Order in the Courtyard : Talking Plants Blog What Would Eve Do, Part Three
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Order in the Courtyard

What Would Eve Do, Part Three

No matter how many books you read of the GARDEN DESIGN MADE SIMPLE! variety, no matter how many measurements you take or design principles you follow, there is nothing and I mean nothing easy about designing a space, let alone one that will be constantly changing every month of the year.

Perhaps I should clarify: there is nothing easy about designing an outdoor space alone. If How-To books work for you (they make me rigid and stupid), so much the better, you don't need to rope a lot of people into your process. But ask what Eve would do, and she'd answer, Brainstorm.

Legions escorted me along the design road: thank you designer friends Michael Schultz, John Forsgren and shvester Susan Levine). Above, the folks that helped me nail it: meet Nani Waddoups (left) and Roy Oudinot. Roy is a landscape contractor who gave me quotes and graciously handed me over to another contractor who specialized in what I finally chose. Nani (she picked my house colors two years ago) is an all-around, class-act designer with great taste who I happily paid by the hour. In the middle of the picture is a trompe l'oeil by an artist named Simple. This piece has lived everywhere I have for the last 14 years. photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR hide caption

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photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR

You don't have to brainstorm with experts. All it takes is a few imaginative and generous friends. But if what you want seems beyond the scope of casual converstaion, scout around for a local garden that wows you and contact either its contractor or designer.

I don't suggest you lure a whole lot of professionals over to your house and pick their brains without paying them for their time; what goes around comes around and you'll end up on the Avoid This Client list (word travels fast in the trade).

But I do think it's perfectly kosher to tell a designer you're soliciting different ideas and would like to buy an hour's consultation. (You could even ask if your payment might be deducted when you finally commit to that designer.)

After 90 minutes with Nani and Roy (pictured above), a lot of great ideas were proposed and rejected. Among the many things I have come away with are three questions worth answering when you take on a re-design:

1. What's your budget? Mine was $5K. And it was unrealistic.

2. What's driving your design? Could be the budget, could be a fantasy. Mine was the fountain and the narrow lot; it said to me, courtyard. You may need a playground for both kids and adults ... a formal vegetable garden instead of lawn ... a way to make a small space look larger, or a large space feel more intimate.

3. What do you want/don't want? I wanted tidy, easy to walk on, and dog-resistant. I didn't want to weed between pavers, I didn't want anything tracked into the house, and I wanted more hardscape than plants (my plant playground is the front yard). Also, I wanted the color of the hardscape to wed the house and fountain. Not much, right? But it helped me focus. Keep in mind that knowing what you don't want is an excellent place to begin.

And so begins Eve -- with grids, rebar and the ever-present beagle, curled into a construction frame that will soon be home to a tree. Can you see where I'm going here? At least what my hardscape choice turned out to be? photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR hide caption

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photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR

After meeting with Nani and Roy and getting Roy's flagstone estimate ($8K-9K, too pricey and conservative for me), I began leafing through courtyard/small garden books and exploring the online work of well-known landscape designers. Let me say loud and clear I owe a great deal to a woman whose work I've never actually seen but have heard about, Bay Area designer Shirley Alexandra.

A few weeks later, I had finally envisioned my courtyard. The question now, did I have the guts to trust what I saw?

In our next installment of What Would Eve Do: tackling the "C" word. Commitment.