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From outdoor living spaces to solving drainage issues, landscaping deserves a careful look

A boulder retaining wall was built in front of Gary Lindberg's home to stop the lake from eroding the shoreline. Foreman Cody Thran said placing each boulder in every piece of the project was like playing a giant game of Tetris. Tyler Schank / Forum News Service1 / 3
Homeowner Gary Lindberg and foreman Cody Thran estimate 80,000 lbs. of Wisconsin river rock was used to make the gabions around the home. Tyler Schank / Forum News Service2 / 3
Gary Lindberg explains that every rock was hand-placed in the gabion walls around his home. Lindberg made the cages that hold the stones. Tyler Schank / Forum News Service3 / 3

CANYON, Minn. — Gary Lindberg is nearing the end of a long-awaited project. His home build was five years in the making, and now, he and his wife are in the final stages: the yard.

"The landscape piece is always the last piece of the puzzle," he said.

Their focus was a narrow slice of land, where they wanted to add more privacy in an aesthetically pleasing way. "We have neighbors very close on both sides," he added.

The Lindbergs hired Mike Saline of Saline Landscape and Design in Hermantown. They started designing in October, finished in February, and now, they're in the final stages. The job calls for more than 480 boulders, a tremendous hardscaping project, Lindberg said.

He looked to Australia and France for inspiration, and the homeowner is looking forward to the gabion walls that are made from a steel basket with rocks on the inside. "You can shape it anyway you want to, and we did a big retaining wall," he said. Also on the landscaping agenda: benches to match and a fire ring on the couple's less-than-one acre.

It's good to match your landscaping with the style of your home, added Saline. Natural stone, paving material and native grasses lend themselves well to modern architecture.

Drainage is a big part of landscaping, too. "Living in Duluth, there's a lot of water issues. Everybody passes their problem down the hill," Saline said.

While many projects are within the scope of a homeowner's abilities, Saline encouraged calling a professional for a consultation before starting a big project. If you don't have the time, energy or right equipment, hiring a contractor you like and can work with are key, he said.

Not all landscaping changes are big. Spruce up your yard with inexpensive and small planting or mulch beds near the house. Add shrubs away from the house. Plant a variety of different trees. Remove grass from cracks, sidewalks or retaining walls. Free garden beds of debris or weeds.

Ron Davidson sees a lot of seeding, sodding and planting in his business. The owner of Amity Creek Landscaping in Duluth also sees many houses and garages not built high enough in the ground. Because of that, he's called to correct drainage issues. You want to have a positive slope away from the foundation to keep water from infiltrating the home, he said.

Standing water for longer than two hours after rainfall, areas that are mossy or soft and don't dry completely are warning signs for draining issues. They can be addressed by creating dry creek beds and using drain tile, he said.

Busy landscaping times of year are June through the end of October, he said. It's best to plan a project in the fall. Then, there's time to design with a client and execute when the ground thaws.

"Call a professional when you need to use more than just a wheelbarrow and a shovel," Davidson said. That'll be more cost-effective.

Doug Kman, director of Lake Superior Area Realtors, said it's a common misconception that better landscaping adds to the property value of a home. But it does increase sellability, he said.

"Your house is still a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house, even if you have good landscaping. There's not much return on investment." But when you're ready to sell, that curb appeal and having more people show up is key in a seller's market.

More than landscaping, Kman encouraged adding an outdoor living space in a slate patio with a grill, raised seating or an outdoor fire pit. That can add to the return on investment.

If you're selling, be mindful not to add anything too unique because it could harm your home.

"Putting in lawn ornaments, garden gnomes, yard jockeys, people get weirded out by special features like that because they're out of the ordinary," Kman said.

As for Lindberg, who's settling in rather than moving out, his landscaping tips are to think through sun angles, water drainage, shade, all the elements of an outdoor living space.

And don't rush.

"It marks the end of a home build," he said. "It was very enjoyable when you can budget enough time to do it and enjoy it along the way."

Canyon is 30 miles northwest of Duluth.

Melinda Lavine

Lavine is a features and health reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. 

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