Builders love bark dust. It covers a multitude of sins, costs next to nothing, and allows them to move on to the next project. What do you do when a builder leaves you with a new house and a backyard with bark dust, a concrete slab, and not much else?
First things first, take a deep breath and don’t be in a rush to fill the space. There are several things to consider before running to the nursery and picking up a bunch of plants. First off, consider if that concrete slab will be big enough for the activities you want to do there? How often and how many people do you want to be able to sit out there? Do you want to lounge around the fire, sit at the table for a meal, relax in a comfy lounge chair, or grill up some brats? Perhaps one, two, or all of the above, in which case you may need to extend that concrete slab or create a separate patio area where you can have space to do other activities. Often, the existing concrete slab can be expanded to accommodate more uses, but another option may be to create a separate area. Ensure that it is big enough to accommodate the intended purpose and gives you enough room to walk around. Consider the size of the furniture that will go there. With a bistro set, you would be okay with a 6’-8’ area. A firepit requires a bit more space (at a minimum of around 12’-14’).
Then the question becomes: how do you get to the other patio, side gate, or shed? Pathways get us to where we need to go and create a connection between different spaces. The wider and more even they are, the easier, safer, and more comfortable they are to walk on. That being said, not every path needs to be 4’ wide and paved. Different materials create different feels and work for different budgets. Path materials range from cedar chips, gravel, concrete pavers, poured concrete, and flagstone.
Then consider some of the things that are nice to have. Do you love the sound of a babbling brook? Or, do you like to relax by the fire or read a book in a comfy hammock? Then make sure to include a place for these experiences in your garden. While most people find the sound of trickling water delightful, there may not be enough space in your yard or the budget for a multi-tiered waterfall. Sometimes a similar effect can be made with a simple plugin fountain. Want a roaring fire? A simple portable firepit may be the perfect thing to vanish the night time chill. Don’t have two large trees to string a hammock? You can use a hammock stand or set a couple of posts in concrete. Some of the most commonly requested wish list items not previously mentioned include: raised beds, edible gardens, cutting gardens, play areas for kids, hot tubs, sheds, greenhouses, and wildlife habitat.
So, you’ve thought about your hardscaping and fun things to include to create a more enjoyable and rich experience in your garden—the next thing to consider the fact that your backyard is currently a construction site. Where healthy living soil once there has long been stripped away, in its place, is typically sterile, compacted clay. First things first: before that Gardenia gets put in the ground, you need to help the dirt become healthy soil. This is done by removing all the bark dust where you want to have plants or lawn, and either start sheet mulching, which tends to take a while or till in some soil amendment. Soil amendment can be compost, chicken or steer manure, dead leaves, or other organic matter. The more good stuff you put in there and the more microbes and other soil loving critters that can exist, the happier your plants will be.
Which leads to the question of irrigation. Do you want to be out there every day on a beautiful summer morning watering your droopy hydrangeas, or do you want to enjoy your cup of coffee over Facebook because you had an irrigation system installed? Nowadays there are some pretty good options from the whole 9 yards. Backflow, controller, rain sensor, and different zones to a simple drip system set up off your hose bib. Either way, wither you do it with a hose sprinkler or a fully zoned system, your plants are going to need water even if you’re going for a fully native, drought-tolerant landscape, there’s still going to be a summer or two that they will need to get established.
Which begs the question, what exactly are you going to plant? The ubiquitous row of arborvitae will give you some privacy but at what cost? Why not create an oasis instead of the world’s most boring hedge. Why not have a garden that changes with the seasons, that brings surprises, motion, texture, flashes of color, a sense of place, a scent, memories of other beloved gardens. Plants are the jewelry of a well put together outfit. They are the chocolate and wine of a delicious meal. They are the things that make your heart flutter, your memories flood in, and nature feels like it is literally at your doorstep.
There are so many other elements to consider, everything from drainage to accommodate the typical nine months of rain we get, to outdoor lighting that not only provides security and safety but also warmth and intrigue that can be enjoyed even while inside your new home.
So yes, there are a myriad of things to consider when you’re installing a new garden if at any time you need a little (or a lot) of guidance and inspiration please feel free to reach out to us and we can help design and install a garden that works for the way you want you live.