The Studio Blog

Follow the chronicles of a designer's design adventures


New Old House Make-Over: Episode Three is Outside again

When last you left me I was clearing out the spot next to the neighbor’s garage. It’s been a major struggle and because the planting is so old, I’m still digging through rubble and stones and old weed-plastic. The roots of the daylilies and the bamboo are thick, deep and tough. Most of the larger area to the right of the tree is done. The earth will need to be turned and dug out completely, just so I can be sure all the roots have been found. The left side of the tree has grown back a bit (as I told you bamboo is extremely fast growing), but I think that will make finding those roots easier.

A few tools that I will really need and have yet to get are a wheelbarrow and some big sheets of heavy-duty plastic. When I finish unearthing all the roots, I will need a place to put the dirt when I dig it out. I have a corner made by two sides of the house that will be a perfect place to set it while I work. Since this area will be dug out and changed as well, I’m not worried about damage to the grass.

When I first started this project, I went through my library to find my gardening bible: A huge book that I bought years ago in anticipation of another garden that I never got to start.

My garden book

The book I have is a 1999 edition and it has since been updated. This author has many really good gardening books, and I found a long list at Barnes and This one starts out with the practical planning of your space and gives many examples of style, size and contour of the space that may apply to you. Elements you may want to incorporate are covered in the next few chapters and there are plenty of wonderful decorating ideas for after the planting is done.

Before I got down to the actual planning of the space, I measured my yard. Use the biggest measuring tape you can buy, and it will go much faster. Mine is a 33-footer. Next I drew out the yard on graph paper. This is something any good designer will always have around. Graph paper can be found with most school supplies or at art supply stores. Standard graph paper is ¼” = 1”. You will need a ruler that has the ¼ and 1/8 measurements on the opposite side from the 1 inch. Designers use a T-Square to make straight lines, but the edge of the ruler is good enough for this purpose.


Here is my layout so far. This rough pencil drawing will be changed and modified as the project continues. Have that eraser handy! It will take time. I want to have a sense of privacy, given all the neighbors’ yards connect, but I don’t want to close it all in. Our dogs need room to run!

As this sketch stands I have plotted out some features I would really like to have. The patio will be the first big project. I’ve narrowed the choice down to two kinds of pavers and each is conducive to their own patterns. A bamboo fencing (see honey, it’s not completely gone!) will run along the neighbor’s garage and continue in front of the opening (note the little circles). This will be a great background for plantings that will be sparse to begin with and to close off the opening and give it a cohesive look. This fencing is available at the home store in wide rolls. Since the garage has a window, I will cut an opening in the bamboo and cover it with opaque sheeting that will allow the light to go through, but can’t be seen though. Very Asian in feel, I hope and I will use the bamboo in various other spots of the garden.

The top of the yard slopes downward just after the garage, so I want to build two short walls that can be planted below. Since the slope is not long or high, this should be a quick project. Here is where a leveler will be my best friend!

The line along the top of the drawing, running from the house along the fence line indicates plantings. The first ‘tree’ is a lilac bush I want to bring back to vibrant life. It will need pruning and some love. The area along the fence line will be low-maintenance plants and shrubs.

On the other side of the patio will be pavers as stepping stones and a low raised bed along our garage will be a mix of flowers and small plantings. I would like to extend the patio in a walkway to the ends of the two walls to give it completion, but also to draw one farther into the garden. At this point the lawn is wide open and won’t be the focus as long as the puppies want to run. An area for lawn games too is a must!

Where I’ve drawn the pergola is where the jungle gym sits right now. Four simple stretchers over gravel with plantings on each side will be a simple as I can make it. Here is the rest of the yard.


As I mentioned, the yard comes to a strange point at the end. On the two sides of the “triangle” I would like to plant scrubs and short trees and border plants and ground cover. The corner will have a larger tree and more plantings in front to soften the angle. I have some kind of small retreat in mind for that corner, like a gazebo or just a sitting area. Benches or chairs to relax in while the dogs are roaming and the sun is setting.

Until next time!

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