How to create a landscape oasis…for everyone in your family

Author: Hallie Schmidt

Hallie Schmidt is a professional landscape designer and licensed landscape contractor. She owns Tierra Madre Fine Gardens in the SF Bay Area


These days of social distancing and sheltering-in-place have us spending more and more time at home. But being a homebody does not relegate us to the couch in front of the TV. Our outdoor spaces at home can be just as important, functional, relaxing, entertaining and cozy as our indoor spaces – with the right design. In this blog we’ll review the steps to take in order to make the most of what’s likely your biggest investment: your home. 


Who is the space for?

Think about everybody in your family who will use the landscape. Do you have pets that need space to play or fencing to be contained? Do you have children that enjoy sports, or teenagers who might have friends over? Do you plan to barbeque or entertain? Make a list of everybody in the family and how they would like to use the yard. 

Be realistic in your planning. Focus on things you know you already enjoy and like to do instead of dreaming about what you want to do or think you should do. For example, if a member of your family is passionate about cooking and grilling, a pizza oven might make sense, but not for the family that’s most likely to order take-out. You may be inspired to start a veggie garden, but if you know you don’t like getting your hands dirty or have a crammed schedule, it’s likely to get neglected. 

What features are most important?

Once you’ve identified how you’d like to use your space, create a list of what features you’d like to include to accomplish those goals. You can dream big, but prioritize what’s non-negotiable and what might be a bonus perk. Here’s a list of features you might consider:

  • Outdoor dining area
  • Outdoor kitchen and BBQ
  • Pizza oven
  • Outdoor seating and living space
  • Fire pit or fireplace
  • Swimming pool
  • Hot tub or jacuzzi
  • Sports court
  • Vegetable garden or orchard
  • Dog run
  • Outdoor movie screen
  • Play structure or treehouse
  • Trampoline
  • Greenhouse
  • Toolshed or storage


Observe your space

Architects and designers have many techniques to plan beautiful and functional spaces, but nobody knows the property like you. Once you’ve begun the thought process about how your new landscape, you can begin to take invaluable notes to set your landscape professional on the right track. 

First, observe the physical space, particularly at different times of day. How does the sun move? Are there especially hot, sunny or shady areas? When?  Are there any views you’d like to block or enhance? Next, observe how you currently use the space. Look for flows of traffic. Do current pathways make sense, or could they be more convenient if re-routed? Are there any issues with noise or light pollution? Strong winds? Are there neighborhood pests like deer or gophers? Drainage issues? Providing your landscape professional with this information will help them tailor every detail to make your yard unique to the site and your family’s needs. 


Get Inspiration

Like architecture and interior design, so much can be conveyed in the style of a landscape. When driving or walking through your neighborhood, take note of any front yards you like. Add #landscapedesign or other garden-related hashtags to your Instagram feed and start saving. Starting a digital inspiration board is easy with Pinterest and Houzz and is an excellent resource to share with designers – as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Pay attention to plants and trees you like (or don’t like), materials and styles. If you have no idea where to start, here are a few styles to check out. And remember, landscape design and architecture go hand in hand as landscapes often complement and enhance the buildings they surround. 

  • Cottage garden
  • Contemporary garden
  • Mediterranean garden
  • Xeriscape
  • Asian garden
  • Woodland garden
  • English garden
  • French country garden
  • Tropical garden
  • Succulent garden

Consider your budget

You’ve got the creative juices going and you’re bursting with excitement about your new space. Now it’s time for a reality check. All these fun ideas are going to cost money and quality work is not always cheap. You don’t want to be cutting corners with something you’ll be living with every day, and from an investment perspective, it makes sense to do it right the first time to avoid repairs and replacement down the line. 

How much money do you have available now to invest in the project? If needed, where could you get additional funds? Having at least a rough number before jumping into design is critical to establish realistic expectations. Do plan for a little wiggle room – there may be unexpected costs related to un-exciting things like drainage, permits or arbor work that are costly but critical. 

Though not a steadfast rule, a design will cost roughly 10% of the cost for installation, so a design for a $100,000 project would cost about $10,000. 


Finding a Designer and Installer

Having a designer and contractor you can communicate with and whom you trust is invaluable and will make the entire process much more pleasant for you. With this in mind, don’t always go for the cheapest, but don’t assume the most expensive is the best either. 

Start by asking local friends and family if they have any recommendations for designers, architects or design-build firms they’ve worked with. If you saw a landscape you loved in the neighborhood, knock on the door or leave a note and find out who did the work. Do a little internet browsing. Professional organizations like APLD or CLCA offer lists of local members. Websites like Nextdoor, Yelp, and Houzz can also help you find names along with reviews within your zipcode. 

Once you’ve got a list of professionals and you’ve vetted them through their websites, reviews and social media pages, it’s time to reach out. Most designers will be willing to talk on the phone for a brief interview. Ask for references you can contact or addresses you can drive by to get a better feel for their personability and work. If you feel like a good fit for each other, a design consultation is the next step. Do expect to pay a designer for a consultation, even if you don’t end up hiring them for the job. 

Once you’ve found the right fit, it’s time to set your plan in motion. 


Getting it Done 

By doing the all the initial legwork, you’ve set yourself up well for the project to run smoothly and on budget. You’ve outlined the scope and parameters of the project, listed everything you’d like addressed, and you have a budget. Nothing sets a project back like last minute changes and additions. You’ve assembled a team you trust who listens to your needs. Get ready to enjoy your new space!

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