Got Shade? How A Master Plan Answers 8 Tough Landscaping Questions.

By January 15, 2019 Landscape Design
landscape master plan questions

There’s an art and a science to planning a beautiful landscape, and some of it revolves around your personal preferences – what you’d like to see (or not see), how you prefer to enjoy your space, whether or not you have kids or outdoor pets, and a whole lot more.

But there’s also a practical side to master planning. And that’s more about the space being designed. Sure, you may want a vast tomato garden, but if your home is nestled among old-growth forest, that may just be wishful thinking. Better to come up with something more practical – and just as tasty! – that can thrive in the shade.

These are some of the more practical questions that a landscape architect will address in your master plan. They may not sound like as much fun as choosing your favorite koi for the pond, but they are just as important for the beauty of your landscape and your enjoyment of it.

1. Do You Have An Irrigation System?

It’s tough to maintain a great landscape without water! And it’s unlikely that you’re going to be doing it the old-fashioned way, hanging out in the yard with a garden hose for a few hours each day.

If you don’t already have an irrigation system, then one should be factored into your master plan. Even if you do have one, it may need to be extended or even revamped to accommodate your new space.

While we’re talking about irrigation, how’s your drainage? Are there any areas of your yard that seem to stay muddy and damp no matter the temperature? Issues like this should be addressed in your landscape plan.

One of the great things about irrigation is that it can be much more interesting than plumbing. In fact, it can be designed right into the aesthetics.

Rainwater harvesting is a wonderful way to use the natural elements to help your landscape sustain itself. Rainwater can be collected through the use of streams, waterfalls, and decorative containers, then used, or stored for use as needed, all while adding an element of beauty to your landscape.

What questions do *you* want answered about your landscape? Just ask!

2. Do You Have A Septic System?

A famous author once said that the grass is always greener over the septic tank, and she may have a point! But perhaps *more* to the point, a septic system will fundamentally affect your master plan.

The last thing you want someone to do, for example, is design a lovely paving stone patio – right over the septic tank. Or more likely, the last thing you want to do is dig that lovely patio up when someone needs access to the tank.

It’s not an especially exciting topic, but it’s important to understand your infrastructure so you can enjoy your outdoor space without future hassles.

shade plants and fire pit3. Does Your Property Get A Lot Of Sun – Or Shade?

As we mentioned earlier, there is a practical reality to the type of plant materials that will grow in certain conditions, but there’s more to it than simply choosing between sun and shade plants.

You probably have spots that get a different amount of sunlight during different times of the day. Plants that thrive in morning sun – when it’s still fairly cool and even dewy – may not do as well in afternoon sun.

And it’s not just plants that are affected. Where you locate a swimming pool, for example, will be affected by sun and shade. If you plan to include a pond, the location of the pond should be carefully chosen for the right amount of sun and shade so that it won’t overheat during summer months, making it more susceptible to algae blooms.

Depending on the elements you plan to include – a lounging or sitting area, a kitchen or dining space, a garden or play area for the kids – the amount of sun and shade, and the times of day they hit, are important factors to consider in your master plan.

4. Do You Live In A Development?

You may own your home, but that may not mean you can do what you want with the outdoor space. Your development may have rules governing what you can and can’t plant, the type of décor that you can use or whether or not certain elements like a patio are allowed.

If you do live in a development, be sure to obtain your governing documents so that your landscape designer is aware of any restrictions or limitations.

5. What’s Your Tolerance For Maintenance?

No landscape is maintenance-free. Something will need to be trimmed, pruned, weeded, watered or otherwise managed to maintain its beauty and health. The question is *how much*? And by whom?

This is a decision you should make long before digging any holes or spreading a single layer of mulch. First, decide whether you will use an outside maintenance service and whether that’s something that will fit into your budget going forward.

If the answer is no, then you’ll need to decide just how much time and effort you’re willing and able to put into maintenance yourself. If you love the outdoors and you’re happier with a spade in your hand than the TV remote, then you may be willing to do all the upkeep yourself, even if it requires several hours each week.

If not, then you’ll be better served with a design that is lower maintenance. Making it work for you and your lifestyle is all part of master planning.

6. Are There Other Environmental Factors To Consider?

We mentioned sun, shade, water and drainage, but there are plenty of other environmental considerations.

For example, is there a pretty strong breeze on one side of your house only? Wind isn’t exactly predictable, but windy *areas* can be. If you live in a home where there always seems to be a gust as you turn the corner, then you know what we’re talking about. And that may not be the best place for delicate plantings or your outdoor cooktop.

Sound is another factor, whether it’s the sound of cars whizzing down the street outside, or the drone of your air conditioner, which currently sits right next to your grill.

Proper placement can help mitigate some sound issues, such as not locating the air conditioner right next to the spot where you plan to entertain. Landscape screening and natural barriers can help dampen other unwelcome sounds.

Beyond those considerations, there’s the composition of your soil – is it mostly rocky, tough for growing, or rich and fertile? There are existing views – are there any you want to preserve, or block? And there’s the slope of the land. If you’ve got a steep drop, you may just watch your landscape wash downhill without some well-designed retaining walls or other landscaping strategies.

Sound like a lot to know? Don't stress! That's what your landscape architect is for. Contact us for a consultation.

7. Got An Eyesore?

Lots of beautiful homes still have them. That utility box that’s been planted near the street, right in your front yard. The drainpipe that keeps your garden from flooding but doesn’t do much for aesthetics. The electricity meter, the satellite dish you can’t live without.

You can’t get rid of them, but you can probably work around them. If there is a part of your home that you really *really* don’t love, then you can work with your landscape designer on a way to hide it.

Strategic plantings, décor like screens, boulders or faux rock covers, fences or even built-in elements like cabinets can shield you from those eyesores while adding beauty to your landscape.

Dreaming Of An Outdoor Kitchen? Start With These Ideas.8. What’s Your Budget?

This can not only help guide the choices you make (do you really need full outdoor appliances or will a cooktop and wine fridge suffice?), but it will help you determine a timeframe, too.

A master plan is designed to show you the big-picture results of your landscape project. But that doesn’t mean you have to build it all at once. If you’ve got the budget and want to implement the full plan now, go for it. If not, you can phase it in over time, whether that’s several seasons or several years.

Either way, you and your landscape designer can determine what works best for your needs.

A great landscape is an investment in your home, and your enjoyment of it. And a master plan that answers all of the tough, but important questions will help you achieve the outdoor dream space you desire.

If you’d like to talk about how we can help you extend your lifestyle into the outdoors all year long, get in touch and set up your own personalized, master planning consultation.