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Monday, May 1, 2017

The Time I Planned The Yard

Fixer Upper's often don't just need work inside the house, they typically need work outside too.  These projects shouldn't scare you away, they should excite you!

Our Landscaping Plan was very important to me.  I wanted the lush, green, beautiful landscape that I had learned to design in college (I have a Bachelors degree in Landscape Architecture and a Master's Degree in Landscape Architecture).  So, I made plans and sketches before we even bought the house to make sure that I would be able to design something I liked for the property.  I also designed things that I knew my husband and I could DIY together with our three children.  There's no special yard equipment and no team of 20 guys we're paying to do the work.  It's ALL US.

I wanted to share the beginning sketches with you because I think that it's important for you to have at least some kind of plan when you start working on your Fixer Upper, but it's also important to see how these plans change as projects get done, so make sure to check back for future posts that show new iterations of the plans and of course check back for the final project pictures.  I'll for-warn you, the yard is an ongoing adventure.  We have added, changed, planted and replanted countless times.  This is all trial and error for us as we learn to deal with this climate and this unique property.  I've also created a list of things to do to help you create your plan at the end of this post, so that you an learn from our trial and error.

Our First Plan Sketches... 
*please note, these are just rough sketches, not beautifully rendered drawings*

In the beginning, we wanted to keep the chain-link fence (we have a dog, so the fence is necessary) and planned to keep the majority of our trees.  We wanted to make a seating area right outside the back door and turn the area under the Green House Window into an outdoor kitchen.  Of course we also wanted to grass the entire yard.

 In the very back part of the yard we wanted to primarily have grass but also have some boxed-in gardens where we would build planter boxes to grow our vegetables in.  I planned on having trellises that our beans and vine plants to grow up.  We also wanted to build a playground in the area between the two large trees. We also wanted to build a truck pit for the boys to play in that I could see from the kitchen window.

This is another view of the backyard looking towards the kitchen from the shed.  I wanted to enclose the AC and use the planter boxes and tellies as a way of both hiding the side of the house and adding some visual appeal to that area.  We also wanted to use the trees to make swings and a hammock.

This is the plan for the side yard.  We wanted to keep this part outside of the fence and have it be more of an adult area with a fire pit, seating, and a fence built into a Planter Box system.  We planned on throwing lots of outdoor parties with our friends and their families, so this made the perfect setting with great views from the Carolina Room and Kitchen to the outdoor area.

Overall, this was the plan for the entire property.  You can see the system of planter boxes, the playground area, the "truck pit", the adult seating area, the outdoor kitchen, and our plan to keep the existing fence.

Here's The THING About Plans...
Plans need to be fluid when you buy a Fixer Upper.  Sometimes things don't go as planned and sometimes you have to improvise because of budget or your own DIY capabilities.  In our case, we had to improvise because of climate and a little because of privacy (you'll read more about this at a later time).   When we put in our bid on the house we were excited to have found a property with so many trees (it's just not something you find in hurricane prone areas) and we were happy that we would have so much shade to keep our home and yard cool during the summer.  What we didn't realize was that in combination with the neglect that the home had been in, the shade had made it possible for the roots of those trees to grow and thrive to the point that they had chokes out all other living plant life.  There was literally NO SOIL in which to grow plants.  There was also no sunlight in which to grow our vegetables.  It was one giant sandy root pit.  We also didn't expect the expense of the landscaping to be quite so immense.  This meant that as we did the landscaping we had to change a great deal.

So while these plans were fun to draw and really helped us get a since of what was possible for our yard, in the end they changed (many times) until finally, 2 summers later, we had a yard that we could be proud of.  Now, on year 3, we are sitting back (while fertilizing every few weeks, trimming things that need to be trimmed, raking leaves, mowing grass) and watching the fruits of our labor flourish.

And then the Plan Changes...
As we began to clear the lot of all the debre and got it ready to start working, we started to realize the needs that we hadn't recognized before moving into the house.  First of all,    realized that we needed to have approval from our HOA for many of the changes.  Thankfully we followed the regulations in our first draft and it was approved.  By that time, we had also gotten to know our own yard a bit more and realized that the back left area directly behind the house rarely saw sun (so it wouldn't make a good location for our vegetable garden) so we moved the majority of our plant plans to the right side and front yard.  We also met our neighbors and realized that we needed a little more privacy in the back yard, so we decided to enclose the entire back of the property in a privacy fence.  We also made plans to remove 12 trees from the property.  You can also see from the plan that we decided to create a path from the back patio to a circular area around a fire pit.  With all the tree debris in our yard we decided we needed a location to burn (and cook s'mores and hot dogs with the kids)

Our final plan involved creating a larger plant bed in the middle of the front yard where we could grow a variety of lush plants and flowers.  This also decreased the amount of grass that we had to maintain.  We also planned on increasing the size of the front entrance rock bed to create a more inviting entrance.

Even after getting approval from the HOA for this plan, it has still grown and evolved in other ways.  We have changed some of the originally intended materials, added a path in the back yard, gotten rid of the pond idea (mosquito are too bad here to have a pond!), and changed where we planted grass.  It's an evolutionary design process that requires a great deal more flexibility than either of us expected.

My Yard Planning Suggestions...
When your planning the landscaping for your Fixer Upper here are some things to consider:

1. Consider your Climate.  It's not a surprise that I make this the first suggestion.  I'm a Virginia girl through and through.  I lived at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains my whole life and was very used to the temperate climate, clay soils, consistent humidity, and mostly-consistent precipitation and seasonal temperatures.  South Carolina was a SHOCK to my landscaping skills.  Never did I expect growing plants in sand to be so difficult.  Never did I anticipate the effect that highly variable precipitation would have on my yard.  And NEVER did I think that shade would become a hindrance to our lives.  So do your research and learn about the climate, what grows where, how things grow, and what the requirements of certain plants are.

2. Look through your local stores (LOWES, Home Depot, Walmart) and really get a good since of the price of your landscaping. This is also nice because you can compare prices and products before you actually need them.  Watch for sales and try to order everything at once so that you can save on delivery.

3. Consider what you want to use the spaces for.  Do you have children?  Makes sure to plan spaces that are conducive to having children or dogs in them (some plants are poisonous, some surfaces are rough on little knees, and some products are dangerous near children).  Are you going to have back yard parties?  Make sure to plan a space for larger groups to gather.  Seating is important, so make sure to plan spaces for sitting to enjoy your new back yard.  Also, makes sure to consider shade options if your yard isn't already shaded.  Similarly, if your yard is fully shaded, think about ways that you can either increase the sun exposure or find shade tolerant plant species and materials.

4. Be Flexible.  Plans change.  When you get out there and actually get your hands in the dirt (or in our case sand) you might find that something you planned on may not be possible.  Don't worry, most of your landscaping materials are returnable to the store if you change your mind.  Even plants have return policies now.

5. Don't Expect it to be a Quick Process.  Plants take time to grow.  Soil takes time to mature.  Grass takes time to establish.  And everything takes longer than you think.  Don't expect your yard to look perfect on year one.  We are on our third summer in our home and are only just now starting to see the real fruits of our landscaping labor.  IT TAKES TIME.

6.  Call Your HOA and check your HOA Ordinances for restrictions on your landscaping.  We had never lived in a neighborhood with a Home Owners Association before so we didn't realize all of the restrictions in place.  In order for us to do many of the changes we wanted we had to get permission from the HOA.  Be prepared for this process to potentially be lengthy with lots of back and forth.

7.  Print your Pictures and Draw on them.  This is an old trick I learned while getting my Landscape Architecture Bachelors.  Take pictures of the areas of your home that you want to design.  Then print those pictures with high exposure (so that the ink is very light on the page).  Then draw your ideas over top of the printed image.  This allows you to see the scale and proportion of your ideas in their actual context.

I'm a planner.  No really, I have a Master's Degree in Planning (yes, that's right, I have TWO Master's Degrees... Let me tell you, it comes in handy as a Stay At Home Mom *note my sarcasm here*).  I like to have a plan and I like to stick to it.  Owning a home doesn't work like that.  And owning a Fixer Upper REALLY doesn't work like that.  You can plan as much as you want, but in the end things just kinda GO WITH THE FLOW.  Have you been working on your Fixer Upper's yard?  Share your experience, tell us your thoughts and give us your suggestions below.


  1. I really love how you added all your sketches! It adds so much to this post!

  2. Such good ideas! I can't wait to have a home of our own, hopefully a sturdy fixer upper! Thank you for sharing your tips!

  3. These plans look so great! I can't wait to see the final product :) I am so bad with yardwork! There is such a small window of time when I will actually go outside to work in the yard because it gets so terribly hot here! I hate it!

  4. This is awesome!! I just bought a house and I have lots of projects I want to do! This will be super helpful!!

  5. It's amazing when a plan comes together. But It's better when you have roadblocks and can navigate them to still end up with something you love. I can't wait to be in this position.

  6. This is going to look awesome! I need to start planning out my yard too. It's a mess!

  7. DIY landscaping! I love it! More power to ya girl :)

  8. this looks like a great plan!! you have plenty of yard space to work, should turn out amazing!

  9. The plans look fantastic! I just purchased a fixer upper a little south of you (Georgia) and my yard needs serious work. I'm tackling the major indoor renovations first, though, so the yard won't get trampled while that work is going on. I agree that patience is key!

  10. plant to your climate, lol
    I went from Northern Ontario, to Virginia...my first 2 gardens baked...i have to get used to planting some things around st patricks day and not around memorial day. I'm discovering the love of Lilies, cannas, dianthus and thrilled holyhocks still do well. these do not need babysitting...and thrive.