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Say the word renovation, and visions of kitchen remodel ing leap to mind. We tend to forget that garden landscapes need updating, too. While we are willing to replace a sofa when it becomes lumpy and misshapen, we are not as likely to replace the overgrown shrub in our outdoor living space (hort-speak for "yard"). Yet rejuvenating a tired landscape can bring a greater return than remodeling a kitchen or bath.

Okay, so where to begin? Do not drive to the nursery to buy new plants. That method is guaran-teed to cost you pots of money with no positive effect. It is much better to plan ahead and save for the project that will have a major impact on improving your landscape.

FIRST, make a list of wants and needs.

Do you need more entertaining space outdoors? How about a garden shed to store tools? Where will the basketball hoop go? (Not next to Mom’s prized roses!)

SECOND, decide what style you want for your landscape.

There are so many choices! Take a few evenings to drool your way through gardening magazines. Clip out pictures that appeal to you. Put them in a note-book or on a bulletin board. Look for common themes or repetition in the pictures. This can be a tremen-dous help toward editing the vast number of options and helping you identify your style.

THIRD, do a site analysis of your yard (I mean... outdoor living space.)

Skip this step at your peril! You need an under-standing of what physical problems you must solve and what conditions exist for plants. Find a copy of your house plat in the paperwork from when you purchased your house or call the county’s Zoning and Permit Review Board at 703-222-1082. Enlarge the plan and make several copies.

Now sharpen your pencil and get out your tape measure. This doesn’t have to be a pretty drawing, just to convey the information you need. Mark the direction “North” on the map and look where the sun is at different times of day; write it down. Draw circles around problem areas: bad drainage, difficult slope, overgrown trees and shrubs blocking sidewalks or windows.

Where are the water spigots, meters, heat pump? Mark down sidewalks and informal paths. Call Miss Utility (1-800-552-7001) and have them mark your utility lines (or visit the website at www.missutilityofvirginia.com.) If you have a Homeowners’ Association, check the rules and regulations about fences, sheds and decks.

This information can save you a lot of money and grief. Now get out tracing paper and place your wants and needs over the plat information. Just draw circles of what you want in each area. You’ll quickly see that footings for a deck can’t go over utility lines or a prickly holly in front of the water spigot.

FOURTH, prioritize.

What is the most important change you want to make? (Put in a slate patio?) What needs to happen first? (Remove existing overgrown shrubs?) Research costs and set a budget. Will you do it in stages or get a home equity loan and do it all at once? What can you reasonably do yourself and what must you get a professional to do?

FIFTH, find reliable landscape professionals to do the work you can’t.

Interview several, asking for references. Go see work they have done. Determine who is most willing to work with you and listen to your ideas. This will avoid getting a “formula” landscape, using the same 10 plants regardless of location, house or owner. If trees or shrubs are to be removed, be sure the professional is licensed and bonded.

With the most important work done using your brain, you are ready to update your landscape with a careful plan, undertaking the transformation in afford-able stages and solving existing problems. A tired land-scape CAN grow into beautiful outdoor living space! As for the sofa, how about reupholstering?

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