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Phased Landscape Construction – Planning Your Backyard Oasis

The single biggest mistake people make when planning their outdoor space is NOT HAVING A PLAN!

Even if you are unable to afford to complete the entire project right away, having a plan for phased landscape construction will ensure that, in the end, you have a cohesive backyard retreat that checks all the boxes for a desirable outdoor living space. A three-year plan is common, so take your time, know what you want, and do it right the first time!

Paul Brydges from Brydges Landscape Architecture has over 30 years of experience in Landscape Design and Phased Landscape Construction. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Paul, and he offered a few words of wisdom for people starting or considering a backyard renovation.

“You have to have a plan. This plan does not even have to be done by a professional! It could be a rough sketch drawn on a napkin or a simple wish list of your needs and wants. But knowing what your immediate, short-term, and long-term goals are for your landscape design will ensure that you do not fall into some of the pitfalls that many people make when undertaking their outdoor design project”.

When it comes to backyard living spaces, privacy is typically the number one priority for most people. The last thing you want to be doing when enjoying our short summer is to be staring at your neighbours, feeling like you are a part of someone else’s party. There are many ways to achieve this, but if you live in a subdivision, you will probably start with a privacy fence of some sort. This will give you immediate privacy, and in most cases, will separate your living space from the people next door to you.

The next phase of your project should incorporate a hard surface of some sort, such as a deck or patio. This allows for instant usability, so that you can get outside right away and enjoy your space. Breaking your space up into smaller “zones”, ie dining area, firepit area, conversation area, can make a small yard feel bigger and allows for distinct uses. Be sure to plan for these things when designing your hard surface space. You must also be cognizant of the fact that your needs will change over time! For instance, if you plan on having pets or children, you will need to keep some open lawn space for play structures and/or outdoor play area(s).

Paul also recommends planting shade trees early on in your design process, to allow them time to grow in, and serve the purpose they are meant to serve. Shade and privacy are key to successful entertaining, so selecting fast growing varieties of columnar trees as opposed to wider varieties is key. In addition to providing much needed privacy, long straight lines can make your space seem more grand.

During a recent landscape design project in Guelph, Ontario, Paul and his team completed a project that had been in the making for 3 years. They helped their client to divide their plan into phases, then planned and budgeted accordingly, completing this project over a 36 month period. “We like to make a connection with our clients”, says Paul of his methodology when pulling together a project like this. “We listen to what our clients are asking for – we may make suggestions but still have the ability to listen to what they want. Phased Landscape Construction allows people to complete the backyard of their dreams over a longer time period, making it more affordable, and making their desired plan more feasible”.

Paul recommends that people divide their plan into three distinct categories:

NEEDS – Correct drainage, shade requirements, dining and entertaining area. These items fulfill immediate needs and ensure that clients have the basis for what will eventually become their backyard oasis.

WANTS – Water Feature, Lighting, Colour, Pergola, Gazebo, Flower and Vegetable Gardens etc. can be added during Phase 2 of the design plan to make the space more appealing.

WISH LIST – Future swimming pool, hot tub, outdoor fireplace. These items are planned for in advance and can easily be added after the fact, as budget allows.

In addition to your plan, you should always work with professional designers who have the technical competence to understand drainage, and who have a solid understanding of soil/plants. They should have a list of local contractors that they trust and recommend. “Drainage is one of the most common mistakes that we are called in to correct” says Brydges. “Clients and many contractors do not understand the impact that incorrect drainage can have on any landscape design, so it is very important to ensure that whoever you hire considers this during the planning process.”

“Furthermore, having a solid understanding of trees and shrubs and how they will grow is key, as it will help you to avoid having to transplant, relocate, or remove them down the road. Trees do not grow overnight, so knowing what they will look like 5, 10 or 15 years down the road can help people to avoid this common pitfall”.

Let’s face it, our time spent enjoying the outdoors is limited by our geography to just a few short months each year. For many of us, our backyard is our home for those months, where we can go to soak in the sunny weather and enjoy the company of good friends and family. By following a few simple guidelines, and coming up with a solid plan for your outdoor space, you can feel confident that you will end up with a great landscape design that you can build upon and enjoy for many years to come.

Brydges Landscape Architecture Inc. (BLA) was established in 2004 by Senior Landscape Architect and President of Landscape Ontario (2016-2017), Paul R. Brydges. Paul brings 30+ years of combined design/build and construction experience to the design process. Corporate memberships include the OALA, ASLA, CSLA, APALA, CNLA, Landscape Ontario and Green Roofs for Healthy Cities. They are located at 35 Galt St., in Guelph Ontario. (519) 766-1331. For landscape design questions, feel free to contact Paul at:

Written By: Tanya Bottomley

Author: LivingSpaces

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