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5 Tips on originating backyard landscaping ideas
by Mumtaz Mirza
January 11, 2018

As a trained landscape designer in Calgary, I often get called to visit homeowners to help them with ideas for their backyard. I’m often amazed that the first thing they do is take me to their backyard and begin complaining about what exactly they’re working with.

But where people see constraints, I see opportunity. It’s just how I was raised.

Here are my top five tips to homeowners who want to know how to drum up ideas for their backyard:

Tip #1: Know / Understand your lifestyle Not everyone needs a firepit. Just an example, but it’s one that stands out at me out of the thousands of homeowners I’ve met. Everyone says they want a firepit. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against firepits, infact, I think fire, along with light and water are actually the key emotional triggers that can accentuate any backyard.

However, you’re not spending $10,000 - $100,000 for a yard that has no use for your everyday life. Many landscaping companies and contractors tend to do the same cookie cutter stuff everywhere. Why? Because it’s easy. I can’t tell you how many contractors off hand I know who will do a 12’ diameter circle roman paving stones with a central stackstone firepit – why? Because the material cost on it is low and the labour is simple. Again, I’m not against designing and constructing a circle paver kit with a stackstone fire pit – in fact, in one of our projects in Watermark at Bearspaw, we did just that. But it made sense there. Because it was a viewing platform and a destination point for the homeowners, with a small family and an extrondinary view (as the yard was on a hill.

Simply put, You have to design your yard so it makes sense for what you will use that yard for. Questions you should ask yourself are:

How many people will we entertain? What will we be doing out here? Do we have pets? Do we have kids? What are they going to be doing out here? How much time will we be spending out here on weekdays? Weeknights? Weekends? Who is going to maintain our yard so we can make sure we see the value every day? By understanding your lifestyle first, you can then move on to the next stage of having your dream yard designed.

Tip #2: Mark your destination points One of the worst things you can do is have joe blow landscaping design your yard for you. Hire a professional landscape designer. Trust me on this one. It’s worth the investment. You’ll thank me later.

A destination point is where you or your family will be engaging with your landscape. Quite often, I tend to lean toward the common three destination points: Cooking, Dining, Lounging. Depending on your needs, you may also add Playing – which can be for children/pets (Sandboxes,Playstructures/Dog Runs) or adults (swimming/putting greens etc).

Know your destination points. This will give you some direction as to different patios / decks / greenspaces and also have you look into landscaping features like Outdoor kitchens, Firepits/Fireplaces, Greenspaces etc.

Tip #3: Mark your transition points Once you have an idea of what areas you want in your backyard, you now need to tie them into each other. One of the worst things I often see landscaping companies do is the “Plop” method. Which essentially means they “plop” things anywhere and everywhere as long as they can charge you money for it. There needs to be flow in the yard. How do you get from one place to the next? What is that experience like? Here is where plant materials become very important. How you shape beds to tie into your destination points is critical in producing the right backyard. Choice of plant material becomes important as well. Color schemes and scale also play a big part. Selection of groundcover and bordering becomes the outline to your transitional spaces.

Tip #4: Inside to Outside The one thing I always like to do is pay attention to the detail of my client’s homes. Especially the new build homes because most often, the homeowners have selected the color schemes and patterns themselves. For example, in a very contemporary style house with contemporary furniture, I can tell within the first 5 mintues that they love the modern style approach. Thus, as a designer the first thing I will try to do is propose contemporary / modern style yard.

Essentially, bringing them what they have inside, outside. Why? For two real reasons: one, because it’s a style I know they like. After all, they’re going to be living in it all the time. But secondly, I want the outside to make sense with the inside. Everything has to flow. Remember: “plop” method is not a very appealing method to me.

Tip #5: Professional Advice/feedback When coming up with ideas, you can certainly sketch up on paper what you are thinking. Alternatively, as most people do, go on inspirational websites like to get ideas. This is alright as a secondary resource but the one thing you should always keep in mind is: every yard is different. You need custom planning.

Hence, hiring a professional landscape designer can add real value. Often times, homeowners will go through the flyers they get in the mail and call three-five landscaping companies and ask for a “quote”. But you have to realize that the money you’re spending on your yard can immensely make or break the value of your biggest investment: your home. So asking a professional landscape designer to give you their honest advice and feedback about what your yard needs can go a long way.

I hope that sheds some light into what steps to take when trying to come up with landscaping ideas for your backyard. As always, you can reach out to our company to come and give you our professional feedback for your Calgary home.

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