Want to landscape your property but not sure the best way to proceed? Here’s a step by step overview that is useful whether you’re doing it yourself or hiring a professional.

Before you can design anything, you need a list of what you want (a Program), a drawing of what’s there now (a Site Plan), research into homeowner association and/or city rules that will restrict your options (Due Diligence), and panoramic photos of your property. Select any item to download a checklist or sample drawing.
proram checklist 1program checklist 2 PROGRAM CHECKLIST

A program is architectural jargon for making a list of everything you want to accomplish on your property. Read through our checklist to remind yourself of things you might have missed. The downside of a list like this? Be careful with all the dessert choices right in front of you. It seems obvious, but the easiest way to save money is to not check the circles.

Don’t think of “landscaping” as plants. You should include everything. Your top two priorities to talk over are: will there be any significant new structures such as a guest house, pool or patio and will the footprint of the house itself change because of plans to add air-conditioned square footage?

Making a list gives you or your landscape architect guidelines for a drawing that summarizes your long-term goals. The advantage of having a Master Plan is that with one vision articulated up front, money that’s spent over time will add up to a coherent finished product in the end.


A landscape plan starts with a site plan of what’s there now. It’s important to get it right.

There’ve been some disastrous results from bad measurements. Swimming pools that don’t fit, a tree in the way of a new patio, or not enough room to back up your car.

One option is to hire a professional land surveyor who can do a great job but typically at a cost of several thousand dollars. Another option is to do it yourself. Always start by trying to get a copy of the architectural plans used to build your house.

Draw your site measurements on graph paper with eight squares per inch. By counting the squares (8 squares = 8 feet) your drawing will be about right without any special drafting equipment.

I draw “things” in red pencil and dimensions in blue. It’s easier to interpret when I start drafting from my field measurements.
site plan SITE PLAN

Here’s a sample site plan showing the existing house, walks, and walls. It was drawn using the site measurements above.

If you didn’t take drafting in high school and the prospect of turning your site measurements into a finished document like this is intimidating, here are two alternatives.

1. Hire an architecture student or anyone else you can get to do it and (most importantly) do a careful, accurate job.

2. Have us do it.


site plan

Use this checklist to be sure you’ve included everything on your site plan. Some items may seem so obvious as to be unnecessary but don’t succumb to the temptation to leave anything out. Every item is important.

Setbacks are the distances your municipality will require you to keep walls and buildings away from the property line. If you can get someone on the phone, a quick way to get your setbacks is to call the planning department. Give ‘em your address and ask for your zoning, setbacks, and right of way.

due diligence

Due diligence essentially means doing your homework to find out what road blocks the City and your Homeowner’s Association (HOA) have placed in your path.

If your property is in Maricopa County, the Planning and Development Department should be of some assistance. Plat maps may sometimes be obtained from The County Assessor's website. Click MCR# once you locate your property on the GIS map.

Some other helpful links include the City of Phoenix Zoning Maps and the City of Phoenix Zoning Ordinance.

site photos SITE PHOTOS

Do a photographic survey of key views of your site. If your lens is not wide angle enough, several shots may be collaged together. This will help you or your landscape architect remember what the different areas of the site look like while you’re drawing. And, when it’s all done and the trees have grown, you’ll have a perfect set of before photos.

In addition to panoramic shots that show the big picture, take individual shots of the electric meter, water meter, sewer cleanouts, gas meter, telephone and cable stands, and the threshold at all exterior doors.
office visit OFFICE VISIT

If you have already drawn your site plan, taken the photos, written a program and done some due diligence research.

A $50 office visit is an option. Or… You can ask us to come out to your home for a lump sum fee of $100. Multi-family and commercial site visits are $200. We can evaluate your place from the site plan and photos and offer you advice. Evenings or weekends are best.

These two came in and drank the kool aid.
site visit SITE VISIT

Or… You can ask us to come out for a visit for a lump sum fee of $100. We can make specific design suggestions as well as quote you a fee to draw the site plan. It helps to read through the program checklist and pull together any photos or magazine articles of things you like. This was the first day I met the Hachtels.
schematic designSCHEMATIC DESIGN

Schematic design is architectural jargon for first sketches that emphasize ideas which may or may not fly. Complex jobs always start with schematic design. An owner may look at initial sketches and say, “That’s it. Genius. Don’t bother me with costs just build it.” So far, we have not met that client.

Many changes, refinements, or alternatives can be studied in the schematic stage but a word of caution; you can spend too much money on design. The goal is to build something and having clear documentation so that everyone knows what’s going on, is essential. But, it’s a balancing act. Fairly simple projects may skip immediately to a master plan revealed at a first meeting with a detailed budget. More complex projects may not address money initially at all while looking at schematic design alternatives.

Even if you plan to hire a professional don’t hesitate to draw your own plan if you have ideas where things should go. The down side is that a weak designer may parrot back bad ideas.
master plan MASTER PLAN

With your program, site plan, and photos in hand a Master Plan can be crafted. The idea is to create a place for every feature you want, and to keep you focused on your goals, even if they must happen in phases.

I titled this one “Hotel” to cleverly protect the “Hachtels” identity but their witness protection program has expired so we‘ve gone to their real names. With the exception of the umbrellas we did everything pretty much the way it’s drawn.


Hachtel Home by Bill Tonnesen The day we started.
Hachtel Home by Bill Tonnesen Just poured the new entry. It's an easy fix for the awkwardness of squeezing past cars parked in the driveway to get to the front door.
Hachtel Home by Bill Tonnesen We added a new low wall to mount an address, create pockets for landscaping and a sense of transition at the entry.
Hachtel Home by Bill Tonnesen The aloes are the " Blue Elf" variety from one of our favorite nurseries, Mountain States. They have a huge and helpful website,
Hachtel Home by Bill Tonnesen And that is their new front yard. We like lawns that are very flat.
Hachtel Home by Bill Tonnesen Starting on the backyard. They already had lots of good greenery when we arrived.
Hachtel Home by Bill Tonnesen New patios for furniture ate up some lawn area but what was left in the middle was way better.
Hachtel Home by Bill Tonnesen The new trellis supports a big, pendulous, Banks rose.
Hachtel Home by Bill Tonnesen All done with new privacy and shade on the east side. The fabric is white Sunbrella. The plants with the spiky leaves in the raised bed on the left are artichokes. Try to allow a 12' x 12' minimum area for dining and/or conversation areas.
Hachtel Home by Bill Tonnesen Before looking west. Nice trees but we're still seeing too much neighbor and the yucky, ubiquitous fence block wall.
Hachtel Home by Bill Tonnesen Formed for concrete.
Hachtel Home by Bill Tonnesen Once the fabric is on, behind this panel is a perfect place to store junk.
Hachtel Home by Bill Tonnesen You can still see the neighbor to the left but at 8' tall these panels are helping a ton to create a private world even if we (me too) are stuck in suburbia.

The work took eight weeks and cost about $36k including the front and back.

Masonry $6,000
Concrete $6,000
Landscaping $10,000
Lighting $2,000
Demo $2,000
Vine Trellis $2,000
Shade Fabric $3,000
Panels $5,000


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