Trying to restructure a small yard is harder than it seems like it should be. One of the biggest challenges is how hard it is to look away from the stuff that’s already there. We actually hired a designer and she did an amazing job at drawing in plants where a concrete path currently runs, or a patio in the middle of a camellia bush. Like I say, it shouldn’t be that hard to mentally rip out the camellia bush that’s falling over anyway, but somehow it is. Sadly, the designer, while good at seeing what could be there, had an annoying habit of putting plants that sounded great on paper, but turned out to be not what we wanted. Some used too much water, some were impossible to actually find in retail nurseries, and some were ugly. We tried to implement her design in the front yard and quickly gave up. Maybe if we had $20K to hand to someone and have it done it a week, it would have been OK, but we don’t, so we’ve ended up revisiting most everything.
I’ve been making a lot of use of Sketchup for this purpose. It’s pretty amazing for letting you drop a planter box here, a fence there and see how it might look. Surprisingly lifelike, as it happens.
One trick, though, is the need to get the base layout in. I did it the first time with some casual measuring off a the plan that aforementioned designer gave us, but eventually realized that some accuracy was lost in the translation, so I started from scratch.
Legal disclaimer: I’m not a professional surveyor. I’m not even an amateur surveyor. There is no reason to suspect that I know what I’m talking about. In point of absolute fact, I don’t. But this is kind of working for me. Oh yeah, some other challenges: I don’t have a theodolite with a laser range finder. In fact, I only have a 25′ tape measure. And I mostly have to do it by myself because it is more trouble to ask Suzanne to help when I’m muttering geometry to myself.
I started by drawing a rough sketch with no scale, just so I had something to write measurements on.
As the first step to getting it to scale, I chose is a baseline for my map. In the past. I’d been working from the back wall, which was near where I was building the tree house. The yard has 3 fenced edges, 2 of which are in advanced stages of falling over. That makes for a bad baseline. I chose the house, because if it falls over I won’t give a damn about the backyard anymore. I very carefully crawled along the foundation of the house and measured the distance from each point to every other point.
Next, I needed to get some points out in the yard. In some cases, like the path next to the house, I simply measured from the nearest measured point on the house itself. I didn’t worry about the angle much, because the distances were short and the sine of a small angle is a small number. For distances farther away, I needed some well known points out in the yard.
I started by choosing a corner of a concrete block in the path. I took measurements from 3 points along the house as far apart as I could. Then I took measurements from any solid object I could find to any other two points that were also solid. I ended up with a complete mess of lines and numbers. Then it was time to sit down at Sketchup.
What I really wish Sketchup had is a circular guide line With my measurement system, I end up with distances, but not the angle. Getting the angle would take a fancy theodolite or something that I don’t have. Instead, I went into Sketchup and drew circles around the points I had measured from. Where 3 circles overlap, that yields a point. In general, they seem pretty accurate; the “points” were really triangles, mostly 1-2 inches across, which is an estimate of the accuracy of the technique.
With this whole grid of points laid out, I was ready to start designing.