Spring is a great time for taking on the backyard and really getting the most out of it.
A renovated backyard can be the difference between a family avoiding their outside space, or embracing it with gusto.
We catch up with one family who was only too happy to give their backyard some TLC.
Dad, Josh tells us his experience and what was learnt from it.
Why renovate the backyard?
A few years had passed since renovating our house.
Although we’d long planned to ‘do something’ to our much loved but overgrown fruit-tree-and-chicken-run jungle inner suburban garden, we needed a plan.
Our backyard was your classic inner north migrant garden, proving an excellent bounty of apples, mandarins, lemons, walnuts, loquats, nectarine and pears.
It also offered in equal quantity large concreted areas and pathways.
We had loved the previous five years of chooks scratching around, not to mention random lettuces, herbs and potatoes popping up whenever the season called upon them.
But we were ready for a change.
Creating a backyard blitz list
The first wish list we drew up was for one of everything – firepit, studio, cubby, in-ground tramp, veggie patch, kid-friendly adventure garden, lawn, spa, wood fired pizza oven, etc etc.
We initially thought we would design and manage the project ourselves.
Getting a workable design was made more challenging by:
- The slope of the block (a four-metre drop from the back of the garage to the back fence);
- Wanting to keep some of the existing trees;
- An existing staircase that divided the space, and a three-metre easement along the back fence.
Bringing in the experts
After lots of hand-drawn versions we reached out to a couple of different landscape designers for help.
To make the decision of whom to work with, we looked at previous examples of their work, talked to them about timeframes, and asked about their capabilities and how they structured their jobs.
By this point we had trimmed the wish list to a much simplified entertaining area, a lawn area for the kids, and a spa.
The landscape designers we engaged spent several hours at the house with us understanding both the garden space, and how the house connected, and getting to know us as a family.
We threw around lots of ideas and possibilities – particularly around the staircase, and the trees that we were keen to keep.
This part of the process was key to getting a great end result.
The plan that came back to us resolved all of the things that we had been struggling with, it integrated the staircase, allowed for two of the trees we wanted to keep, dealt cleverly with the slope of the block, and as a bonus maximised the views from the garden… And it looked like everything would be achievable within our budget.
A stitch in time saves nine
Before signing off on the plans we spent a Saturday afternoon out in the yard with builder’s string and laid out the dimensions of the new spaces.
This was a really worthwhile exercise and highlighted some tweaks that were needed to the sizes and proportions.
Permits – the council process
With a finalised design, we then moved into the permit phase.
This will be different in every local government area, but don’t underestimate the additional time (and possibly expense) this will add to your project.
In our case we are in a heritage overlay area, so we required both a planning and building permit for the deck, the spa, and retaining walls that abutted the easement.
Getting the appropriate drawings for the application, and the time for processing added about three months to the project time frame.
During this time we were able to make a start on some of the site preparations, but a lot had to wait for the permits to be issued.
Are registered builders needed?
As our landscaper wasn’t a registered builder we had had to engage a separate building firm for the deck’s construction.
The deck was built over a period of four to five weeks, but during this time there was a lot of work that the landscapers had to do, so co-ordination and communication was key.
By the end of the deck build the form of the garden was really clear and after over six months of looking out over a bare muddy block we could see the plan coming to life.
The next four weeks saw lots of work on additional drainage, soil preparation (both critical), and irrigation, all in preparation for planting.
This final stage made it all seem quick and easy – the block transformed from a building site to a finished garden very quickly.
So what tips would we share from our landscaping experience?
- Take the time to plan. This is crucial.
- Professional design advice can be invaluable.
- Understand that not all landscapers are registered builders, so if you are looking at having a deck built you may need to have two key contractors onsite at once, and you’ll need to manage the communication and planning.
- Look at what machine access is going to be possible at various stages of the build. A full block width deck, for example, will very quickly change what machines you can get into an area to do site works.
- If you have mature trees that you want to keep, then stand your ground. Lots of landscape gardeners would prefer to work with a blank slate, but keeping existing trees can really make a difference to the end result.
What do we love?
We’ve ended up with a beautiful garden.
We love spending time in it, it’s an easy entertaining space, and it feels like a real retreat.
It’s great watching the kids boulder hop around the garden exploring.
And the spa believe it or not has been used 10 months in the past year.
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