Beautify Your Backyard

Beautify Your Backyard


Drive through any residential neighborhood and you’ll likely see plenty of well-kept home fronts. Real estate agents know that “curb appeal” can be a key factor in selling a home.

But what about the backyard? Many times, that plot of ground is just sort of there. And that’s a shame. The backyard represents part of an investment you’ve made in your home and dressing it up can help maximize its value.

John Talago, owner of Chestnut Hill Landscape Contractors, Inc. in Center Valley, offers many general tips about expanding living and entertaining space, creating an oasis of beauty, or simply increasing property values.

“People have many motivations for re-doing the backyard,” Talago said. “It might be to replace something that’s at the end of its useful life—a cracked patio, for example, or a rotting deck. You might have kids, or a dog, and want to provide a safe place outdoors, or correct a drainage problem.” Or the kids have moved out, and you can finally create an oasis for just the two of you.

No matter what your goal, your best first step is to do your homework. You wouldn’t just jump into adding a room, so neither should you take a slapdash approach to enhancing your backyard.

Start by looking into local zoning laws, deed restrictions, and other constraints. The results could impact the project regardless of budget or scope of plans. Neighborhood rules can come into play, as well, Talago said. For example, Allentown’s historical architectural review board has a 52-page guide for repairing or replacing everything from roofs and walls to doors and lighting fixtures within its jurisdiction.

Once you’ve established those general parameters, you can focus on the project itself. “One thing seems to be always popular,” Talago said. “And that’s some sort of hard surface, like a deck or patio, because it provides extra space for homeowners to enjoy the outside.” Even the simplest can be a good gathering place for friends and family. Adding a roof or other form of barrier can mitigate inclement weather, and a heater allows use of the space during cooler months.

Two elemental forces—fire and water—are often incorporated into backyard makeovers. But complex water features, such as elaborate fountains, ponds, and falls, are declining in popularity. “People still like the sound of water, so a bubbling decorative urn can be a good substitution,” Talago said.

Likewise, outdoor fire pits can range from a simple ring of boulders to full fireplaces. “There are options to fit any budget,” he said, “but be sure to think through your plans.” You might have visions of a large fire pit, but that can be like owning a pool table, he added. It becomes a destination and its size can dominate the space. Allowing enough room for guests to move safely is part of design.

The organic aspects of a backyard makeover have similar considerations. “Landscaping is much like decorating a room,” Talago said; each element should work by itself as well as with all the others.

Your intentions can point the way. “Big patio containers might be exactly the look you want. Well-placed trees or shrubs can buffer weather, provide shade, or enhance your privacy,” he said. Water tolerant plants like willow trees might be the perfect solution for soggy spots of the lawn.

Talago says clients often ask him, “How soon can you start?” He prefers to ask his clients, “When do you want this to be finished?”

When a target date’s been established, his crew develops a reverse timeline, factoring in design time, permit acquisition, materials purchase and delivery, construction hours, and other necessary activities. “That way, we come up with a realistic schedule, and sometimes the proposed target date just isn’t feasible,” he said.

Perhaps a spa or pool installation is part of the plan a few years after a major landscaping job is finished; a good design will accommodate that future addition. “If you plan those stages carefully, each one will look complete in itself,” Talago said.

References from satisfied customers, when selecting a landscape contractor, are important, he offers. Be sure the contractor has adequate amounts of necessary insurance; and don’t hesitate to ask questions. He also recommends educating yourself about various aspects of the job with online tutorials or informative literature from industry trade groups.

And be wary of combo packages (such as “three trees and four bushes for $XXX”). Every property has specific conditions, and each owner has specific intentions, so a one-size-fits-all approach might not work for you.


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