Creating Your Own Dream Back Yard: The Essentials
Of all the possible DIY projects in your home, there may not be one more important — to your home and your mental health—than your back yard. It’s your oasis, your mini vacation getaway, the place you escape to at the end of a long day.
With all that expectation, your back yard needs to deliver. It should fit you and make you feel comfortable. But as with everything in a home, there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for what works.
Back yards come in all shapes and sizes—literally.
Not every homeowner needs or wants a pool. Not every back yard is designed to have an outdoor kitchen. A fire pit isn’t for everyone.
There are many things to consider when setting out to create your ultimate outdoor space. When all of the small decisions are piled on top of each other it can seem overwhelming. Above- or in-ground pool? Pavers or wooden deck? Annuals or perennials?
You want to make the space quintessentially you without driving yourself crazy. So where to begin?
There are endless options of “things” you can include in your space, but the intangible quality that you don’t want to miss is how it makes you feel. So perhaps the best place to begin is with a question: How do you want to feel when you’re in your back yard? Calm? Energized? Like you’re on an island or in a quaint French garden? Making the large conceptual choices first may make all of the smaller ones more manageable because you’re narrowing your scope.
Or you could take the route of must-haves. If you need a pool to fit your family of five, begin there. If you want a large open lawn to host neighborhood barbeques, be sure to plan that from the beginning.
GOING IT ALONE
You should also ask yourself if you want to be the general contractor of your project or if you want to hand off that responsibility (and the stress that can accompany it) to someone else.
“Everyone is working today, one or two jobs. The husband and wife both work. It can be stressful to come home and deal with a contractor who didn’t show up again,” says Tom Laudano, owner of Aquatic Pool & Spa Service, Inc., with locations in Northford and Guilford. “If you want me to put your pool in, I will, or if you don’t want to be general contractor of the project, we’ll do that.”
Like Aquatic Pool, whose name would suggest their skill set is limited to pools and spas, there are many Connecticut companies that service the whole back yard. Laudano’s company does outdoor kitchens, fencing and patios in addition to pools and maintenance. Kloter Farms in Ellington is much more than the shed supplier the company started out as—today, they sell gazebos, pergolas, pool houses, patio furniture and more for outdoor entertaining.
No matter where you begin, or what kicks off your backyard renovation, there are plenty of experts out there to make the process a whole lot simpler. Each comes with their own set of tips and recommendations to help you through the project.
If a pool is on your must-have list, be sure you’re working with a reputable company. Pools and spas are big-ticket items, so a visit to conspa.org, the site for the Connecticut Spa and Pool Association, can give you some insight on local companies and help you find licensed professionals. Laudano says reputable pool companies should have both SP-1 and SP-2 licenses in addition to a license to install pools.
Aquatic Pool & Spa Service professionals are willing to do a lot of leg work before you ever sign a contract. Laudano says his team will consult with your town hall to make sure your property can support pool construction. No reason to get your hopes up if the project is not actually feasible. The best part, there’s no charge till the plans are squared away.
“We do all that because we try to make it so that the customer is not put out in any way,” says Laudano. “Sometimes people don’t know which questions to properly ask. With that information, we make the appointment with the homeowner to sit down and scope out their back yard.”
Discuss size, shape and pool location with your professional. Pools should always be placed on flat, level land. Picking a location that requires leveling will boost the price, says Laudano.
People should try to see their back yard as an extended room of their house, says Peter Welti, owner of Kloter Farms. That can be easiest if you plan your back yard from the exterior door outward. One big decision is a deck (made of wood or a similar product) versus a patio (made of pavers or concrete). There are a couple of things that can make this decision easier.
Consider grades and elevation. If your backdoor is only a step or two from the ground, pavers may be the way to go since a deck might not be possible. However, if you have a significant slope in your back yard, a deck is the best choice.
Ask yourself how much maintenance you’d be willing to undertake. If the answer is “Not a lot,” go with pavers; if you don’t mind work, a deck might be a good choice.
If you’re hoping to include a fire pit, go with pavers or concrete for the obvious reason. And of course, cost is always a consideration. Prices vary based on materials and size, so ask around before you settle on a design.
“A lot of our customers come in with thoughts and ideas—we try to open some questions,” says Welti. “We have a pretty large display in our store. People will use that as a design resource.”
Kloter Farms has worked on small collaborations with landscape companies to full-scale backyard renovations. “We’ve done some amazing things,” says Welti.
When it comes to trees, shrubs and flowers, choose varieties that you know you’ll be able to manage and care for. Andy Brand, manager at Broken Arrow Nursery in Hamden, cautions homeowners that all plants need to be cared for if you want them to look as attractive as the day you purchased them. He adds, “We recommend plants that are hearty in this area and can deal with our temperatures.”
That being said, you shouldn’t be afraid to step outside of the box with your landscaping. There are many more possibilities than simply having a rhododendron on either side of your steps.
Broken Arrow is known for carrying abundant varieties of mountain laurel, but like many nurseries, they can provide unique or exotic plants. Brand says plant aficionados often call requesting rare varieties. “We work with everyone, from novices to plant geeks,” he jokes. Many customers look for low-maintenance plants—varieties they can plant, tend and forget about.
When considering landscaping, Brand says consider vegetation that will have year-round appeal—beautiful blooms in the spring and summer, nice foliage in the fall and good bark in the winter. Also, think about trees and shrubs with good form, so when leaves drop, the plant is still nice to look at. Variegated plants (ones with multiple colors in individual leaves) can provide lots of visual interest.
No matter where you start in creating your back yard, the end result should be one you love. Don’t forget to do your research, know who you’re getting involved with and remember that the back yard is ultimately your oasis. Make it everything you want it to be.
(This article was originally published on a different platform. Some formatting changes may have occurred.)
This article appeared in the May 2014 issue of Connecticut Magazine
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