#CanYouDigIt: Landscaping Costs, Drought-Tolerant Plants, and More (Episode 1)

Posted on January 22, 2020

Yardzen introduces #CanYouDigIt, a new series on Instagram! Our Design Director, Kevin Lenhart, an M.A. in Landscape Architecture from UC Berkeley, answers YOUR landscape design questions.

Watch episode 1 in our highlights, and send us your questions for next week’s segment!


A modern take on a formal garden in this Yardzen backyard

A modern take on a formal garden in this Yardzen backyard

Question: I love modern yards, and he loves formal gardens. How do we create a modern-formal garden mashup?

If you and your partner have different stylistic preferences, for example, one of you likes a modern aesthetic and the other likes a more traditional look, that is not a hopeless case. Enter the modern formal garden!

What I advise in that scenario is to start breaking each style down by the different components that represent that style and see what they have in common.

What do you see when you look at a modern design? What are the elements in there? I’m thinking concrete pavers, monolithic blocks of plantings with minimal blooms, a lot of emphasis on texture. Same thing with a formal design—what do you see there? Oftentimes you’ll see a lot of symmetry, sculpted plants, and blooms restricted to a certain color.

Once you start boiling it down to these essential elements of each style, you will start to find an overlap. You’re basically creating a Venn diagram to see where two (or more) different styles overlap. You’ll start to see what two different styles have in common. Those components will then become the building blocks of what you will base your design on.

Question: What is the average landscaping cost for the backyard?

To ask what average landscaping costs of a backyard is a tricky question. It ranges so much. (Here’s our blog post about it!) Every site is very different and what people want to get out of their designs is very different.

If you’re looking to do a landscape on the simpler end of things, you’re going to be in the $20,000-$30,000 range, and that’s going to be focused mostly on planting and hardscaping. If you have a sloped property or other property conditions that require retaining walls, that is going to drive your price up more.

In the $50,000-$60,000 range, you’re looking at design elements like pergolas, outdoor kitchens, and hot tubs, in addition to planting and hardscaping. Up around $100,000, then you’re getting more into custom elements in your design.

This is not to say that any one of these features can’t be included in a lower-budget design, but it will require some smart budgeting. If you have a small budget, but would like a more high-end element, like a pergola or kitchen, then the rest of your design will have to accommodate that by being very simple, minimal, and restrained.

I actually really enjoy working on lower-budget designs because there are some strong constraints you run up against that push you as a designer to figure out what the most essential, simple, strong moves are that you can make to create a powerful design that establishes a really strong and welcoming sense of place without having to break the bank.


A drought-tolerant backyard that is decidedly not desert-y and looks great with any style of home

A drought-tolerant backyard that is decidedly not desert-y and looks great with any style of home

Question: How does one make a drought-tolerant front yard for a 2-story New England-style house without making it look desert-y?

There is a common misconception that drought-tolerant equals a certain desert-y aesthetic. Drought-tolerant really just refers to the water requirements and climate behavior of a given plant. Drought tolerant plants in California and West Texas are adapted to do well with minimal water and to thrive with minimal care in our arid climate with hot summers.

Within that category of plants that are adapted to this climate and can tolerate low water conditions, there is a whole range of aesthetics. So, you can find shrubby bushes, that would emulate a more traditional looking plant, like a boxwood. You can find deciduous plants that have color that would be a drought-tolerant stand-in for some of the plants you would typically associate with a traditional landscape.

Question: If you can only afford to do your yard in phases, where do you start?

If you can only afford to install a design in phases, my advice to clients is to focus on how you plan to use the space and think about where the most valuable spaces will be. What are the most important uses your hoping to get out of your yard? If you can prioritize those, that will be a roadmap for how you should phase your project.

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