Once we had some ground rules laid, it was time to assess what we had already in the yard, and what we would need to do. Turned out, what we had was very little, and what we would need to do was a lot!
Here's what we had:
Front Yard: Mostly crabgrass. Walkway in good shape. "Gardens" filled with lava rocks and sad-looking potted plants. Healthy (if overgrown) holly bush and unidentified tree.
Backyard: Swing set inherited from previous owners and soon given away to next-door neighbors with kids. No landscaping to speak of.
Side yard: Overgrown weeds and not much else. (Note: The fence pictured belongs to the neighbor house.)
Yikes. Where to start? Well, we knew we wanted to eliminate as much grass as possible. Grass is the enemy of a Florida and Wildlife Friendly yard. Why? Well, grass is not really native to Florida. Some varieties, like Bahia and Bermuda, do reasonably well here, but don't really provide anything useful for wildlife. Plus, grass requires a lot of upkeep - mowing, watering, and so on. Grass just didn't fit with our guidelines.
We also wanted to add some type of pathway around the house from the front door to the back porch. Florida grass (except the St. Augustine on golf courses) is not nice to walk on in the best of circumstances. It's rough and scratchy, and usually contains unwelcome critters like fire ants. Adding a pathway would also add a little structure to the yard.
With this in mind, we began to plan. We took some measurements and sketched out the yard and house, and then began to draw in gardens and other features. I found the Florida Friendly Landscaping website to be immensely helpful with this - they have an interactive yard feature that gives you great ideas. We decided to cut out several arcs of gardens in the front yard and turn almost the entire backyard into garden, including a butterfly garden behind the porch.
We decided to use paver blocks set into sand for the walkway. This choice was economical and fairly earth-friendly. By setting the paver blocks into sand instead of solid concrete, we were allowing for rain water to get through to the ground below instead of draining away to storm sewers. Florida's aquifers need all the help they can get!
With our general plan in place, and nice spring weather upon us, it was time to get cracking!