When we last met, I left you de-compacting; may your soil be henceforth loose. Now it’s time for self-analysis. Make a wish list of things you love: favorite plants? formal style? cottage look? riotous color? Favorite home activities — family oriented, gardening or decompressing from work? Favorite objets de jardin you’ve collected?
Accommodate your lifestyle: Family oriented? Plan a play area. Busy schedule? Plan low maintenance. You won’t get everything you love. You don’t really want to. We’re planning a landscape, not a theme park, and let’s face it, some of our objets needed to go at that last garage sale.
Let’s start with useful design tips where “curb appeal” begins, at the front door.
• Spacing requires accurate measurements and mature plant size. Mature size should allow space for building access and air flow. Placement 36 inches from foundations is recommended.
• The landscape style should complement the home and surroundings. In a neat suburb of half-acre lots, turning your half acre into a wild woodland may not work. Cottages with low roof lines are pleasing nestled into informal landscapes, while an imposing two-story home can support formal style.
• Lines serve to organize and relate to style. Straight bed lines for clipped hedges create a formal look, and are fairly high maintenance. Curved lines with natural plant forms are informal and lower maintenance. The current trend is away from a line of shrubs packed tightly against the foundation. Today’s front bed usually skirts around and incorporates plantings at the corners, then sweeps in a gentle curve to a point well in front of the steps, pulling the landscape away from the house. The effect for approaching visitors is a landscape reaching out with open arms, inviting them in, rather than the “arms crossed” look of stiff rows against the house. While we want to open up the front landscape, in the nonpublic areas the goal is often privacy, so plan to screen views.
• Proportion: We instinctively know that a two-story with a foundation planting of low liriope is out of proportion, needing plants of more height and visual weight. Scale and proportion are also about the greatest sizes in the landscape (house, tree) and how we relate that to the human form. Plants serve to step down from large elements (tree, roof) and connect to human scale (doorway, person). Think of a new home on a scalped lot. It seems to float, and until landscaping matures, people are like ants scurrying in the yard.
• Unity is achieved with simplicity, symmetrical balance, grouping/massing or repetition. A landscape without unity dissolves into a chaos of competing elements. Simplify the number of different plant types, colors or textures. Symmetry does not necessarily mean matching shrubs on either side of the door, but it does mean balancing a large shrub on one side with a planting of equal visual weight on the other. Group and mass the same plant or color to emphasize a space, then repeat that plant, grouping, color or texture to unify the view and move the eye along. Plants in odd-numbered groups (3, 5, 7) are more pleasing.
• Variety seems at odds with unity, but without variety, we have monotony. Vary plants by selecting dominant, secondary and accent choices. Don’t create an entire landscape of bold-leafed or red-toned plants.
• A focal point defines a view. In the street view, the focus is normally the main entrance. The plants that surround it lead the eye to the focal point, the front doorway. Don’t create competing focal points in a single view, sending the eye frantically darting here and there.
It is time to talk plants. For front views, most homeowners prefer evergreens that look presentable year round. Using the design concepts above, your wish list and your research, draw the front bed outlines on your template, then sketch — not actual plants, but your desired plant forms, texture, color and size.
You don’t need to select plants to do this. You may want to specify a few favorite specimen plants, but you don’t need to pick out a plant to know that you want a sweep of low, mounding, medium-textured, low-maintenance evergreens for sun, and you want a taller evergreen with graceful arching branches to anchor a corner.
Draw the plant forms you want, and add labels for other traits required. Use color pencils for dark green, light green or masses of bloom color. Develop your vision on paper before you select the specific plants that will have the traits you want and the cultural needs your landscape can provide.
Go beyond basics at these links: tinyurl.com/caxzz84 and tinyurl.com/h5c88q7.
(free and open to the public)
What: Monthly Master Gardener
When: Thursday, Aug. 4, 10:00-11:30 a.m.
Where: Jon Archer Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N. (Mobile)
Topic: “Preparation for Your Fall
Vegetable Garden and Some Variety Recommendations”
Speaker: Bill Finch
What: Lunch and Learn
When: Monday, Aug. 15, noon to 1 p.m.
Where: Jon Archer Center,
1070 Schillinger Road N. (Mobile)
Topic: “Every Kid Should Eat a
Pound of Dirt”
Speaker: Dr. Judy Stout
Master Gardener Helpline: Call 1-877-252-4769 or send your gardening questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.