Collaborative landscape planning can yield a yard that is customized to your specific recreational and entertaining needs.
As tantalizing hints of spring appear, a look out the window at the brown expanse of last year’s garden may prompt a bit of dreaming. The time may have come to remove that old play set or do something with that crumbling concrete patio, refresh the flowerbeds or replace a dying tree. Perhaps you are ready for a complete landscape makeover and need a new vision for your outdoor living space.
Whatever shape your dream garden might take, west suburban landscape designers offer help on moving your project from concept to completion, with expert tips for making the most of your particular plot of ground.
Share Your Inspiration
Whether you find your landscape inspiration in your travels, in watching home and garden shows, or by perusing websites, books and magazines, it helps to collect your favorite ideas for possible use in your own backyard. According to Bob Hursthouse, president of Hursthouse Landscape Architects in Bolingbrook, the inspiration for landscape design now flows both ways.
“Traditionally, clients would call us asking us for our vision. It has changed,” explains Hursthouse. “Most clients share a Houzz idea book or a file full of magazines. They are providing a ton of ideas.” The challenge: “Not everything will work, so how do we interpret an idea so it will work on their site?”
For Susie and D.J. Paoni, clients of Bruss Landscaping in Wheaton, the inspiration to put in a new attraction that suited their now teenaged children came from the teens themselves. They had gone to camp where they enjoyed using portable hammocks and had brought that idea home to their friends where they “hang out” at Lake Ellyn.
“I wanted to take that eyesore swing set away and do something they could enjoy at our house,” Susie Paoni says. The yard’s trees were not close enough for stringing hammocks so a new structure had to be designed. The result is a unique hammock grove, developed by landscape architect Michael Kehl of Bruss, who found his inspiration to create a natural looking environment by studying zoo enclosures, as well visiting tree service providers to find the right size tree trunks to install. The hammock grove is a big hit, able to accommodate up to 14 friends
at one time. It is also only one section of a complete landscape makeover that includes an outdoor kitchen, a seating area around a fire pit, and a spa, where the entire family can relax and entertain guests.
Collaborate on the Design Concept and Landscape Plan
The first step in developing a design concept for your landscape is meeting with a landscape architect or designer to share your ideas. Be prepared to answer questions about what functions are most important to you in your landscape. For example, if you have young children, you may require more yard space than a couple of empty nesters. Your hopes may be as simple as a new planting scheme or as complex as a new landscape to match an addition to your home.
At the initial meeting, the landscape designer will want to walk through your property and hear how you want to re-work it. He or she will also assess the site for issues such as grading and drainage, levels of sun and shade, and existing plants and trees, as well as aging structures that need replacing.
“At the first meeting, we will share information and start dividing up the landscape into spatial areas, where you can cook, eat, relax after dinner, or play out on the lawn,” explains Barry Conlin, landscape architect and president of CB Conlin Landscapes in Naperville. The designer will create what Conlin calls a “bubble design,” where each bubble represents a different area and purpose of the landscape. The designer may also identify areas where a water feature or a specimen tree might be installed to create a focal point.
With the rough design ideas in hand, the designer will return to the studio to create a conceptual design, with more defined spaces and pathways connecting one area with another. Although computer-aided design (CAD) is often used in landscape design, Conlin likes to start with a hand-drawn design concept, which he says allows for greater creativity. The CAD design comes later when exact specifications are required for installation. “The design is the most important step,” maintains Conlin.
Budget discussions also take place during the design process. “A lot of people have no idea what something costs upfront,” observes Matt Thumm, director of residential design for Wingren Landscape in Downers Grove. “It helps to know their budget requirements. A person may describe everything they want and it costs $100,000, and they may want to spend $20,000.” One option to address budget limitations is to break a large project into several smaller projects that can be done over a period of years. “We can suggest ways to go about it in phases,” Thumm says. His firm and others work on residential projects ranging from major hardscape and plant-scape installations to small-scale planting plans.
Work with a Master Plan
When tackling an expensive landscape project, Hursthouse advises, “One approach is to develop a master plan that you can implement at whatever pace.” A master plan encompasses all
the landscape projects that a homeowner would ideally like to complete. Some projects may be done all at once, while others may take years. “An equally good approach is to address problem spaces one by one, identifying the family’s changing needs.”
A Hursthouse client in Wheaton undertook a major landscape project over a period of three years, starting with the backyard first, followed by a complete reworking of the front entrance and driveway the second year, and a small courtyard the third year. “We wanted to do it and do it right,” the homeowner explains. “The landscape before did nothing to bring out the beauty of our home. Now it is bringing out the best features of our home. The curb appeal is just spectacular.”
One of the largest projects that any homeowner might undertake is adding a pool, which requires re-grading the yard to provide a level surface. According to Mike Downes, owner and manager of Downes Swimming Pool Company in Arlington Heights, “A majority of the work we do is with auto-cover pools and spas, for two reasons. Safety is very important, but these features also are able to extend the season.”
Automatic pool covers are motorized and completely cover the water, which prevents accidents and conserves water and energy, allowing the pool to be used during cooler months. Downes keeps his own pool open from the end of March through December, depending on the weather.
Most homeowners want both a pool and a spa, says Downes. The most elaborate pools may include such resort-like features as deck jets, fire bowls, LED lighting and sun shelves.
Give It Time
For any project involving major hardscape installations such as terraces, fireplaces, pavilions and outdoor kitchens, it is essential to allow enough time for the project from design through installation.
“It takes time to plan, to get exactly what you want,” advises Kehl of Bruss Landscaping. “You don’t want to rush something like this.” He estimates that the planning process alone may take several months, which can vary with the size of the project and the number of revisions the plan goes through.
Once the design is final, the landscape firm will submit permit applications for such items as electricity, plumbing and masonry to the municipality, which can take weeks for review and approval. For a pool, Downes says the permit time can extend to months, given the many municipal requirements involved in pool construction, such as the amount of impermeable surface allowed for the lot size.
The construction phase can take several months for the largest landscape projects, as materials have to be ordered and sub-contractors coordinated for the various elements. If the property has major issues such as drainage problems, Conlin explains that re-engineering may require an additional permit and involve three to four extra weeks. He says that once a contract is signed with the homeowner, the project usually can be put on the schedule in about six weeks.
“It’s never too soon to start the process,” Thumm shares. He finds that homeowners often wait until May to call about starting a major landscape project, when his and other firms may already be booked for the summer months.
Landscapers can still complete projects in the fall, including new plantings, as long as they can allow enough time for the plants to be established before the first freeze comes. The slow season for landscapers is winter, so it is a perfect time to start the design and planning process.
Given the major investment involved with a total landscape makeover, homeowners tend to spend extra time deciding on the features most important to them before taking the plunge. Paoni recalls that she spent a year working with Kehl to make sure everything was to her liking. One of the sticking points was the outdoor spa, which her husband wanted to use year round. She wanted to avoid looking out the back wall of French doors to see the hot tub, but completely surrounding the spa with walls was not an option, due to concerns with winter freezing. Kehl devised a design that put stone walls around two sides and seat walls with plantings in between to provide green space. “What we came up with was the best possible solution,” says Paoni. “I am glad we spent the extra time.”Edit Module