Darlington Designs

Let’s Make Plans – Part 1

Groundhog Day marks the halfway point for winter, so now that we are on the uptick to spring, it’s time to start thinking more seriously about your landscape. Let’s make plans!

What are landscape plans and why are they a vital phase to building a successful outdoor living space? We discussed a bit of this in last month’s blog in terms of assessing features in your surrounding landscape, the “borrowed views,” or things that need remediating, as winter allows visibility of a space without tree and shrub canopies. But what about the landscape plans themselves? What goes into this?

The first step to creating a landscape plan is the site scrutiny. This is an assessment of a property and its features. Once on a client’s property, the design team member who is performing the site scrutiny notes things like wind direction, areas of open sun exposure, soil conditions or areas of erosion, existing plants that would stay into newly designed space and what plants should be removed. Also noted are drainage issues, exposed downspouts and areas where water is not percolating. One of the most important aspects of a site scrutiny are any features that compromise safety. These include broken or irregular stone surfaces that could be a tripping hazard, stairs that are in disrepair or lack proper railings, or things that do not meet construction codes. We also note any decks that have rotted wood or lack structural integrity. We take lots of photographs. We also obtain elevations that note grade changes in the landform, check heights of doorways and decks, places where hard surfaces meet the lawn or plant beds. Elevations are important as they determine the need for walls or stairs in to have safe movement among the different areas of an outdoor living space. Understanding the elevations of a property is also important in managing in the design for how water will move off hard surfaces and across lawns to avoid puddles or standing water.

After all this, a base map is generated. The base map notes all existing conditions that may pertain to a project such as the outline of the home, driveways, walkways, patios and decks. We site accessory buildings like sheds or detached garages. All the elevations are noted on the base map as well as features from the property survey—such as property lines, easements, setback distances and existing swales. Lastly, we contact the township building and zoning office to learn about any restrictions that apply. These would include the amount of hardscape surface we can install, the allowable heights of walls and fences, and the distances from the property lines for placement of swimming pools, pergolas, or other structures.

As you can see, there is a whole lot that happens by which a successful project is executed; the gathering and noting site details before a new space is designed gets us on the right track. Making plans is so much more than a pretty picture.

In our next blog, we will talk about the next steps to finalizing landscape plans.