Front Yard Initiative - The Planning Phase

Now that fall has reluctantly arrived in New Orleans, I'm eager to get outside, enjoy the porch and yard, and work on my curb appeal. Over the last few months, I've been working on my FYI plans. If you didn't read my first post about the Front Yard Initiative, you can catch up on the background here.

After attending the FYI workshop and receiving my guidelines, I set to work measuring and designing. My tape measure got a lot of work as I paced around my 18'x150' lot and measured all the major features. Then I plotted everything out as best I could on the graph paper that FYI provided for depicting my existing yard and my desired plan for going gray to green. I'll admit it has been a long time since I sat down with pencils and sketched. It's been even longer since I pulled out the art box with the colored pencils and markers!

Once I had the basics down on paper, I added in the green infrastructure features to help manage water. My plan includes a permeable paver walkway in front, a french drain with gravel down the alley, and a rain barrel. Finally, I dug into researching plants for the small garden beds in front. This was the fun part of the planning phase. I pulled out my Southern Living Garden Book, debated the pros and cons of the native selections recommended by FYI, and scrolled through lots of nursery and gardening websites for images, growing conditions, and spacing information. Beyond the excellent resources provided by FYI, one of my favorite places for information on plants is the LSU Ag Center. Their Super Plants program takes the guesswork out of selecting landscaping plants that can handle the heat and humidity of Louisiana.

The hardest part of planning my design was exercising restraint regarding the plants and the overall vision for the front and back yard. I want all the flowers! I want a new fence! I want fruits and veggies! I have to remember that I can't do everything at once. My participation in the FYI program is a big project, but the full landscaping of my outdoor space will have to be done bit by bit over time. I managed to settle on a combination of native Louisiana irises, a small flowering shrub, such as an azalea, and some ground cover roses for the front. The giant gardenia on the corner of the lot will stay, of course. I'm lucky that much of the back yard already has a good foundation of beds and trees, along with a small permeable brick patio. The back of the yard where concrete will be removed will start out with some raised planting beds for veggies and cutting flowers. I'll also add some native ornamental vines to the back fence to replace the brushkiller vine that had taken over. Eventually, I will work on incorporating this space into the overall back yard landscaping plan, but I know it will need a lot of work to get there since it has been covered with weeds and concrete for so long.

Ready to see my amateur artwork? Here is the design plan for the front:
And here is the back:

My initial design and measurements were submitted to FYI in early September. After review, I was approved to start soliciting estimates from green-sector contractors in order to select a bid to make the plan a reality. This was definitely the tough part. New Orleans clearly has more demand than supply for landscaping and green infrastructure contractors. I filled out online forms, sent emails, and made lots of phone calls, but I only heard back from a handful of companies, and of those, a few took weeks to provide an estimate and/or could only undertake part of the project. FYI gives you a month to complete this phase of the program, but I needed to ask for an extension as I was still waiting on numbers from two companies as my deadline approached. Thankfully, the staff at Urban Conservancy was very understanding and gave me the time I needed to make an informed decision about my contractor.

Once my selected bid was submitted to FYI, their program team came out to do a site visit, measure, and take "before" photographs. They asked me a few questions about my design and my current experience with storm water on my property. Within 24 hours of my site visit, I was officially approved as a participant in the Front Yard Initiative, which means I'm eligible for the rebate program, and I had the green light to start the work. I'm excited to be working with Garden Environments, Inc.  for the concrete removal and installation of green infrastructure as outlined in my design plan. They were responsive and timely throughout the bid process, and they were the only responsive contractor who could do both the removal and installation phases. I will to do the planting myself as I'm itching to put my green-ish thumb to work. While I have a full year to complete the project for FYI, it's full steam ahead for my design!


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