Should I sell a kidney or two? This was the main question I was asking myself while waiting for our landscaper to send us his estimate for the plan he had presented the previous week.
My husband, DC, and I loved the vision Tony Evans created to turn our ho-hum backyard into a place we couldn’t wait to come home – as opposed to one we hid behind drawn curtains. .
However, before fiscal realities can shatter our dreams – The Fountain! The fire function! The spa! – we indulged in the fantasy of seeing our backyard through the magical glasses of a professionally rendered design in which almost anything is possible. And how much we played do you think? We brought up numbers of up to one year of college tuition – for the plan without a pool or spa, which was an option. We figured adding the pool would double the cost. (PS We weren’t wrong.)
DC had the heart paddles ready when I opened the email with the estimate – and Evans called to tell me about the initial shock.
“Everything is in sync,” Evans said, as I started to digest the numbers. “We can start small and work little by little. “
To prevent hyperventilation, he judiciously submitted the cost estimate in three ways: good, better, better. Good, for example, eliminated the pool and used mulch instead of the more expensive beach rock, among other tradeoffs.
While the price estimates weren’t too far off our calculated estimates, none included much-needed features like the wall fountain, fire bowls, patio furniture, or lighting. To get that yard, we were going to have to get creative or win the lotto. But this we knew: now that we have seen what is possible, we are not going back.
As DC and I mulled over which organ to sell, we reviewed the factors Evans considered when designing our yard – or any yard:
Take inventory: “When I approach a design, I first look at what the property has that we want to keep,” Evans said. Looking through our garden, I couldn’t imagine what was worth picking up. His answer: a few trees, a blossoming bougainvillea and the fence, which we couldn’t move if we wanted to.
Privilege confidentiality: “If people can see you in your backyard, you won’t be using it,” he said. To obscure the view of the neighbor in our yard, Evans’ plan calls for a row of tall bamboo trees (the kind that doesn’t send runners) and more hedge material along the back fence.
Minimize the negatives: Good landscaping should highlight a property’s strengths and minimize its weaknesses, he said. Like every yard, ours had both including a long garage wall with no windows that needed to be minimized. “In itself, it’s not pleasing to the eye,” said Evans, “but some of the best gardens in the world have courtyard gardens against the walls.” His plan is to cover the wall with fig ivy, place a fountain there, and flank the fountain with generous potted urns, turning a less into a more attractive one.
Play the positives: “Likewise, I try to take what’s good – like your point of view – and make it better,” he said. The best feature of our yard is the green space it opens into, which is visible when you walk through the front door. To capitalize on this, Evans developed site lines along the property and placed eye-catching fire bowls to catch the eye.
Create parts to scale: When designing exterior rooms, Evans regularly steals proportions inside the home. If your dining room is 13 feet by 10 feet, match that to the outside. Likewise, if your living room measures 16 x 20, recreate that proportion outside. Our backyard plan transforms the covered patio into a living room, offers a side dining area with an adjacent outdoor barbecue station, and, completing the triangle, has an entertainment “room” with chairs surrounding a fire. It adapts to the proportions of the house and makes sense.
Design for speed and connection: Our outdoor dining table currently sits on our covered patio near the back door, interrupting the flow between the house and the yard. “It creates a barrier rather than an invitation,” Evans said. Its plan moves the table to the courtyard and replaces it with a seating area in which you can walk. Like a flowing interior floor plan, the exterior rooms are well connected. From the house, you enter the outdoor living room, then you can move into the outdoor dining room and then into the fireplace room with the fire.
As you can see, the possibilities for a large garden are practically endless. I just wish our budget was too.