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Planning a Backyard

Posted by xica_da_silva (My Page) on
Sat, Aug 25, 12 at 13:59

Now seems like a good time for me to start developing my backyard- while I'm waiting for the weather to cool down! The good thing is, it's more or less a blank slate- except for the decorative rocks and the small (6ft x 7.5ft) experimental garden. The dimensions are 54ft wide and 36ft length, not as small as many historic home backyards. I think it could handle a larger shade tree, or maybe several smaller ones?

The garden is surrounded by some left-over pavers, so those can easily be moved. Everything in the garden can also be scrapped if needed, except for a very lovely baby crepe myrtle which seems to have passed its first year with flying colors- literally! Love it and am tempted to buy more!

I must say that I sort of rue the day that I bought the rocks, because the Bermuda grass weeds are so hard to dig out. And I think that with the rocks being in the back, which is a South exposure, it just makes the environment much hotter all around. Boooo!

Nevertheless, I think I can work with it, and just move the rocks out of the way where needed. What I'd really love to have is either a big centrally placed shade tree that will discourage Bermuda growth, and allow me to get some filtered shade to grow more plants, or have several smaller size trees with more variety.

Regardless of how small, I'd also love to have a garden path- kind of like a botanical garden- in which you can walk through different areas and see different kinds of plants! I want it to be thoughtful, artistic, pretty. I know this may take years to develop but I am patient. I just want advice on where is a good place to start?

Did any of you attempt to draw on paper before planting things? Is it better to place a shade tree(s) on the western-ish side(assuming it's a tree that can handle it) of the backyard to give the coveted afternoon shade to the rest of the garden? Is it better to have one big trade tree in the center of the yard or several small ones- does it matter?!
Anyhow, any advice on how to get started with the pre-planting design stage would be greatly appreciated! Your thoughts?

Btw, this photo was taken from the West looking eastward- the backyard is South-side of the house.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Planning a Backyard

You didn't mention if you want to go native, subtropical, etc. I can see the pine trees, maybe one native tree and one mimosa type tree in your neighborhood?

I like native plants for many reasons, one of which is that they are the most hardy in our conditions. I would plant a number of native trees for shade which will grow faster (one single great shade tree would take a long time to provide significant shade) and allow a more interesting layout. If you aren't interested in harvesting mesquite pods for food then perhaps look into Crown Jewel mesquite which is a newer cultivar that is seedless. You can also get seedless desert willow.

I do like rock but have noticed how much heat it retains. So I try to put in low water use groundcover that will help with a lush look and take away some of the heat. Bermuda grass will be a long battle so be vigilant!

APS, SRP, and the Phoenix Permaculture Alliance put on shade tree workshops where you can learn about how to choose a spot for your tree to get the most benefits for your home. You will also get three free young trees to plant on the W, E, or S sides of your home.

Here is a link that might be useful: Lush xeriscape, Lancaster residence


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RE: Planning a Backyard

Wanted to also post this link and say Yes to drawing out landscape on paper. Specifically I take a screen cap of the google map of the house and then place circles at the mature size of the plants and put them on the drawing. See where the canopies are going to go when the plants are full size, and try to create a nice design from above first.

Here is a link that might be useful: Low Water Use Landscape Design


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RE: Planning a Backyard

I agree with greyongray, plotting it all out on paper, where you can move things around a bit is a good idea. My suggestion is also to not put in permanent structures or landscaping until you have been in the house a while. This way you will have a feel for where you walk around and where it's comfortable to sit and relax. When we first moved into this house my husband was anxious to put in the horseshoe pits. A few weeks later, the sun's path moved a bit and in the afternoons, prime playing time, we were throwing and standing in full sun. He moved them.

Good luck - a blank slate will be fun to develop. Keep us posted on your developments.


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RE: Planning a Backyard

Thanks for the great advice, all!

Greyongray, you were asking about native versus subtropical, etc. Perhaps it would look odd or tacky to some, but I like the idea of using 'mixed-media' for my garden...but within reason. By that I mean, I'm not crazy enough to try to grow orchids, coffee, or cacao, stuff that will totally flop. But I'd also like to try some exotic plants from other desert/dry/hot locations that are rarely seen here,that have the potential to do well...i.e. use a wider palette of plants than what is normally seen in most yards here in Phoenix. And I don't have an HOA, so why not? lol Although I respect and even own my share of the ubiquitous Oleander, Lantana, etc I'd like my garden to have an element of surprise, too. So, maybe a crazy combo of cactus, succulents, tropicals(food-producing, preferably, such as a mango tree), etc.

One crazy idea I have is that I want a Brazilian-themed garden (due to a love I have for the country and its music). Now, when most people think of Brazil, they think of tropical Rio or the Amazon jungle, but in the Northeast, there are actually many desert plants that might do well here. In fact, my Pilosocereus azureas (blue cactus) is said to have originated in Northeast Brazil. So, if I could find other cactus, succulents, shrubs, trees etc that have a Brazilian connection that would be cool(another one that comes to mind is the Jacaranda tree- which I adore, in spite of the short blooming season). I was thinking that in honor of Rio's black and white wavy beach sidewalks, I could make a winding path through the garden...but I need more time to think it all through!

Any more ideas...do you think my idea of a Brazilian theme is crazy or what? lol


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RE: Planning a Backyard

Mary- thanks for the tip regarding no permanent structures! I guess my indecisiveness sometimes has its good points when it comes to that. lol Ever since I was burglarized last Christmas, I waver between getting a block fence versus iron wrought fence versus no fence at all. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

And yes, even with my pathetic drawing skills (even using electronic programs!), I think it would be helpful for me to try to map it out.


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RE: Planning a Backyard

Do you know the dimensions of your yard? You'll need that to draw it out.

There is *undoubtedly* a HUGE range of plants that you just don't see around neighborhoods very often - people stick with the tried and true.

As far as your Brazilian theme - I'm trying Dyckias (there's some waiting for me at the post office, hope they're okay!!!) that you might be interested in exploring - I have to run, but more later!


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RE: Planning a Backyard

Brazil theme sounds fun. If it's what you like, go for it. I don't have a theme really, just planted what I wanted to try, where I thought it had the best chance to survive. I would shade that west side, where you get the hot afternoon sun, if it was me, I would put several trees back there and also along the south side. The sun, is intense in summer and even desert plants like the dappled shade. I would put trees in first as they take so long to provide shade. Then just add whatever I liked..have fun..


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RE: Planning a Backyard

Do you know the dimensions of your yard? You'll need that to draw it out.

There is *undoubtedly* a HUGE range of plants that you just don't see around neighborhoods very often - people stick with the tried and true.

As far as your Brazilian theme - I'm trying Dyckias (there's some waiting for me at the post office, hope they're okay!!!) that you might be interested in exploring - I have to run, but more later!


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RE: Planning a Backyard

Oops - sorry, I now see the dimensions in your original post.... duh...


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RE: Planning a Backyard

I've never been to Brazil so I have no idea what they have there, but no you are not crazy in the slightest to want to mix it up and ditch the oleander/lantana palette!

Maybe a hong kong orchid tree, a couple in my neighborhood that seem to be doing okay, and they look lush. Love elephant's food because they just won't die on me (I have a... chartreuse thumb).

Here is a link that might be useful: Hong Kong Orchids


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RE: Planning a Backyard

I wanted a lush look as well, and just planted what I like and thought had a chance. I have tons of petunias through out fall,winter and spring, and I love hollyhocks, so lots of them, and planted stuff cheek to jowl, lol..so they would help cool one another, it almost looks like home, lol..


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RE: Planning a Backyard

Sounds lovely, quotetheraven.

I love the leaf shape of the Bauhanias (HK Orchids) but I remember the ones down at the Biltmore - their leaves were always edged with brown and the blooms were always drooping - I wonder if it was their water or the specific environment, since the ones near you look good, G on G. I just always assumed they were survivors but not flourish-ers here.


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RE: Planning a Backyard

Hi everyone! Thanks for all the suggestions!

Regarding the HK Orchid tree- funny this came up because I already have one in my front yard and it's flourishing right now, after struggling to establish in the spring! It seemingly can't get enough of the heat we've had this summer- new leaves still sprouting like crazy! And it's just a pipsqueak...maybe 6 ft?- in full sun. The abundance of rain water has probably helped. It looks so pretty and green with it's heart-shaped leaves! But yes, I've seen many that look ragged around town. I think someone here once suggested feeding it a little chelated iron? Haven't tried that yet, but will if it falters.

Another tree I've had my eye on is a silk floss- the most gorgeous example I've seen is on the Banner Desert Hospital campus near the 2145 bldg if you know where that is, and want to see a fine specimen!lol It ought to be in a museum somewhere...so HUGE and happy! Don't know much about it but It has such perfect symmetry and those lovely star-shaped blooms.

But yes, getting some trees planted on the West and South sides are first priorities! Not sure what those will be yet.

Like I've seen others remark here lately...I can't wait for the fall!!!


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