Tract-House Owner Wants a Look at the Shady Side of Life

Question: We recently bought a large tract house that has no landscaping, not even a tree. In talking with friends we find they’ve spent hundreds of dollars--in fact, thousands of dollars, hiring professionals to plant their yards. We can’t afford that, and furthermore, we don’t mind doing much of the work ourselves. The question is where can we get advice?

Answer: You can’t expect to become an expert overnight, but you can do much of the planning and work yourselves.

I can’t emphasize planning too much: considerations of the path of the sun in different seasons, wind directions, the ultimate girth and sprawl of shade trees, drainage and underground wiring and sprinklers.


Planning requires a lot of reading. The public library will have some books to help you, and while you’re there, you can get addresses of seed companies from which you can order catalogues.

And finally, I would recommend buying one of the most comprehensive books I’ve ever run across: “The Complete Backyard Planner” by L. Donald Meyers. It has 278 pages, costs $17.50 and is published by Charles Scribner’s Sons. If your bookstore doesn’t have it, ask that it be ordered for you.

If your yard is 10 square feet or 10 acres, the book has something to offer. Just as many homeowners attempt to make every square foot of their houses functional, Meyers deals with the same goals in the great outdoors.

“My purpose . . . throughout the book,” he says, “is to concentrate on overall design and planning.” With that premise, he takes the reader from the early stages of drawing up a plan, through outdoor wiring and lighting. And along the way, he covers such subjects as trees and hedges, grass and groundcovers, gardens, water management, swimming pools and ponds, planning and building decks and patios, outdoor kitchens, walls, fences, walks and driveways.

Among the nearly 200 photographs and illustrations are suggestions for selecting foundation plantings and the placement of shrubs and trees as well as treatments for chimneys and inside and outside corners of the house.

About the time you get caught up in Meyers’ expertise on plants, he moves into construction techniques for patios, decks and fences. And even though the expressed purpose of the book is for planning, there are descriptions and instructions for some projects that are detailed enough for even a novice do-it-yourselfer.

With all the yard work you have ahead of you, some time with this book will probably save you many times the price of the book by steering you away from costly mistakes.

Dale Baldwin will answer remodeling questions of general interest on this page. Send your questions to Home Improvement, Real Estate Department, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053. Baldwin cannot answer questions individually. Snapshots of successful do-it-yourself projects may be submitted but cannot be returned.