My outdoor living space: where do I start?

Gardening column
By: Kurt Voigt Special to The News Messenger
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With the economy the way it is, the cost of travel reflected in the cost of fuel and the housing market being a buyer's market, it's sometimes best to look domestically for alternatives. Spending your hard-earned money to enhance your everyday living environment, upgrade your landscaping to benefit your “outdoor living space” and raise your property value are a few ideas to make a better and longer-lasting investment. It’s said you can retain five to 10 percent of your landscape investment when you sell your house and up to 30 percent if you install a pool. Pool construction has dipped 30 to 40 percent. Today, contractors are hungry and landscape supply businesses have lowered their prices. Econ 101 says “supply and demand.” What does that mean? Demand goes down, prices go down. This is a great time to do landscaping! During spring, summer and fall, Californians spend a lot of time outside barbecuing, entertaining, having pool parties and holding summer vacation activities since the kids are out of school. So we spend a lot of our time outside. “How can we make better use of it?” That is today's topic. I've been writing articles on plants, raised garden beds, pruning, bare root, etc. and thought I should spend some time on the process of landscaping and how to avoid making mistakes. Before your shovel even hits the ground, you should first consider 1) brainstorming how you are going to use your yard, 2) bubble plans of areas of usage, 3) a landscape design (designer or architect) and 4) plan implementation (licensed and insured landscape contractor). If you are a “hands-on” homeowner, you could hire a landscape designer to either draw up a design or consult on ideas for your yard while you write down the information and draw up your own bubble plans or design. I'm currently working with a client who already has a hardscape (mow strip and concrete) in and just needs plant ideas. Or you can hire a landscape contractor to draw up designs and install the landscape as designed. Just make sure you check out the contractor’s credentials, bond and insured status. Either way, you should do steps 1 and 2 above to help the contractor and designer understand what you want as a homeowner. So many times, I've seen unhappy customers of other companies because they didn't communicate to the contractor/designer what they wanted, how they want to use their backyard, and their ideas. It's your yard ... get out of it what you want! I always tell my clients, “I don't live here, you do. Make sure this is what you want.” While I love plants, not everybody likes the same plants so make sure you communicate that to the designer/contractor before you sign off on the design. For steps 1 and 2, look at your yard and ask yourself these questions like “How do I use my yard? Where do I spend the most time and why? Do I want a barbecue and outdoor kitchen? A pool? Patio? Where do I want the kids’ play area? Where do I want the doghouse? Where is south, north and west? Where should I put my “quiet place?” Do I want a water feature and where should I put it? Outdoor lighting? Do you notice all the “Where” questions? There's more but don't get overwhelmed. Professionals can help you with this process. “Outdoor living space” means bringing your living area inside to the outside and so you should think about everything you want outside that would enhance your experience and enjoyment. Besides, it's a big investment. Do it right the first time and you can have years enjoying it! Kurt Voigt is a landscape designer/consultant. He can be reached at