The best landscape designs share one quality with great writing, they are planned. Every piece of writing starts with a controlling idea or purpose and so should your landscape design.
The power of a controlling idea is that it becomes a filter for what works. It guides what to leave in and what to leave out so that everything fits.
Before screenplays are written they are pitched to a studio. The executives typically come to a fast yes or no. There are millions and millions of dollars at stake and it all rests on understanding and liking the central theme or idea.
The stakes for your landscape project are significant to you too. There’s time, money, and other factors involved that disrupt the entire family’s lifestyle, even when everything progresses smoothly.
What happens if the project is poorly planned? Removing and repairing mistakes can easily double the final cost. That happens more than you would expect and it can usually be traced to starting the landscape design process without a plan.
Here’s how to plan a landscape project so that you get it right the first time.
#1. Choose The Primary Project Purpose
By focusing on your primary project purpose you will minimize paralysis by analysis. Commit to choosing your primary project purpose before commencing the design. That clarity will free your mind.
Most people collect dozens of landscape ideas and try to make them all work together. This kills the design process in many ways. It’s like writing a 500-page novel that needs to be edited to 250 pages.
There’s no question that you will be tempted to make changes as you proceed with the landscape design process. If you stay true to your primary purpose you will be equipped to choose the additional purposes that support it.
- A showplace. One that lights up the neighborhood and delights visitors
- Understated elegance. More about tasteful functionality than showing off
- Resale value. Many buyers want to someday recover our investment and make a profit.
- Entertainment. A place for families and friends to interact and make memories.
- Quiet retreat. This is a landscape for the family and the people closest to them
Let’s say that more quality time outdoors is the primary purpose of your landscape project. Now you can visualize the activities the family enjoys and design for them. If your children are young a fire pit may be quickly eliminated for safety reasons.
Your goal should be getting what will serve your purpose now while accommodating future changes with the least amount of rework. A swimming pool may be an example of an element that needs more thought and budget to do it right.
It’s amazing how having the primary project purpose works. When you do not move forward without it everyone learns to agree to and later respect it.
#2. Remove All Obstacles Before Starting
People that enjoy the luxury of an unlimited budget should always be happy with their outcomes, but sadly this is not always the case.
For most people, the budget is an obstacle, but it doesn’t have to be. A budget is another filter that guides the process of eliminating ideas or postponing their implementation for later.
Other obstacles often show up during the construction process. When this happens they must be remedied to continue the work and those delays can stretch out for weeks or months.
The typical obstacles should surface and be discussed during the design phase, not during construction.
- Zoning ordinances
- Engineered drawings
- Neighborhood style guidelines
- Safety requirements
- Step tread/riser relationships
- Railings for steps, decks, or balconies
- Fencing for pets, pools, and privacy
In some situations, the obstacle cannot be remedied. There are well-documented cases of homeowners taking legal action against municipalities or stubborn neighbors, but they seldom prevail.
Here’s an example of a combination of obstacles.
We’ll assume you wish to enjoy a swimming pool in your back yard. If the village or municipality requires a fence around pools then that condition must be met. However, if your property is adjacent to a private golf course there may be another ordinance that prohibits fencing. In this situation, a swimming pool is an unresolvable obstacle.
#3. Engage Participants For Feedback
Authors will often have peers review a chapter or even their entire novel. This is how major misfires are often discovered. As Stephen King says, “Write with the door closed, edit with the door open.”
It’s alright if you have been flying solo at this point, but before moving forward engage some of the people with whom you expect to be sharing your outdoor environment. This includes children, neighbors, and friends.
Everyone has experienced buyers remorse. This is the sinking feeling that your investment was a mistake. So before you start designing engage the likely participants to get their feedback.
This is your project, so you aren’t looking for critical feedback as much as you are testing the waters. First impressions count. Does he or she get it or does their body language suggest confusion?
Take in all of the feedback and ideas and sleep on them for a few days. You may be surprised by how your mind changes after it has time to process everything.
At the very least you will decrease the chance of the dreaded buyer’s remorse.
#4. Research Insider Experiences
By now you are getting the idea that the landscape design and construction are two sides of the same coin. This is what makes planning so vital. It also explains what Dwight D Eisenhower meant when he was quoted as saying, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”
Eisenhower was referring to wartime efforts where many obstacles are unknown. His point was that the plan is worthless in these circumstances, but that planning is nevertheless useful preparation. The most common unexpected landscape challenges are hidden objects or conditions below ground level that must be addressed.
The planning process will eliminate the expected and avoidable obstacles. This is the value of working with a professional design-build company with decades of experience. Even if you are working with professionals, it’s advisable to do your research to have a more productive collaboration.
Information can sometimes be difficult to find nowadays, but it’s out there. One trick is to explore unfiltered community sites such as Reddit to discover insider experiences. Ask questions and search for the challenges others have encountered. Subscribe to that sub-Reddit to scan ongoing conversation threads.
Another research tip is to use Google News to set filters. You can search for and save a specific topic and Google will keep you informed as new information comes along.