Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Project Backyard: The Beginning

Our house came with almost no landscaping. We have grass. A poorly done (and half-finished looking) raised garden bed on the front of the house.  A set of temporary stairs to get out of breakfast room and into the back  yard. There is a sprinkler system that has served to keep the grass alive, though one of the sprinkler heads was placed below the afore-mentioned breakfast room sliding door and therefore waters our temporary stairs as much as it waters as the yard. 
We did add a bunch of “trees” last year. By “tree” I mean “twig with roots”, most of which we lost to some combination of drought, excess water (ironically, from poor drainage around where the sump pump empties), and our lawn service’s mowers.  Guys on commercial mowers don’t recognize six-inch twigs as landscape features unless they are surrounded them with large patches of mulch or edging. Yes, we paid for mowers and not for trees—mowers were cheaper.
We have exactly  two trees that are bigger than a foot tall, and both are more bush-sized than tree size. Neither are in the front of the house. The raised garden bed and another small patch of yard between the driveway and the front steps both have some perennials, including irises that were divided from ones we grew at the old house (which in turn came from my mother-in-law’s garden in Iowa).  So the yard is not completely bare.
It is time for some landscape work. Actually, it’s way past time for some landscape work, but we finally have the financial resources to attempt something.
First up: the back yard. The temporary stairs need to go.  I would really like to move our patio table out of the garage (where it has been collecting random boxes of junk). I would like to grill in the backyard rather than the driveway. I’m sure our neighbors will appreciate that as well.
We don’t have a good idea what we want in the yard. Just a vague idea that it should look “nice” and “in keeping with the house”. We need trees. We need some privacy screening along one side of the house for noise and headlights from the nearby road. We need a place to sit, and a place to grill. We want to keep a large grassy area available.  We are not planning a large swing-set (as one kid doesn’t care to swing and the other will outgrow it all too soon), but do have one smaller climber to install and want room for the kids to play. We have kicked around the idea of someday putting in a pool, though we aren’t sure and the kids aren’t old enough for that yet. We love the idea of an outdoor kitchen or a screen room or a fire pit or any number of other fancy features, but kind of want  to take things in phases and not overspend right away.
We do not have a walk-out basement, but the breakfast room door is about four feet above the grade of the yard, and it is smack in the middle of the back of the house.  That makes part of the design harder. We could go with a low deck, or steps down to a patio, or some combination thereof. We could build it toward the street-side of the house so that the entertaining space is closer to the road (with some traffic sounds) and runs behind the family room. Or we could build it towards the opposite side of the house, farther from traffic but right next to our master bedroom windows. 
We are incapable of doing this job ourselves. Though at least one friend has told us how easy laying a paver patio is, we have neither the time off work, the brute strength and/or tools to dig and level that much sod, nor the inclination to spend our vacation time digging. We are definitely hiring this out.
Last night, we took our first baby step towards figuring this mess out: we had a concrete contractor come for an estimate. They do stamped and stained concrete work, which is a slightly less expensive alternative to pavers. We also like the look of pavers, but a poured concrete patio with a brick-or-stone look is a definite option, especially if it leaves room in the budget for more of the trees and possibly some drainage work, or a few new pieces of patio furniture. And it would take less time—only about two days rather than a week or more.
I was disappointed that the contractor expected us to know exactly where and how big and what shape we wanted—I wanted more design guidance and he wanted to measure.  I had no quarrel with the price that he quoted: the price-per-square foot was within what I had seen online, and though he quoted a much larger area than I had anticipated using, the price was reasonable.  Oddly, he was busy talking us away from more expensive options.  One of my biggest pet peeves among salespeople is ones who attempt to down-sell us.  Frankly, I want someone to let us dream big, and show us where we can maximize value (or where we can split a big job into pieces that can be spread across a couple of years so we aren’t financing everything).
Next up: calling an actual landscape designer or two. We probably should have started there.

1 comment:

Bethany said...

FUN!!! I hope you post pictures! Patio or deck both seem like good options. The pet peeve I have with my house is that we have a deck with a HUGE set of stairs that we have to walk down to get outside (technically we have a walk out basement, but it's a creepy, scary place). I love the idea of just having a few steps out the back door, and it's a priority in whatever our next house will be.