Need advice in backyard landscape conversion

This summer my wife and I are planning a back yard renovation project. We've been in our home about 3 years, and we've decided we need to put in a lawn sprinkler system. In light of that, we want to get our landscape plan fairly established.
Our front yard is pretty much in place, but the back yard is a big project. Essentially what we want to do is convert about a third of our back yard into a large garden area for ornamental plants.
We're think that this summer we'd have the sprinkler put in to accomodate this, we'd put in metal edging to define the bed line, and then we'd mulch the area heavily. Then after that we'd start incorporating plants bit-by-bit.
We want to come up with a good plan so we don't wind up with something that doesn't look right when we're done. Even at this early stage we're concerned about making a big mistake.
I've put up a web page with a few (small) digital photos and a diagram of what we're planning. If people would take a look and either post comments here or email me, I'd be grateful.
My page is up at http://www.pittarese.com/backyard.htm
Thanks in advance for any great ideas!
Tony
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For my first house, I did what you are doing -- designed my own garden. It was beautiful but so labor-intensive that I was gardening by moonlight because there was not enough daylight.
For my second (current) house, I had a professional design my garden, with strong inputs from me. It looked as nice as the garden in my first house but required less labor. The designer worked for a nearby nursery. Because I bought my plant materials there, the design was free. (I paid for the design and received scrip for that amount, useable for purchases of materials.)
That was 30 years ago (half my lifetime). Over the years, my garden began to lack vigor. The cause was the shade from a tree. When I planted it from a 5 gallon can, the trunk was as thick as my thumb. It was about 10 feet tall. The garden was designed for lots of sun.
Now the trunk is almost 3 feet in diameter and towers over my two-story house. So last year, I had a new garden designed and installed. (My back is just too old for that much digging.) The new garden is designed for part-shade throughout. I retired shortly after the new garden was installed, so I have plenty of time to putter. But it is a low-effort garden. To read about it, visit my gardening Web site, per my signature below.
In any case -- whether you install it or have it done -- I strongly suggest you have professional advice on your garden's design. Otherwise, you too can become a slave to a landscape.
--
David E. Ross
Climate: California Mediterranean
  Click to see the full signature.
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If you plan on having lawn - figure spray heads since your yard isn't that large. As for the gardens, I'd consider a few zone-valve controlled water spigots placed inconspiciously and stratigically in the beds, and connect soaker hoses to them.
After a couple of years establishing, you shouldn't need to water the garden(s) much so there's no sense in installing an elaborate system.
If in the future you decide to revamp your plantings (dividing grass and hibiscus, adding / giving away plants) you can always change the layout of a soaker hose to suit.
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Tony wrote:

Slow conversion is a good way to go. You can go at your own pace, and not break your back, attempting to do everything at once. If the area has grass or weeds, put down some newspaper and then top it with mulch. The paper will disappear in short order, and won't interfere with planting, but it will definitely help smother the weeds and grass.

Don't worry about making mistakes. There is no such thing in gardening. I don't know a single serious gardner who hasn't moved plants around to make their design work better, or to accommondate the needs of a plant.

This is more of a personal preference issue, but I think that undulating lines look much better and far more natural than straight lines. You might want to modify the center portion of the plan to not be a straight line. Instead of starting at one end and working your way towards the other end (for example), you might want to plant things that take more time to establish and look good (like shrubs) first. I started off doing the former, and now wish I had done the latter. If you're planning on putting in things like paths, seating, birdbaths or fountains, put them in first, and plant around them. That way, you can plan for having say, something fragrant next to the bench, or having a food source for the birds next to the bath.
I'm afraid I have no input on the kinds of plants that will do well in your area, for those types of conditions. You might want to look through gardening magazines and books to get ideas. Good luck.
Suja
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All good ideas..Your area nursery's are a good source of advice. I have learned that you need to put the bones of a garden in first..the bushes and trees, the big plants and your garden has a LOT of shade. Another good way to decide what to plant that hasn't been mentioned, is to tour the area. Go out and about and view different gardens and decide what you like and dislike and what seems to grow well in the area. Don't forget to pick plants that bloom in different seasons and will tolerate the heat of a Florida summer. Your shade will probably help here. and heck, make mistakes. You can't be a good gardener and NOT make mistakes. Mistakes are those things that when finished, you don't like. Someone else might just love it.
alice

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