Consider this: You’ve just made one of the most important and most expensive investments of your life — you’ve bought a brand-new house with an empty garden. What’s next? As a new homeowner, you want to feel confident that you’ve made a smart decision. While it may be a temptation to imagine that the exterior footage is not part of the house’s purchase value, the reality is, you’ve paid for every square foot of property. Making plans and decisions about landscaping that property will ratify your purchase and ensure that you take full advantage of all the assets you’ve acquired. Failing to make landscape plans, on the other hand, is a lot like writing off that third bedroom or an unfinished basement — ignoring space that initially seems useless or confusing.
Landscaping plans help you enjoy your home
Landscaping “seals the deal” by providing your new house with context, making it look appropriate in the landscape — and that in turn reflects on the smartness of the purchase and the value for money paid. It also presents a full picture of the home’s potential, in both the near and distant future. The purpose of home landscaping is to provide an intelligent, useful and attractive setting for your home. Pride of ownership begins on day one, and regardless of how much time you plan to invest in the house itself, you’ll want it to look terrific from the get-go and will work toward that for the first couple of years. It’s all about figuring out how to make the exterior garden work with your home and planning the outdoor space so that it will be useful and functional for specific purposes — providing access to entrances, paths for getting around, and areas for dining and relaxation, entertainment, sports activities, and so forth.
The truth is, much of the foundation of good landscape planning is simply rational thinking: learning how to divide space, how to determine essential and practical uses and how to make changes and choices in all the areas of your property, from the front lawn and entrance to the private spaces in the backyard and the areas along the driveway and sides of the house. Increasing your property’s beauty is an important goal of a landscape plan, but equally important is making sure that all the features of your lot function as they should. For example, water must drain away from the house, the entrance walkway needs to be wider than a one-person bachelor path, and seating areas should be screened for privacy.
Design a landscape to meet your needs
Every property has its challenges, and landscape planning always starts with an objective assessment of the site, creating a list of its assets and debits, noticing what features are inadequate or unattractive. Are slopes too steep to walk on safely? Is there a secure space for garbage cans and an air conditioner unit? Are the pathways level and firm?
Learning to evaluate the options is just as important as getting the job done well. Then you have to balance those needs against a realistic projection of how you would like to use the space and how much money you’re willing to invest to make that happen. Resolving what you have with what you want is a giant leap toward designing a landscape to meet your needs. That said, when a new house is built in a new subdivision or in an established neighbourhood, there’s a good chance that it will lack even the most rudimentary landscaping features such as trees and shrubs. The lawn may be new sod that has been laid over a minimal layer of topsoil, or there may be no sod at all. You have a clean site to work with — and a clear invitation to build from the ground up.
Plant selection in your first garden
It’s often the case that gardening careers begin in small ways, with the planting of a few flowers or vegetables just outside the back door. Plants of every kind are inevitably the most prominent features in your garden, and they are also the most complex and diverse. As living components of the landscape, their value is more than aesthetic — they create a healthy and rewarding context for your outdoor activities. That’s why understanding their cultural needs — soil quality, moisture and light — is an important key to plant selection and a crucial step toward successful landscape planning.
A good start is to understand the basics of plant care. There are a selection of plant lists that will suit a range of sites and circumstances. As the garden grows, small gestures soon lead to larger efforts and increasing rewards. Landscape planning is the logical extension of gardening, and you’re probably doing it in your mind already. Most imagined improvements and attempted changes reflect your interest in developing the garden landscape.
Your First Garden: A Landscape Primer for New Home Owners is published by Firefly Books.