25 September 2015

Landscape Ideas

We've got lots of fun ideas for when we finish the back yard -- right now it's just a large, flat space of dirt. And since the good sized yard was one of our main reasons for buying this house, we're looking forward to completing the yard so we can really make good use of that space. We're meeting with people this weekend and next week to plan, & draw up some initial landscape plans. (We have lots of good ideas, so it'll be good to learn how many of our ideas actually fit into our back yard budget). 

Our top two citrus fruit choices are satsuma mandarin oranges . . . 

And blood oranges. 

And at least a couple varieties of avacados, of course. 

And we're also looking forward to having fig trees -- these trees have such beautiful leaves, and there are so many different ways to prepare the fruit. 

And then we've tried some other kinds of fruits that grow well in this area that are new to us.  We kind of liked White Sapote the first time we tried it, but weren't impressed the second time we had some. And I got all excited when I heard mangoes can be grown here, until I learned that they can grow here, but it really can be quite difficult to get them to produce much fruit at all. Oh well.  We have thought about a pecan tree, which we're still considering, although I think mature pecan trees can get to be pretty big so I don't know if that's how we want to use our fruit tree space, we'll see. I heard kiwi vines can grow here, so that's also something to consider, but I don't know how much space those take up.  The only other fruit we've read about that is supposed to grow well here, but that we haven't been able to find anywhere so we could try it out, is the pineapple guava (which isn't a true guava), so no idea on that one. 

We also tried cherimoya, which was pretty good -- we heard it is an excellent fruit when it's fresh off the tree, and it reminds Michael of the fruit that grew in the Dominican Republic that he loved, so we'll see about that one too.  

And we recently discovered passion fruit, and learned that it grows relatively easily here, vining along a fence, and it has very striking tropical-looking flowers. (I had originally decided to plant grapes and train them up a couple of pergolas out at the back of the yard, but maybe that's the place for the passion fruit vines to go?)

And then we want to plant lots of the regular veggies and some berries too. We've planned some raised bed gardens, where we will plant veggies like tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, sugar snap peas, carrots, beets, etc. And maybe some strawberries in the raised beds too?  We currently have a couple of small retaining walls along the fence lines, so we may try to use that same material for the raised beds so that it matches, I don't know. 

I've got this idea of planting strawberries in some kind of vertical planting boxes along a fence or wall (so then the berries could potentially hang out as they grow, instead of resting in the dirt and waiting for bugs to come along and eat the berries as they are starting to ripen). And there could be a built in drip system to water the while thing too. So imagine something like this picture of the planting boxes of succulents, but picture it full of strawberries instead. Don't quite know if this idea will ever happen or not, but it's a cool thought. It would be cool to plant boysenberries and/or raspberries too, but don't know if we really have a good space for those or not?

And then we would like to have a few shade trees in the backyard, and maybe another one in the front yard. We've decided on the tipuanu tree, which grows great here -- you can often see them lining the local neighborhood streets, needs little water after it's established, has pretty foliage (similar to a Jacaranda tree, but this tree is generally a little more full-looking) & yellow flowers, and the best thing about them is they grow really fast, so we could have some real shade without having to wait for 10 years first. 

And we'd like to have a large grassy area for kids to run and play. And curved walkways.  And I'd like to use a few clusters of large rocks in the yard, which would add another texture and some height to the landscape, but could also be spots to sit or for kids to play on. 

We went to a friends' house and we liked this diagonal pattern of stamped concrete. Or we would also be happy with pavers -- we just need to find out which option is more reasonably priced for a patio & walkways. 

We don't want to have a full on sport court, but we do want a place for the boys to be able to play basketball. So I ur plan is to have a large patio with curved edges where we can set the portable basketball hoop for now, but it can also be used as just a patio area for a table and we'll leave space so we could eventually add a BBQ grill on the side someday. 

In one part of the grass we want an in ground trampoline -- we've been planning that for a long time. And somewhere else on the lawn I want to install some kind of pipes with caps or something that would sit just below the level of the grass where we could put in poles for easily setting up a volleyball net in the grass. 

And we have been thinking of doing artificial turf for the backyard lawn. We do prefer the look of a nice, green natural lawn; but with constant traffic from lots of kids and a dog, our lawns never stay looking perfectly green for long -- they eventually get brown dirt patches where the kids play the most, then if it rains or the sprinklers turn on these turn into mud pits so the kids can't use the lawn for a few days until the mud dries out. And if we try to repair the worn out areas of the lawn it takes a lot of time and water, meaning the kids have to stay off of the lawn. It really just doesn't work too well, if the entire purpose is to have a great place for the kids and their friends to run & play all the time. Plus, with the current drought and the cost of water increasing, it really makes sense to use turf and not have to water all the time. And artificial turf is improving a lot these days -- it'll never look totally real, but they have kinds now that have a little brown mixes in with the green, or have blades of different heights, so it doesn't just look like a flat green carpet. And there are types that don't get as hot in the sun. So the big question for us is going to be the cost to put in a large turf area like we have in mind. 

And we want to build a big patio cover just outside where the existing patio is now.  Probably something similar to the one in this photo, but dark brown instead of white.  That should provide a little shade, since we eat dinner out on the patio frequently, and at certain times of the year the sun shines right in your eyes at dinner time. 

And I want to plant some wisteria vines over that patio cover.  Not only does it have pretty flowers, but the leaves look really nice a will provide a little extra shade on the patio cover. And it's ok that wisteria is desiduous, because the vines can twist and eventually when the plant matures the wood itself is quite beautiful. 

Then we thought of having two smaller matching  L-shaped pergolas near the back of the yard with a fruiting vine growing on them. 

And possibly, if we ever ended up adding a hot tub (think '20 year plan'), we could add something like this (except painted brown to match the other structures) in a planting area behind some of the trees to hide the pump & other equipment. With a little structure like this it could blend in better with the design of the rest of the yard, and we could possibly plant some flowering vines to grow up the sides of it too. 

The nice thing about these wooden structures is that if they don't fit into the current budget, we can always leave space for the footings when we do any current hardscaping, and then wait until we can save up a little more and add those later. And since my parents and brothers have built their own patio cover and covered walkway (which turned out great and looks totally professional), my dad said he could help us figure it out. And I'm pretty confident I could put together that kind of thing, given enough time and some helpful hints from my dad.

Oh, and we have a large balcony overlooking the back yard, and currently the only access is a door from the upstairs playroom and from the master bedroom. I had this really fun idea to put in a spiral staircase through the floor of the balcony in one corner, down the the patio below it. That way the balcony could become an extension of the back yard. I love this idea. (Who knows if the HOA would approve it or not?)  But this one is defiantly a "someday plan."

(This is my preliminary drawing I did to try to get everything pretty close to scale & get my thoughts organized). 

 So really our back yard plan is pretty simple for now: starting with drainage & irrigation, planting areas with trees, some basic hardscape, a lawn area with a trampoline, maybe some flowering vines, and hopefully the raised beds  will fit into the budget now too. Then, over time we can eventually add in the wooden structures, maybe a built in grill, and possibly a hot tub eventually. 

When we bought the house the back yard was dirt and the front yard was finished. The front yard is fine, but we are definitely not a fan of succulents, so those will eventually have to go. And the design of the front yard is basically a few rows of different kinds of plants across the whole yard (none of the houses on our street have grass in the front yards). So it's fine for now and changing anything about the front yard is definitely not a high priority right now, but the design of the front yard landscaping isn't very appealing and we'd like to have the option of making some changes in the future. So it makes sense to submit a front yard plan along with the backyard plan for HOA approval so we don't have to go through that process again, and then we can eventually make the front yard changes someday. 

So I don't have as many specific plans for the front yard as for the back yard. For me, it's hard to think of a good front yard design without a lawn, but I did find a couple pictures with some lawn-less front yard ideas. 

I would like to put in a tree that will be a little more substantial than the scrawny bottle brush-type tree that is currently in on the left side of our front yard (in this photo of our yard it's hard to tell, but that tree with the pretty pink flowers is actually in the planting area on the other side of the sidewalk, and isn't really in our yard. The scrawny tree I'm talking about is the skinny one on the left). Maybe another tipuanu tree, which would make it flow more with the design of the back yard? 

And we do want to add just a little hardscape -- a short walkway from the front door walkway across to the driveway, so people don't have to walk through the planting area. And a little sidewalk around from the side yard -- there are currently plants there, which makes it impossible to pull the trash cans out through the side fence. But a lot of our neighbors have added in a little sidewalk on that corner of their house. 

I would like a flowering vine to be planted on either side of the garage so I can train it along the wall up and over the garage door. (Actually, I just found this picture that I really like of a little trellis built just above the garage for a vining plant, which would like really nice and go along well with the style of the patio cover in the back yard, but who knows if the HOA would approve something like that on the front of the house?)

And no more succulents. I'd probably remove the large ornamental grasses from the front yard too -- they leave hundreds of little seeds stuck to your clothes if you brush past them, and they don't really go with my "green & lush" ideal yard. (I know people think you have to plant cactus in order to save money on water, but if you do a little research there seem to be lots of choices of drought tolerant plants that are still green and actually do have leaves. Plus, if we put turf in the back yard we will save a lot of water that would have otherwise been used for grass, so we can afford to have some real plants -- at least that's my reasoning). And maybe a few big rocks, somewhere near the tree?  We'll see if our landscaper has some more ideas to help with the design of the front yard. But at least it should look like it's planned out well -- with taller plants in the back and shorter ones in the front of the yard. So we'll see what that ends up looking like. 

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