Reused stone, soil, and plants make a functional outdoor renovation affordable
When selecting a home, first impressions are the most important factor, after price and location. With this in mind, owner/contractor Mike Guertin took extra care to landscape his spec remodel attractively. To add visual interest and manage runoff, he built terraced walls around the lot from stone he found on site. He reclaimed some of the plantings from the original overgrown landscape and incorporated native species.
Design approach: Take your time and meet basic needs
The steep grades, house orientation, drive-under garage, overgrown landscape, and excessive runoff from the neighbor’s yard and the street were just some of the challenges Mike had to solve when reconfiguring the landscaping of the small ranch house. Mike had only a bare-bones budget to improve the home's curb appeal, provide more off-street parking, and create level areas for play and vegetable gardening. Any new features need to be low-maintenance.
In several areas, the property sloped toward the walkout basement, leading to occasional flooding. Mike needed to establish drainage away from the house before he could move forward with his plan for a finished basement.
The design developed organically. Mike took on the projects over the course of months, which gave him plenty of time to consider various ideas for each section as work progressed in another area.
Reshaping the landscape
After determining how much work the site itself would require, Mike relocated salvageable plants to another area and stripped the topsoil for later reuse. His cut-and-fill approach to terracing the slope created flat space for play areas and a garden. The work also slowed runoff, giving rain an opportunity to percolate into the earth. Since overdevelopment in the neighborhood has reduced recharge of the natural water table, and since the home is served by a 14-ft. well which runs dry during extended droughts, the extra percolation provided by Mike's landscaping improvements is particularly valuable.
The rocky site had plenty of stones that were of the same size as stone walls in the area; they were perfect for a planned retaining wall. Larger boulders that couldn’t be moved were broken by hand into smaller pieces. The edges along the stone walls and on the flat terrace steps were covered with landscape fabric and bark mulch to inhibit weed growth and promote water percolation. Mike used soil cut from the terraces to raise the grade above the stone retaining walls and level off areas for lawn and plantings.
Paving for drainage and durability
Before, street runoff had gully-washed the down-sloping gravel driveway and pushed sediment into the garage. Mike incorporated a small swaled concrete apron in front of the garage doors. Catch basins embedded in the apron drain to daylight away from the house. A narrow asphalt drive was added in the high-traffic and turn-around areas. Pervious paving (open matrix concrete pavers) were placed along the sides of the asphalt for parking, to stop erosion where water runs off the asphalt, to increase water percolation, and to keep hard surface paving to a minimum.
Mike used nontoxic silica-treated lumber to frame raised beds for a vegetable garden. Lawn areas were left to grow on their own; self-seeding native grasses took over the areas after several months. The lawn needs no watering and infrequent mowing.
Reuse keeps material costs low
Recycling the site's stone, soil, and plants kept material costs low. Only mulch, filter fabric, and drainage pipe were purchased. The only specialists needed were the asphalt paving crew. Mike did most of the work in the evening and on the occasional weekend over the course of several months. Mike plans to replace an old concrete sidewalk and stairs as soon as a cache of inexpensive or free reclaimed paving bricks or flat stones become available.
Initially, Mike planned to complete all the work in a few weeks. However, he underestimated how long the project would take. Without a complete landscape design drafted before work began, it was hard to calculate the labor needed to complete the project.