinning area closer to the house and to where the kitchen is so your run for the ketchup isn’t that far.  If your property is large, place the fire pit and sitting area closer to the house rather than further (and be aware that some cities have restrictions on how close the fire pit can be to the house). You’ll find that if entertainment areas are placed too far, you won’t use them as much.

Create focal points in front of windows or entrances. For example, if your living room door opens into your backyard, put something eye-catching in front of it like a bird’s bath, an ensemble of potted plants or table and chairs.

Continue marking and adjusting your wish list as you lay things out on your property.  You can use a chair as a place holder or a potted plant to get a sense of space and distance between the areas.  If you are working with a landscape designer, they can help you do it digitally where it’s a little easier to move things around and visualize it.

Think about how much you want to spend and when.  Some properties can be quite vast and to see the full design come to life, requires a good chunk of change. If you can’t fund building the whole design at once, consider doing the project in phases. Hardscapes usually go in first and shape the yard layout. At this time the building crew can also put in sleeves for things like lighting and water pipping so that it’s there for the next phase.

If you want to do the whole design at once and are determined to fit inside your budget, consider using different materials and plant ages which provides lower pricing. Put together a list of plants and items you like and start comparing the cost of each option.

Sites like Home Advisor can hep you figure out what it would cost to build your design.  If you can be under budget, awesome! If you’re still over budget, many landscaping companies offer financing, plus you can have it done quickly and professionally.

Draw the plan.  When you have finished organizing the backyard design, selecting the style, color and theme, and once you have a good understanding of how much you want to spend, draw the diagram of the plan. If you’re doing it in milestones, mark out the area you want to built first. Remember to include the dimensions, plant selection, material specifications, colors, grade level and any special notes that pertain to the project.

It all starts with a really good plan!  Good job for taking it on. Let me know how it goes, if you have any questions, need any advice you can always use our Free Landscape Expert line to get help! And most of all, let me know when you get your design built and how it turns out!

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