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Writer and gardener Nan Fischer works out a plan for her outdoor living space this year. What will your yard look like? Here are some of Nan’s ideas to help spark some of your own.

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January means my imagination is churning out ideas for yard and garden projects to take on throughout the year. I recently wrote about my dream home remodel, but I devote more creative energy to my yard.

As each of the last 16 years has gone by, I have watched my environs morph. The apple tree is about twice the size it was when I bought this house, and the apricot tree is spreading vigorously, too. The gravel spread in the fall of 2013 is settling in places, and I see other spots that could use a thick layer.

Fences have fallen over, mostly from our sometimes-vicious spring winds. Sections have been replaced piecemeal, but I really could use new fencing on the entire perimeter of the yard. After watching the roof of my shed get torn off by a 62mph wind one spring, I decided my dream fence is a row of railroad ties cemented several feet into the ground with latillas wired together between them.

I woke up this morning thinking of putting a shed close to the garden. Currently my tools are lined up against the wall of the house, and a shelf holds small things like hoses, hardware, and buckets of hand tools. This is convenient, but a shed close to where I would use those things makes much more sense.

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Walkways

I am eyeing a chance to make new walkways. A narrow concrete sidewalk ties the front of the house to the east side. In a triangular area created by that walkway and an L of the house is a native garden full of yuccas and cactus. I planted this area when I first moved in, and it is spilling over its boundaries. Stiff, sharp-pointed yucca leaves are weapons aimed at anyone walking by, and long, thin yucca-like bear grass leaves hanging in the path can trip you. Trust me….

I could remove the concrete, enlarge the garden area, and make a walkway of crusher fines a few feet out from where it is. Crusher fines are small pieces of crushed stone that pack down as hard as concrete. Spaces between the pieces let air and water seep into the ground, unlike concrete. This reduces storm run-off and erosion while letting nearby plants breathe and get water. The plants would have many years of growth before taking over the walkway again!

The dogs have made paths over the years, and I want to further define them so humans can maneuver them. Dogs are so smart! They know the best way to get from point A to point B. Too bad they are not landscape designers!

Parking

My house is at the end of the road, a term I use loosely. It’s a 20’ wide utility and ingress easement. I don’t have a driveway, per se. The road IS my driveway, and it comes to an abrupt end. There is a space beyond the ‘end’ to create a large turnaround and extra parking spaces. I would use crusher fines or permeated pavers, and I’d plant some shade trees on the north side. There is even room to build a carport/shed combo.

One thing to take into consideration is the pathway to the house and the kitchen door. Since the heaviest and most frequent thing we bring into the house from the car is groceries, the parking area needs to be close to the kitchen entry. Likewise, kitchens need to be conveniently placed for easy access from outside. I would have to work this parking area into my ‘New Pathways’ project.

ROI

Like any home improvement project, there has to be a high return on your investment (ROI). I am on a shared well. I called an appraiser to see if it would increase the value of my home if I drilled my own well. She said no, the water source has no effect on a home’s value. I can spend $15-20,000 on a well for my own gratification, but I won’t recoup that when I sell. Cross it off the list!

According to Bob Vila from This Old House, the highest ROI will come from decks, walkways, plantings, and exterior lighting. The home’s value will increase, and the investment recovered will be generous.

As January and February march on, I will keep making and altering lists of what I dream about doing, what is financially feasible, and what is practical on a seasonal timeline. I will take Bob Vila’s advice seriously, too.

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.