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New construction: be prepared to clean up all the trash the builders may bury or leave behind, and get a tetanus booster, and rent a magnet sweep and a metal detector.
I definitely agree the place to start is with determining uses. Include views from inside. Think about what you want to see in long depressing winter's and include evergreens. Plant trees in groups to prevent windfall. Their roots support each other. Plant trees first, because they take time to grow. Plant the back yard trees and then shrubs first, or risk having your front yard work trampled.
Plan beds around trees and blow leaves into them so you don't have to take...much less time and good for the trees.
Plant natives. Ask neighbors if there are deer, rabbit, squirrel problems. Look around unfenced yards to learn what thrives there and plant those.
Plant in large swaths. This isn't your powder room. Don't make your yard look like the local home depot garden shop with hodge podge plantings of everything imaginable.

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I also like to consider my neighbors. I talk to them as I get to know them. I find out what their favorite colors are and what rooms look out onto what part of my yard.
One neighbor and I share a utility box we both agreed was ugly. I designed a grass planting that would hide it and survive whatever the utility company needed to do to maintain it, which they haven't done in 20 years. Miscanthus sinensis. I planted it and maintain it. Over the years, my neighbor has helped when possible. It's been a bonding item.
My other neighbor put up a fence, so I said I would maintain the area of her property outside her fence. We also share a steep drop that is hard to mow safely, so I designed a bed of small trees and shrubs and perennials and shared it with her. I planted everything and maintain it. The only downside so far is that she cut down seven tall trees in two years, which changed the lighting and heated up our border. Many things died. She's oblivious. Without those trees, a different neighbor's trees blew down in a storm. I opted to plant more trees to compensate for the damage to the neighborhood. It's not enough. Yes, it violated our covenant to cut down more than one tree a year without replanting. Covenants only work if neighbors are willing to do battle. I prefer to try to get along.

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Julie Cicak

I remodeled my little backyard of our townhouse and did a lot of thoughtful planning to take it in stages over 5 years from all grass to the variety garden we enjoy now with easier maintenance. The best advice I have is think in layers when designing. First, consider your drainage, soil type and slopes first that must be addressed. What will not be seen but must be considered later when designing planters? What can be planted over a French drain? Where will soil need to be amended? Second, the actual visible design of plant sizes at maturity, scale of hardscapes, trellises, colors... the majority of work and what you'll see and enjoy of your landscaping. Third, is what I call the atmospheric that you have to watch for early on that comes from above that affect the garden landscaping. These would be the amount of sun, wind, rain, insects, birds, squirrels, pets that will affect everything. I thankfully completed my backyard just before the 17 year cicadas descended on our area like a plague, but I also had caterpillars that metamorphed into butterflies after devouring all my dill. I had to plan control with a drip irrigation system plan in the beds, grass and hanging baskets (highly recommend), underdecking to keep a patio portion dry for seating, a safe area for a grill or firepit, adjustable shade with a secure patio umbrella (the wind destroyed our first umbrella) and netted boxes to protect against intruding animals on vegetable and herb garden. This next year will hopefully be much easier minus another plague. 😄


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