Thad's Design Tips
With nearly four decades of experience as a landscape professional (thirty years of which have been dedicated to owning and running Napp Landscape), I've learned a thing or two about planning, constructing and maintaining beautiful yards, patios, and outdoor spaces of all kinds.
Each month I focus on a particular topic of interest to our clients in Napp Landscape's monthly newsletter and additionally share the design tips portion here on the website. I hope that you will enjoy the conversation and insights. If you have questions or would like further detail on any of our topics, please give us a call. I'd be more than glad to clarify or discuss any question you may have.
A Little Privacy, Please
Though many of us are moving into neighborhoods and homes with smaller yards, we haven't lost our enthusiasm for getting out and enjoying our private green spaces. As such, screening one's yard or patio has become an increasingly important issues for many of our clients. This is not to say that we don't enjoy our neighbors–-quite often we do. We just don’t want them watching us eat our dinner. While screening solutions can be living foliage, wrought iron, or other inventive materials, some general design tips always apply:
- Evergreen plants provide the thickest screening; however, even deciduous shrubs will lend a layer of protection during the winter that can obscure enough to provide some privacy. If you don’t use your space frequently over the winter months a deciduous solution may allow you to explore more variety in plantings while still providing the desired screening when it's most needed.
- Remember to check the expected mature size of any plant you select. The shrub that may seem perfect for your immediate screening needs may one day grow to dwarf or engulf your space.
- A metal or other non–living screen is generally the quickest way to gain specific screening. However, be sure to check any height and building limitations detailed in your city codes.
- Combining living and non living screens can be a way to fill in a tight space while also gaining dense cover.
- Remember that there are views and light that you will want to maintain, so plan your screening zones with the preservation of these special areas in mind.
Beautiful Pondless Water Features
Most water features we build today are “pondless”, allowing the sight and sound of running water to be enjoyed with much lower maintenance and in smaller spaces. If you are thinking of including a water feature as a focal point in your yard, some important elements to consider are:
- Location, location, location—If possible, place your water feature in a location where you can see it from inside as well as when you’re out-of-doors. Choosing the best location for your water feature means that you’ll enjoy the reward of your investment no matter the weather or the season.
- Mimic Nature—If your design intention is to capture the beauty of a natural stream, be sure to look to nature for inspiration. Consider selecting irregular and interesting boulders and placing them in such a way that it looks as though they have tumbled down into place and are not just stacked in a pile. If possible some of the rocks should be as large as you can handle to give the feature mass and grounding.
- Basin Size—Make sure the water basin is as big as you can make it. The larger the reservoir, the less you need to worry about evaporation and temperature changes affecting water quality and causing pump burn-out.
- Water Flow—Creating a small reservoir at the top of your feature will help the water disperse more evenly from the outflow without surging or bubbling up in a fountain. This will look more natural and make it easier to control the water flow.
- Algae Control—If algae becomes a problem, adding a diluted cup of bleach every so often will help control it without affecting birds or other animals that use this source.
The sound of running water can mask a multitude of noises and make even an urban landscape an oasis you are happy to come home to.
Glorious Garden Boxes
Gardens are making a comeback in many yards and raised beds are a perfect fit for any landscape. Raised planting structures create order in the garden space--even when the growing season has passed. Here are some tips and thoughts to help make your garden easy and lush:
- Don’t make the garden too "boxy" or too big. An 18" height for the raised walls will allow you to comfortably sit on the edge as you work, and a 4 ft width makes everything easy to reach while not compacting the soil.
- Use a natural building material and stay away from treated products. Redwood, flagstone wall rock, or split face block are all good choices.
- Mix planting structures with a variety of sizes, shapes, and textures to keep your garden space interesting..
- A trellis or screen for climbing plants is easy to add--and the additional privacy is easy to enjoy.
- Raising the bed will help keep some animals out of your plantings, but if rabbits or deer are a big problem you can also add removable screens.
- Consider running your irrigation lines for your planting structures along their edges or under the framed lip. Using micro-sprays to provide water means that you won’t have any lines in the middle of the bed to prevent yearly tilling of the soil.
- Add lots of compost to the garden. Choosing to collect your composted kitchen waste near or beside the planting structures can make being eco-sensitive easy and rewarding.
Inviting Entry Gates
When it comes to gates it’s important to remember that they are not only a barrier, but at their best gates are also a welcoming point of entry. A beautiful, well-designed gate can easily become the focal point of your outdoor space, adding interest and personality to what may otherwise be a less interesting facade.
When attached to a courtyard entry, the right gate can provide a beautiful transition into your home’s welcoming “envelope” even before the front door is opened. Look at the space you have and consider the feeling you’d like your guests to experience when they arrive. Your entry—the gate, pathway, lighting, and plantings—can help you to achieve the feeling of warmth and welcoming characteristic of your home.
Planning the Perfect Patio
Some of the most common questions that I field relate to creating the exceptional patios that bring lasting enjoyment to our clients. While each space presents its own unique challenges, there are a few tip and hints to consider when planning for your new patio:
- Size does count—It’s important to know how large your patio needs to be in order to best suit your lifestyle. Never underestimate the space required to comfortably pull back a chair and be seated at your outdoor table without having to shimmy past rain pipes or teeter over the patio’s edge. Just like a dining room, you want to provide enough space for you and your guests to access the table without having to squeeze their way around. Additionally, be sure to consider the room required for your chiminea, fire-pit, or BBQ so that you can easily and safely enjoy them.
- Shape and Flow—Just as in a running river, the best patios have well designed currents of high flow and eddies of calm. Consider creating the main eating area in a space out of the patio’s primary traffic flow leading from your home out into the yard. Proper placement like this means that you wont be dodging chairs to play with the kids or when you’re rushing in to answer the phone. Also, keeping the BBQ’s location close to your home’s door will give you the option to use it all year long (which I do myself).
- To view or not to view?—Decks and patios can be great for capturing the stunning views available to us on the Colorado front range. Because decks tend to be raised, they can be ideal for peaking over the hedges to capture a view of the mountains. However, for many of us our homes were not built with access to these views and patio’s placement at ground level can become a great asset. Generally more shielded from roads and neighbors, a patio’s ground level placement allows for more privacy, intimacy, and places you within the work done on your yard.
- Unique points of interest—‘Sitting rock’ boulders, fire pits, built-in benches, water features and other permanent features add points of interest to your patio. Additionally, built-in seating will allow you to use the patio space even if your main furniture has already been put away for the season. For a great example, check out this month’s picture of the month: a water/fire feature with a sturdy ledge for additional seating and enjoyment of its unique qualities.
Taking the time to investigate your lifestyle (or the lifestyle you want to achieve) and planning your space accordingly is the most important element in designing a beautiful patio that your friends will rave about and that you’ll enjoy for many years to come. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice and review differing opinions. When it finally comes time to pick materials, you’ll be confident that you’re on the right path to achieving the perfect patio for you and your home.