SOLVING THE GARDEN DESIGN PUZZLE
MAKING THE PIECES FIT
In my experience, there are basically two different gardens (I refrain from using the words landscaping or landscape as these are most often perceived as plants and a whole lotta mulch). To me, most properties I work with are either a revamp of plants put in the wrong place or outgrown (think of this as changing the icing on an already baked cake) or it is a blank slate opportunity with just the structure sitting on a plot waiting to be transformed. This writing will primarily be addressing the latter.
When creating a design from scratch (the blank slate), there are always a few givens. Every garden or home needs an appealing entry. After all, how someone enters your home or garden will be the first thing they see and the last thing they’ll remember. Paving width and materials are critical. Make an approach that can accommodate two normal-sized folks (not two who grab all their meals at McDonald’s) so they don’t have to walk single file. If you plan to use curves consider Garry’s Commandment “thou shall not have more than two radii over the span of 50 feet”. What I’m getting at here is don’t make a path so curvy that the only time it can be navigated is after the happiest of happy hours.
While we’re on that subject, remember, there is nothing wrong with some straight lines or geometry. If you have a contemporary home, consider clean, simple lines rather than meandering curves.
You will also want to consider how to handle guest parking. Not parking for a party but just a single 9’ x 18’ spot where someone can leave a vehicle without blocking the drive. More detailed thoughts on entries may be found in my blog post on Dec 17, 2020.
If you have a blank slate and some specific goals, next create that “wish list”. This is a list of all those amenities you’d like to have (if only they’d call the right Powerball numbers). This could be simple or quite Disneyesque. Patios and decks and general “hardscape” areas in which to hang out or entertain are usually high on the list for those who relish true outdoor living. Other elements may include a play structure, veggie garden, arbor, covered swing, pond, pool, spa, fire pit, grill area, etc. And compost! Everyone needs a good compost! There will be some constraints that will limit where certain thing ca go of course. Not many people want that pool in the front yard. You will also need to think about exposure (sun vs. shade), soil, and topography or slope. If you have some serious slopes and wish to carve out some level terraces, the shapes of these should run parallel to the contours and not perpendicular. (The contour lines in the image below are those faint dashed lines – lines that connect points of the same elevation).
After you have generally placed your cool features mentioned above, you will need to think about circulation. How do you or others get from point A to point B? What materials and how wide are your paths and walks? I am a huge believer in good circulation. Being able to move comfortably but creatively through a garden is critical.
Wow! We’ve come all this way in chatting about creating a beautiful garden and we’ve yet to mention plants! Ok. Here goes. Start at the edges of your blank slate and work inwards. What I mean is determine views that are both desirable and those area that require some serious screening and choose plants (consider natives!) that both appeal to you AND can handle your specific conditions (soil, sun, moisture, etc.)
Also, if you’re choosing plants for screening, mix it up. Avoid monocultures (all the same species) if at all possible. Diversity is the spice of life, in both people and plants. Planting with diversity can be much more beautiful and better for habitat creation.
As you create your dream garden, also think about some focal points. These may be unusual specimen plants or perhaps a piece of sculpture or ten. For us common folks we refer to this as yard art or “yart”. This will be one of those “do as I say, not as I do” moments when I suggest you go easy with focal points. If you have too many, nothing is special and it all becomes clutter.
Continuing with our planting talk, you’ll soon want to place some great shade trees in places where you may hang out and not wish to fry in the sun. I call these legacy trees or trees that will outlast your grandchildren and these don’t include crape myrtle.
Shrub massing and fillers
Once you’ve placed those oaks, cypress, maples, and black gum, you’ll next give some thought to shrub massing, perennial fillers, and groundcover. Not it’s pretty hard here to write about just where all this stuff should go since every property is different but hopefully, you’re at least sensing the order to which I am referring when it comes to steps to garden creation.
Lastly, do NOT forget lighting! If you want to extend that period of outdoor enjoyment after the sun says goodbye, please check out another of my posts that give some more direction on this very important topic.
That’s it! Easy peasy! How to create a garden from scratch in less than 1000 words.