Practical Considerations - Outdoor Design and Planning
Simple concrete sidewalks are the most effective especially when the path passes between two densely planted flower gardens as shown above. The simplicity of the pathway also helps focus attention on the ornately styled Victorian porch and home beyond.
Concrete paving squares molded and tinted to resemble brick are used to create a pathway around the side of this house. The sunken path marks a route commonly used by the homeowner's family and saves wear and tear on the lawn.
There are three basic types of patio installation - soft-set, hard-bed, and wood. If properly installed, all are attractive and durable.
Soft-set installations are generally easier and faster for homeowners because they don’t require a concrete foundation and the joints between the materials are filled with sand. The site is excavated and leveled, then a sand or gravel base is added and compacted. The materials are then laid on the base and the joints are filled with sand. Edging strips are often spiked in place around the perimeter to hold the bricks or pavers in place. Soft-set installations are more prone to shifting due to freeze/thaw cycles and require periodic maintenance. With proper care, however, they will last indefinitely.
Hard-bed installations will last a lifetime because they start with a concrete foundation on which paving materials are laid in a mortar base, and the joints are filled with mortar. The resulting patio is solid and resists shifting and fluctuations due to freeze/ thaw cycles. Hard-bed installations are more labor intensive but require less maintenance over time.
Wooden structures in the form of boardwalks or raised platforms are attractive and, if well-maintained, long-lasting.
Siting patios and walkways
Some aspects of the landscape itself, as well as the terrain of your yard, will affect where you put your patio.
Access. No matter how perfectly a patio blends into the surrounding environment, it will receive limited use if access is restricted or difficult. A patio that serves as an outdoor entertaining space will be most effective located off easily accessible living spaces.
Stairs. Stairs transition from one level to another. If your patio is situated on ground that would make a walkway too steep for a straight run or require too many turns in a running path, consider steps or landings at various locations to ease the journey.
Slope. A patio entrance that is too steep or made of materials that become slippery when wet will limit enjoyment.
Locate starting points that are accessible from the house and that lead directly to an end point. Natural-feeling paths tend to follow the easiest course from the starting point to the end.
Drainage. Improper drainage can leave standing water on a patio, destroying your outdoor experience, the patio materials, and potentially the foundation of your home. Make sure that the patio slopes away from your home at a rate (approximately 1 inch for every 4 feet) that ensures runoff will be safely carried away.
Site a walkway so water flows toward a drainage system and not down the path. Gravel or wood chips can wash away on any surface, following the natural drainage of the terrain. Soft-set stone might be a better alternative.
The weather and patios
Successful patio design also needs to take climate and weather into consideration.
Sunlight and shade. Hot, bright sun bearing down on brick or stone can make a patio unusable. Too much shade can make it uncomfortable in cool weather. The ideal location for your patio is one that takes advantage of seasonal and daily changes. Orienting a patio toward the east will take advantage of morning light, but the patio will be cooler in the evening, making it a good site for those who enjoy dining outdoors.
West-facing patios will become quite bright and extremely warm in the afternoon unless properly shaded.
Southern sites will receive sun throughout the day and may also require additional shade during warm months. The sun will make the patio more useful during cooler months in areas with extreme climate shifts.
Northern sites receive far less sun and, consequently, will be shadier and cooler throughout the day.
Wind. The wind can either enhance the time you spend on your patio or limit its use. A gentle breeze is a pleasure, but areas with strong wind patterns require some sort of shelter. Select a location that will isolate your patio as much as possible.
Patios are often partially or fully covered with roofs or retractable awnings, and some sides are enclosed with either solid walls or glass doors.
To attract or not to attract
The landscaping and flowers surrounding your patio are beautiful to look at, but they are also potential lunch for various members of the wildlife family, including squirrels, birds, deer, rabbits, and raccoons. Check with the garden department of your local home center for species of flowers and plants that are not favorites on their menus. However, birds can be delightful additions and enhance your outdoor pleasure. Attract birds with feeding stations placed near the site.
A successful transition can be as simple as a strip of well-tended grass that connects two sections of a large yard to a patio. Create defining borders along the sides with a combination of flowering plants and shrubbery.
Pavers make up the step and patio surface and slate tiles are laid to create the walkway. Combining elements creates focus and offers a visual reminder of the change in level.
Walkways are also generally categorized by their intended use.
Utilitarian walkways are designed to get you from one place to another easily and quickly. Although they can be constructed of a variety of materials, from the simplicity of concrete to elaborate paver or brick patterns, their function is to connect exterior spaces in a simple and straightforward manner. Utilitarian walkways should be as level and flat as possible to make movement as easy and efficient as possible. Therefore, they may require excavation and complex installation.
Free-form walkways are about the journey. Often they are sited to follow the natural contours that flow through the property or to simply define a path that has evolved naturally over time.
If everyone takes the same route to the beach and the grass is showing signs of wear, it might be time to install stepping-stones or pavers. Consider benches or other seating stationed along the way to invite enjoyment of a particular view. Or concentrate garden elements, such as flowers or shrubs, in delightful spots to create new vistas.
Weather extremes. Rain and snow also are factors to consider solving with partial roofs or retractable awnings.
The style of your home, weather conditions, and the surrounding terrain are the best guides to the shape and position of your patio. Walk your property to look for patio sites and interesting routes for walkways to and from it. Great views can define a patio site, while the slope and flow of the land will offer insights into the siting of walkways.
Be aware of elements that would create unpleasant views from your patio, such as a neighbor’s compost pile or rickety garage.
If an unpleasant vista can’t be concealed with fences, walls, or shrubbery, consider another site.
Where and how you locate your patio relative to your house will be determined by how you want to use it.
Attached. The majority of patios are attached in some way to the main dwelling, often with easy access from a family area or the kitchen. While one or more of the sides of an attached patio will probably follow the lines of the house, the area that extends into the yard offers the option of free-flowing lines.
Wraparound. Like wraparound porches on Victorian homes, wraparound patios offer access from more than one room of a home. Entrances can be accented or defined with short walls, planters, shrubbery, or lawn furniture.
Wraparound patios tend to consume a great deal of area, and some ordinances will restrict patio size because of increased water runoff into sewer systems.
Detached. Detached patios should reflect the overall style and their surroundings, taking advantage of views that are not necessarily accessible from the area around your home. Detached patios can provide private, secluded settings.
Provide access to a detached patio with a walkway that complements its design.
Courtyard. Courtyard patios are defined by the walls that surround them.
They are good solutions for both rear and front areas of condos or townhouses.
Walls, fences, or plantings can be added to create enclosed spaces. Contemporary homes often revolve around a centrally located courtyard patio that provides access from several points in the house and offers a secluded interior/outdoor space.
Planning Landscape Structures - Outdoor Design and Planning
Retaining walls, fences, driveways, sidewalks, and pathways are the bones of the landscape or what contractors call the hardscape. These elements define the basic structure and many of the individual areas of your property. Once they are in place, you will begin to add landscaping details such as gardens, groupings of flowers and shrubbery, and structures that are primarily decorative, such as arbors and trellises. But first you must decide where the bones will go and how they will function.
Some of these elements may already be in place - driveways, for instance, or sidewalks, patios, and flower gardens. If so, your goals may be more specific than devising a plan for the entire landscape. You may want a retaining wall to protect an existing garden from runoff or to keep the side of the hill from ending up in your house.
A fence may help define the boundaries of your property, but it may also be needed to keep the deer from eating the vegetables.
If all you’re looking for is security, a chain-link fence may be the answer, especially if the area you are protecting is on a private section of the property. In either case, as you make decisions about adding hardscape elements to your property, you should consider the differences between public and private spaces.
Public spaces are the areas of your property that are visible from the street, the front or sides of your home, the front yard, the driveway, and any paths or walkways that are in public view. Choices you make about public spaces will affect the entire neighborhood. Consider the impact on the neighborhood before you make a decision.
Private spaces are out of public view, but that doesn’t mean they should be solely utilitarian. Private spaces such as back yards or patios should ideally be considered as another room in the house-inviting and comfortable for you and your family.
No matter how complex the design, landscape construction can be broken down into basic elements. Here the designer took advantage of a relatively steep hillside by combining stuccoed retaining walls and a series of stone terraces to create on inviting entrance to the outdoor living space situated at the top of the hill.
A successful landscape is achieved with careful planning and attention to detail. Resolve basic questions and formalize your overall design on paper before you begin. Erasing a pencil line is easier than refilling a posthole and moving a fence.
Make a site map
Before you do anything you must have a plan. Maybe you already know where problem areas are, or maybe you have only a vague idea of the consequences of your design ideas. In either case, grab a long tape measure (100 feet), a pad, a pencil, and a helper and create a complete map of your property. Just as you would if you were designing a patio, include the boundaries and all fixed structures-the house, garage, and other buildings such as sheds. Chart the position of the driveway, sidewalks, patios, flower and vegetable gardens, groupings of shrubbery, trees, hedges, fences, and any other element or obstacle that may influence choices you will make.
Take your rough measurements and create a map in a scale that fits easily on a piece of paper. Make photocopies you can use to record ideas, and begin thinking about what you want to do. Spend some time walking your property, map in hand, so you can get a feeling for how your design will actually work when it’s in place. This might be the time to consult a professional designer or, for a structural issue, a landscape contractor to review your ideas and make suggestions. They will usually do this for a fee, or if you hire them it will be part of the package.
Seek inspiration everywhere
Ideas come from many sources-books, magazines, friends, online, tours of finished landscapes that you like, garden shows on television, and in the garden departments of your local home center, to name a few. Research materials that suit the architecture of your home and are compatible with the surrounding landscape.
The ultimate goals
The ultimate goals in any landscape construction project are to solve problems, add functionality and beauty to your outdoor spaces, and equally important, to do so in a manner that creates a harmonious, unified result.
The more time you spend thinking and planning before you start digging, the less likely you’ll want to pull the whole thing out and start over. Remember, you’re going to live with your wall, fence, or arbor for a long time-be sure you’re getting what you want.
Know the law - Outdoor Design and Planning
If you violate a local code or ordinance when you install any outdoor structure, and the local government discovers it, you’ll have to alter your design or even its siting to comply.
Saying, “Gee, I didn’t know,” won’t get you very far with the inspector, and changes at the last minute can be costly. Factoring in the time involved in doing your project twice, determining what’s acceptable before you begin is definitely worth the effort. Another issue to consider is whether deed restrictions that define the limits on what can be installed and what can’t are in place in your neighborhood. Do your research before you begin work to ensure that you can enjoy your outdoor space in peace. Here are some issues to consider as you create your design:
Check building codes
Building codes exist to protect homeowners from potentially dangerous situations based on faulty construction methods and the use of unsafe materials. They’re based on proven industry practices and are approved for safety and uniformity. Know and abide by local and national codes as you prepare and plan your project. Contact your local building inspector’s office for codes that affect your home and property.
Research zoning ordinances
Zoning ordinances define how a piece of property can be used and how structures can be placed on it. For example, you usually won’t be allowed to put up a gas station in the middle of a residential neighborhood even if it looks like the rest of the houses on the street. Residential zoning ordinances establish minimum setbacks from property lines, utility easements, and possibly size limits of a structure. Information will be available at your county clerk’s office or your local government center.
Respect deed restrictions
Some communities have adopted deed restrictions in order to maintain control over local property values and architectural style. Restraints on the kind of outdoor structure you can build, including the style and the materials you choose, may exist.
Some neighborhoods may have unspoken or informal restrictions on the kind of additions that can be installed to maintain the integrity of the neighborhood. While you may not be legally bound to follow these guidelines, it’s not fun to be feuding with the neighbors. Take a good look around the area and talk to the neighbors before you install any outdoor addition.
Call before you dig
Utility and cable companies will visit your site and flag the position of underground lines. Call to have all utilities located before you dig. The placement of underground utility cables, such as electric, communication and telephone, and television, may affect the location of your patio, wall, or any landscape structure, even if the cables are buried deeper than you plan to excavate. Don’t restrict access to them unless you’re sure you’ll never want to change. Sewer, water, and gas lines running to the house must also be considered.
Once you've created your design, review it with an inspector to know the location of buried lines before you begin digging, sure you're meeting necessary code and zoning requirements.