Makeover Step 1 – Setting Goals

As we’ve learned in the Five Laws of Landscape Design, good design starts with goals.  So Step 1 is always about defining your goals. Creating a solid goal statement for your yard’s transformation is the most important part of the project.  Give this step lots of thought.

You may already have an idea of what your new yard will look like.  This is typical for most of us who want to create new spaces.  However, this is a sure way to get yourself into trouble.  Here’s a very important tip:

Always set your goal first.  Deciding on a design without setting a goal first is always a mistake!

This is one of the biggest and most common mistakes landscapers and homeowners are making these days.  People think of designing as “sprucing up” their property or creating “curb appeal”.  They completely forget to set a goal.  Setting the goal is so important that we’ll walk you through the goal setting process in detailed steps to make sure you get it right.  So…resist that temptation to jump to the next section and let’s learn how to set a design goal.

What is a design goal?

It’s very tempting to see a photo in a magazine and immediately want to copy it into our own back yard.  But, take my word on this,  this is NOT how great properties are made!

Before starting the design process, we have to know why and to what purpose we’re designing.  Whether we know it or not, we are trying to solve a problem by designing.  The design goal should state how your plan will solve the problem.  That’s it!  The trick is to dig deep and try to find out what the underlying problem is that you’re trying to solve. So, your goal will describe a solution to a problem.   Here some examples of good and not so good goal statements:

“Make my yard beautiful” NOT SO GOOD

“De-stress my life by creating a relaxing retreat on my property” GOOD

“Put in an outdoor dining area” NOT SO GOOD

“Entertain more by creating a place to entertain in my yard” GOOD

“Put in a fire pit” NOT SO GOOD

“Make my yard the place where my kids’ friends gather, so I don’t have to drive them everywhere”  GOOD

You get the idea.  The goal statement is the why behind the design.

Now you understand what a design goal is, here are some steps to help you find yours.

1. Clean the Slate

To begin, think of your entire property as a blank slate. At this point, avoid picturing your transformed yard.  I know this is hard to do, but it will get you into trouble if you’ve got a design already in mind before you’ve developed your goal statement.  It’s very important to understand exactly what you want your yard to do for you before you start thinking of specific items you want to include in your design.  So, if you can manage it, clear that slate and let’s start creating a goal.

2. Ask questions

To get to a complete goal statement, you’ll start by asking yourself some key questions.  This will help you to uncover the problems your design should address.  Here is a good starting list of questions:

What? – What will your transformed yard do to improve your life?

Why? – Why do you want this for your yard?  This one can get a little personal, but be honest with yourself.  You should have already given some good thought to why you are transforming your property.

Who? – Who will use/appreciate your yard? Get very specific here. Will it be just you?  You and your family?  Small groups of friends?  Big social gatherings?  Kids?  Adults?

Where? – Where on your property will you be designing? The entire property?  A specific part?

When? – When will the property be used/appreciated?  During the day or evening?  Spring, summer, fall or winter?  On weekends or weekdays after work?

How? – How will people access and enjoy your yard?  What will they be doing? Will they be eating around an outdoor table or possibly sunbathing in lounge chairs?  How will they get in and out of your yard?  How are you enjoying your new yard?

Some of these questions may seem to have obvious answers, but it will be worthwhile to give them some thought.  It will make it much easier to lay out your design later.  We’ll apply this same set of questions to all aspects of the design.

Remember, you’re trying to get to the root of the problems you wish to solve with a new yard.  So there is no set list of questions.  Keep asking until you feel you truly understand what you want to accomplish and how it will improve your life. If you’re designing your own yard, ask these questions to yourself and of everyone living in your home.  You may be surprised at the answers you get.  Remember, even if you’re the one driving your yard transformation, everyone that lives in your home will use the property.  It’s better to get a complete understanding of how everyone will fit into the new design.

3. Your daily Routine

Another good exercise is to walk yourself through your daily routine.  How do you get from your car to your house?  What windows do you look out of most in your house?  Where do you relax in your house and in your yard?  Where do children play in your yard?  Your daily routine will tell you a lot about how to design your yard.

4. Put Yourself in the Picture

Picture the new you  after your yard is transformed.  How is your life better?  Are you entertaining guests more often?  Are you relaxing alone in a private getaway?  Are you hosting a garden tour at your home for the local garden club?

5. Can “beautiful” be a goal?

At this point, you may be asking  “Can’t I just have a goal to make my yard beautiful?”.  Of course you can use the design process to beautify your property, but you need to have a goal that shows how that will improve the way you live in the property.  Without that aspect of the goal, your design will have no harmony. Think of it like packing for a vacation.  By packing the right clothes, you’re “designing” your look for the trip.  To make the right choices, you need details of the trip.  Will there be formal events?  What if I need to go on a hike?  Will there be an opportunity to go swimming?   These are all things you’d need to know to dress yourself well.  Now, think about packing for a vacation where you have no idea where you’re going, no idea what the expectations are.  When you ask what clothes you’d need, the only response you get is to look “beautiful”!  How would you pack?  It would be very unlikely that you’d pack well and be prepared for the trip.  The same is true for designing as landscape.  “Beautiful” isn’t enough information to act as a goal by itself.

While “beautiful” may not be a goal on its own, beautiful plantings and gardens may be features of your design.  So don’t worry, there will be plenty of opportunity to create beautiful spaces in your design.

Whew!  That was a lot to go through, but you should now have a firm idea of your design goal.

Go ahead and set your goal!  Don’t go forward without it!

For your own yard, the goal statement should feel good to read.  It should fully describe what your new yard will do for you.  If it doesn’t, you need to go back and modify your goal statement.   Once you’ve set the goal statement, it will be difficult to change it moving forward.

Your goal statement should give you a feeling of confidence to go ahead.  Most people consider a complete yard redesign to be much too difficult for the average homeowner.  By now, you’re seeing that it’s possible for anyone.  I find that it helps to think of the finished design as something that already exists.  We just need to uncover it.  Somewhere in your mind there is a vision of your transformed yard.  You just may not be able to see it completely at first.  By first defining your goal statement, you should start to feel your completed design being uncovered bit by bit.  With every step it will become more visible.

Next: Set the Style