Create a Master Plan!

There’s nothing like going to a major garden show in the middle of February to get me thinking about what I want to do in my own garden. When we bought our house in 1993, we created a simple master plan for our grass-only, extra-large lot.

A view from the fenceAt the time, we decided to keep a chunk of the backyard grassy for our two dogs and children-yet-to-come. It seemed before we knew it, the lawn was sporting a wooden swing set and often doubled as a “paddock” for our imaginative, horse-loving daughter.

Twenty-two years later, the swing set is long gone, the daughter is fledging, and the new dog wants nothing more than to fetch the ball. Those 20+ years in Seattle have taught me the reality of tending a lawn in the Pacific Northwest.

Existing yard from the deckOur climate is relatively wet for three seasons and nearly bone dry for the fourth (summer). Since water is expensive due to the need for extra treatment (it flows into Puget Sound), few have the cash to keep a lawn green and lush. We spend our water budget on edibles, a justifiable expense by our reasoning. The result can be a dried-to-brown expanse that quickly becomes muddy when the rains return. Add a ball-chasing dog to the mix and you have a patchy, pitted “lawn” at best—and a far-too-often filthy dog! The grass is lovely in its prime, but otherwise, “What a mess!”

I’d been mulling about what to do with that grassy area for a while. I want a small greenhouse so I can start native plants and veggies, and I definitely want to get rid of the lawn. After considering a number of options, I decided on weed blocker covered with 3+ inches of playground-style wood chips. It will provide a clean surface for the dog to play fetch and be ideal for any future grandchildren.

Initial garden sketch on graph paperThe first thing I did was gaze out at the expanse from my deck. I am a graphic artist by trade, so I can envision things. I roughly sketched out the area to be transformed on graph paper without worrying about scale. I wanted to capture the vision. The perimeter of the space is landscaped, and bordered by a fence, the house, a deck, and existing flowerbeds. A couple of apple trees and peony bushes dot the lawn. My beloved clothesline runs down one side. I’d need to work around all of these.

Setting for the GreenhouseThe ideal spot for the greenhouse is nestled in a corner by the deck and house. We saw a number of options at the garden show, but I definitely liked the cedar and polycarbonate panel offerings from Charley’s Greenhouses in Mt. Vernon, WA. Functional and aesthetically pleasing, it could double as a writing or yoga haven when not a home to seedlings.

Next, my husband plotted out the space on paper, again without worrying about scale. I took his numbers and drew up a simple graph (I used QuarkXpress, but there are other options for those who don’t have high-end software). I outlined the space and started filling it in with the existing landscaping and a rectangle to represent the greenhouse, making sure it did not get too close to the apple tree or house.

Peony bushes flank garden artThe existing peony bushes are well-established, and the space between them is already home to a lovely piece of garden art created by my daughter’s 7th-grade class. We’ll keep them and add a bench for ambiance.

Fire pit patio for flagstoneSince I hang clothes whenever the weather permits (surprisingly more than you’d think), I’d eventually like to put flagstone under the lines. We’ll use the same stone (Cowboy Coffee) that’s in the fire pit patio we installed two years ago, continuing our natural garden theme. It can double as a spot for tables and seating for a large garden party. I can unhook the majority of the clotheslines in front, and string the back ones with lights and/or gauzy fabric to create a lovely backdrop.

Garden Master PlanOnce my plan was drawn, I prioritized the pieces. We intend to do most of the work ourselves, and don’t want to take on debt, so the plan will be executed in stages. Stage one will be the elimination of the lawn. For that, we will need about 1,000 sq. ft. of both weed-blocking, landscape cloth and play chips. We plan to line the garden path to the left of the lawn with chunky rocks to keep the chips from escaping. We’ll order a pallet—as we can always find uses for good rocks in the garden. Work will begin in April with hopes of buying the greenhouse in late fall or early 2016. The flagstone is planned for 2017. I don’t mind the wait.

NOTE: See my post “Eliminating the Lawn – Part I,” for how we started our garden transformation 22 years ago.