If you bought your home from one of those big corporate homebuilders, you probably had some cool options available to you on the inside. On the outside, you likely got the basic landscape package everyone else did. The good news is that the plants you received probably won’t attack your family like the Whomping Willow at Hogwarts. The bad news is that they might be less than stellar. Since most new homeowners aren’t looking to drop a ton of money, here are five steps to take after moving in:
Step One: Assets and Liabilities
The first step is to identify what the heck you have. Know that in many cases, what the builder put there will get too big to stay there. Examples of this include Nellie Stevens hollies and river birches four feet off the house corner. Handled right away, you may be able to transplant these to an appropriate location. You should also take stock of the shrubs. Inkberry hollies can be good, Manhattan euonymus will be a maintenance nightmare.
You may have even bigger problems if you bought the model home. I’ve designed model home landscapes, and what the builder wants is something that looks good, full, and finished NOW. That means that in all likelihood, you have a botanical timebomb on your hands that will outgrow the space very quickly.
Step Two: Call Miss Utility for a markout
One advantage to a new neighborhood is that all the utilities are buried, so there are no unsightly overhead wires. One disadvantage to a new neighborhood is that the utilities are buried, leaving a collection of wires in your yard that resembles ramen noodles. So, before you can plan your next steps, you’ll need to know where the lines are buried. Sure, you can find someone who will willingly plant a tree right over your gas line – but it’s not a particularly good idea. Know your constraints and work within them.
Step Three: Embiggen the beds
Your beds are too small. I don’t need to see your house to tell you this. The foundation plants you have will probably outgrow the space, and you definitely don’t have the room to create interesting, layered plantings. Embiggen is a word, right?
Step Four: Improve the Soil
I can also tell you that your soil is garbage. That’s because when the subdivision is graded out, all the topsoil is scraped up and hauled off. When your home is done, they come back with a super thin layer of topsoil. Imagine trying to frost two boxes of cake mix with one tub of frosting. You get the idea.
So compost is your friend here. Even if all you’re doing in the short term is maintaining what you have, you can topdress your beds with compost every year to build up the organic matter (and beneficial microbes) in your soil. This is super important if you’re a new homeowner in Bristow or Gainesville. Having done numerous projects there, I can tell you that you have the rockiest soil in NoVA.
Step Five: Gather Inspiration
Don’t look to the model home for inspiration. Like I said, that landscape design isn’t usually intended to age gracefully. Instead, stroll around older, established neighborhoods and see what you respond to. After all, these are the gardens that “feel” like home. They’re broken in and comfortable like an old baseball glove, but elegant as well (the elegance sort of kills my baseball glove metaphor, I know).
And, of course, if you want someone else to guide you to a great landscape design, give me a call! Whether it’s an older home or a brand new one, the goal is to design it around you and your family. Figuring that out is half the fun.