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Thread: How to approach landscape/hardscape project?

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    Default How to approach landscape/hardscape project?

    So, we're thinking of making our ratty concrete driveway and small backyard more kid-friendly, usable, and attractive, but aren't sure how to approach this kind of project. There are a ton of resources in our area - architects, designers, handymen, etc. - and what I imagine are greatly varying skill sets and price points. We have only a vague idea of what we could do with the available space, so probably need guidance on that before any physical work starts.

    How did you approach your own similar landscaping project? Start with books or magazines for ideas? Hire a designer/architect? Find a landscaper who does more than cut grass?

    Here are some photos from when the house was staged before we bought it. The property was highly manicured at that time, and does not look so nice now considering how poorly we're keeping up with the weeding. Also, the photos don't really convey how sloped the driveway and back yard are. Or how rough the stonework is -- the decorative wall is just made of broken up concrete pieces. The spaces feel like they have a lot of potential, but we aren't sure how to make the most of it.





    Steven Brown

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    Default Re: How to approach landscape/hardscape project?

    I'm only an armchair architect but the biggest problem is the grade of the driveway which would seem to require a total rebuild with a stout wall along the side and a reorientation of the stairs to the house.
    Demolish the retaining wall in the backyard and lower the level of the plantings.
     

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    Default Re: How to approach landscape/hardscape project?

    Is there a basement under the part next to the driveway?
     

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    Default Re: How to approach landscape/hardscape project?

    Start with your budget and what you need/want to use the space for (being realistic given budget and size of the space).
     

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    Default Re: How to approach landscape/hardscape project?

    I think you talked about a stormwater runoff management project earlier? You have a lot of hard surface in your yard, so I would want to figure out a way to keep more of that water. Flow through surfaces, rain barrels, maybe a cistern. SF doesn't get a huge amount of rain per annum, so why not keep what you get?

    I'd walk around the neighborhood and spy on your neighbors. Tough with covid, but when you find something that looks interesting, introduce yourself and ask some questions. People who are happy with their landscaping are usually happy to talk about it.

    We got a landscape architect. She is great, but she doesn't act as a general contractor. So I've been doing the directing of the project. We aren't paying her general contractor percentages, so maybe this is the better way. But I think we might have done just as well with a really good gardener, like the gardeners we hired at the recommendation of the landscape architect. But we probably wouldn't have known this if not for the landscape architect. So...

    I would do some research. Make a list of what you need to do. Then what you'd like to do. Spy on other houses. Get info. Find and talk to firms that do some of the things you want to do. Ask them how they normally work. Through a landscape architects? Garden designer? Or do they have design and build services. Interested in low water plants? Native plants? Pollinator garden? Find gardeners and designers who deal in those areas and just chew their ear for a while.

    Your property is a nice size, because once the technical aspects are done - like the driveway or installing a cistern under your patio for watering plants - you can step in at any point and take over. And there will be a max number of plants possible, both number and size. You aren't going to be putting a $25,000 live oak in the back yard for example. So could be a really nice, easily managed, low water, low maintenance jewel box that is comfortable to sit in and saves its own water.
    Jorn Ake
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    Default Re: How to approach landscape/hardscape project?

    Quote Originally Posted by johnmdesigner View Post
    Is there a basement under the part next to the driveway?
    Just a crawl space.
    Steven Brown

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    Default Re: How to approach landscape/hardscape project?

    Quote Originally Posted by sbornia View Post
    Just a crawl space.
    Then there might not be enough foundation to level out the driveway.
     

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    Default Re: How to approach landscape/hardscape project?

    Quote Originally Posted by j44ke View Post
    I think you talked about a stormwater runoff management project earlier? You have a lot of hard surface in your yard, so I would want to figure out a way to keep more of that water. Flow through surfaces, rain barrels, maybe a cistern. SF doesn't get a huge amount of rain per annum, so why not keep what you get?
    ...
    So could be a really nice, easily managed, low water, low maintenance jewel box that is comfortable to sit.
    Good points! Last year, I had been asking about drainage around the garage, which gets a lot of runoff from the house behind us. Didnít deal with it yet, but definitely would as part of this larger effort. I will try to snoop the neighbors, but people are generally keeping their distance as you noted.
    Steven Brown

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    Default Re: How to approach landscape/hardscape project?

    Quote Originally Posted by johnmdesigner View Post
    Then there might not be enough foundation to level out the driveway.
    Good to know. I’m guessing that even if we can’t level it out much we can at least smooth out the surface or turn the upper end of it into outdoor living space. It’s nearly long enough for three cars, and 99% of the time there’s only one parked in it.
    Steven Brown

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    Default Re: How to approach landscape/hardscape project?

    Yeah I'm thinking you need to consider the ratio of impervious surface to total area of your lot, and work to improve that ratio and/or provide some stormwater retention.

    Things you could consider for the driveway:
    Turf blocks
    Driveable grass
    Pervious pavers
    Pervious pavement (blacktop)

    I've only done the last one, and to do it right it takes about a foot of material in total, and it is expensive. But it is amazing to watch it in the rain and how the water simply runs right through. Even better to ride across pervious pavement in the rain, no fenders required!
    Trod Harland, Physical Educator

    [I]Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. ó James Baldwin

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    Default Re: How to approach landscape/hardscape project?

    You live in Berkeley, so the world is your oyster as far as what will grow. I'd consider figs, some espaliered citrus, peaches, apricots, perhaps a pergola over the broad gable end. A garden you can eat is always nice. Containers give you many options.

    Maybe do things incrementally rather than have a grand design. See how it goes and make changes accordingly.
    Jay Dwight

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    Default Re: How to approach landscape/hardscape project?

    Rather than offer you ideas, I'm going to suggest you answer some questions.

    • How do you want to use your yard?
    • Do you want to be able to drive your car(s) into the garage? Or do you want to convert your garage into another use? If so, what use?
    • Do you want to be able to cook outside? Eat outside?
    • Do you want to garden?
    • Do you want a lawn?
    • Do you want an area for your kids to play? If so, do you want a play structure?

    Start answering these questions and you can then move on to figuring out how to use your space. You could end up with a very different layout.

    So that's the functional component.

    The next set of questions are more aesthetic. You may need to browse the web to begin defining your likes and dislikes. Houzz is a good site. Or walk around your neighborhood!

    • Do you like stone? If so, what kind(s)? Do you want a stone patio? A stone wall?
    • Do you like plants? What kinds? Trees, bushes, grasses, flowers?
    • What looks good with your house? That gray-ish stone doesn't look so great with your gray walls atmo...
    GO!

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    Default Re: How to approach landscape/hardscape project?

    As a recent transfer to the bay area, some of these suggestions make me smile a bit because it's really different here than nearly anywhere else with climate, rain patterns, what grows etc- I'm still getting used to being blistered in the sun and cold in the shade at the same time. The best ideas will come from walking the neighborhood. My wife is more bold (and more female--meaning a middle aged lady that's not perceived as a threat) and she's knocked on lots of neighborhood doors wearing a mask, "hey love your garden! What did you plant, who did the landscaping?" Or "love your house color, do you know the name" On our many forays a couple of trends are apparent- native plants and succulents are going to be most maintenance friendly and drought resistant- (plant and forget), runoff is a rare problem and you need to decide your ethics and budget for watering/irrigation if you're not going for high drought-resistance (climate change is quite evident here if you ask the old-timers). Look for local expertise through the neighbors and their references for landscapers. It seems like everyone who has a pickup and a lawn mower has a business card that says landscaper, and a lot of the ones I've spoken to have no clue, can't even identify common plant materials etc. Looks like a nice property- if the driveway is low-use, I would consider 2 lines of pavers (or set river rock stones with a green median strip planted with a low maintenance ground cover like low spreading succulents or Silver Carpet (Dymondia Margaretae) that will tolerate a parked car OK if it's not always there. I would also put Jasmine (either bush or as a climbing vine variety) high on the plant list for an area where you sit outside in the evenings- it does well in drought and the flowers last a long time and the scent, especially at dusk, is amazing. Don't forget that edibles are often very nice to look at as well, I've seen arugula, chard, kale, and peppers especially as landscape features. Walk the neighborhood, meet the neighbors! People are bored and many are spending lots of time in their yards these days- and a knock on the door to compliment the garden is almost always met with a smile in my experience (San Leandro). Also, check out Evergreen Nursery for the best East Bay supply place for native plants and advice
     

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    Default Re: How to approach landscape/hardscape project?

    I took these at the second open house, as we were deciding how interested we were:

    front_2015.jpg side_2015.jpg slope_2015.jpg patio_2015.jpg patio2_2015.jpg
    I took these after lunch today:

    front_2020.jpg side_2020.jpg slope_2020.jpg patio_2020.jpg patio2_2020.jpg lawn_2020.jpg

    Many many questions and decisions between then and now. It's been mostly fun and mostly satisfying!

    And still a long way to go - front porch, exterior lighting, plantings for the edge of the yard and painting the house, for a start.
    GO!

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    Default Re: How to approach landscape/hardscape project?

    We're in a similar situation and I have no good advice. We bought our place less than 2 years ago and have a lot of ideas about how to improve the landscaping and driveway but aren't really sure where to start. We're thinking we want to remove our driveway, which looks a lot like yours, and replace with decomposed granite.

    What I've found the most challenging is choosing what type of person/service to hire. It seems there are local, independent, jacks of all trades, who are very cheap and use whatever materials are available at Home Depot. Then there are highly professional specialized people/companies who do amazing work with high-end materials and charge a fortune. We haven't found that sweet spot in between, so we just keep plugging away at the plantings and removing the lawn ourselves.

    One recommendation for native plantings though: Annie's Annuals in Richmond. Amazing place.
     

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    Default Re: How to approach landscape/hardscape project?

    Thanks for all the info, folks. I hadnít thought about permeable materials to retain water, so thatís something new to learn aboutÖIíd just assumed weíd want to get rid of rainwater to keep the house dry, but it sounds like thatís an oversimplification. Weíre fortunate to have inherited lemon, fig, orange, and persimmon trees. Some of the plants on the property are fairly drought tolerant, while others need regular drip watering between May-October to stay alive. Right on about jasmine, thereís some in the backyard and itís really nice in the evenings.

    Our primary goal is to make the backyard more usable, likely by removing the raised grassy area to create a larger space, removing the existing stonework, leveling it out, and then putting down something new tbd. And maybe the top of the driveway, too. And maybe get rid of the now-empty vegetable garden that's right next to the house and move it on the other side of the driveway. What all of that entails or costs I havenít a clue. Iím going to hunt for designer/builders who can advise us, people who arenít as costly as architects but have more skills than basic gardeners. (Brian, if I find that sweet spot, Iíll let you know!)
    Steven Brown

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    Default Re: How to approach landscape/hardscape project?

    Quote Originally Posted by johnmdesigner View Post
    Then there might not be enough foundation to level out the driveway.
    Put a retaining wall(engineered and permitted) on the low side of the driveway and fill to level(+-) all the way to the garage door rather than remove material from the now high side(house side) which isn't really a viable option. This won't be an inexpensive project, maybe work on the backyard area first so you have more liveable space, and save the driveway for later.
    Take care of yourself in this time of crisis and realize sadness, anger and grief are part of the process Brian Clare

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    Default Re: How to approach landscape/hardscape project?

    We used a landscape architect to help guide us when we built our home and he had some great ideas that we would never have thought of on our own. He also laid the groundwork in terms of planning and site layout for future projects, which were not in the budget at the time. It helped to come armed to the meetings with our ideas, images and opinions. We eventually broke our ideas and his suggestions down in the form of the MoSCoW theory...Must have; Should have; Could have and Won’t tolerate.

    I’m not familiar with the plant life in the Bay area, but plants that are staged, in terms of their blooming period are always nice. I’d also recommend a water feature of some sort...as simple as a fountain from Home Depot or custom. Have you thought about incorporating a fire feature as well? Again, something as simple as a prefab fireplace or as complex as a grilling/baking element. Your property strikes me as having similar challenges and constraints (in a good way) as an English a garden, which are very efficient and effective. A lot of those gardens manage to fit in many quality features, such as smaller tool sheds like davids’.

    In relationship to kids, stats show that roughly after the age of 11, they don’t use elements such as swingsets and playgrounds, so your time to address their backyard needs, is limited. Been there, done that as I just sold a playground that was idle for a number of years. Gardens and chickens...that’s the future of backyards.
    Last edited by rwsaunders; 2 Weeks Ago at 01:48 PM.
    rw saunders
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    Default Re: How to approach landscape/hardscape project?

    one of my best friends is a landscape architect; there are quite a few of them who are stuck as the underappreciated landscape guy in an office full of architects, and because of that some of them do side jobs where you can get their local knowledge and design expertise drawn up in hand sketches and notes that cost a fraction of full blown design proposals. Some landscaping contractors also work with people like that. Would recommend trying to find someone like that; as noted, they see things that untrained people can't.
    am I the only Marvin?

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