Garden Design for the Homeowner
Garden design is a wonderful thing, but getting the effect you desire does take a little planning. It is part art, part science, with a lot of inspiration thrown into the mix. When an inexperienced person thinks about designing a garden, they usually jump in with abundant enthusiasm and end up a little disillusioned. This is not for lack of trying, but for lack of design knowledge. Probably, the most important aspect of garden design for the home is to understand the structure of your property, and the characteristics of your lot. Before you run to your local garden center, go out to your yard with a pencil and paper and take some notes. Is your plot of land completely flat, or does it slope downward or upward? What is the scale of your space? Do you have a tiny trinity row home, a nineteenth century stone farmhouse or a large single home? In essence, what is the character of your home and how would you like to complement that character with your unique garden?
Think about the amount of sun reaching your property. A Russian Sage is not going to do well in a shady spot in your yard. It will thrive in full sun and the texture and habit of this plant might look great near the stonework wall of your two hundred year old farmhouse. One element feeds off of the other. Keep in mind that you are not just putting plants into the ground, you are designing an overall environment. Think of a row home as a rectangular canvas. You may have a very petite front yard, but that doesn't mean small design ideas. You may want to mimic the vertical orientation of your row home. Phlox paniculata hybrids are an elegant perennial which grow two to three feet tall and have a bloom time of about six weeks. Remember, in good design, there is a connection between all of the design elements. Think about color palettes. Would you like a warm palette, a cool palette or maybe a garden designed in silvers, grays and greens with texture being the main draw?
If designing with perennials, it is important to plan a garden so that you will have consecutive blooms. If this seems a little daunting, you may want to work with annuals which can be planted throughout the growing season. They will not come back the following year, so you are not committed to a design if you don't like it.
Maybe you have a brick single family home with a huge front yard with very little sun. Many different types of shrubs and plants will still thrive here. Woodland gardens mimic the many great naturalized areas in the world. These plants have a little quieter nature than their boisterous sun loving cousins, but many times can be quite exotic looking. Many shade or semi-shade loving plants can grace our gardens in winsome shades of blues, purples, pinks, whites and sometimes reds. Hostas, if placed in the correct location thrive with big dramatic textured leaves and elegant flowers atop tall stems. Astilbes are another show stopper in the shade garden. They range anywhere in height from six inches in the dwarf variety to five feet tall. These plants would look great in a tiered garden at the higher elevation. Because of their habit of growth, which is mainly vertical, they provide an elegant backdrop to smaller spreading plants. They are striking plants with delicate feathery flower heads and interesting green foliage. Another of my very favorite shade plants are the tricytris flowers, commonly known as toad lilies. The ungraceful name belies the beauty of these flowers. They grow one to three feet tall and look like a wild orchid. When your garden is winding down, these beauties bloom in the fall. As an added bonus, they are deer resistant. They are usually creamy white with purple speckles all over the petals, and, are also very beautiful right before they bloom. It's very heartening to see the fuzzy, slightly plump, slightly purple flower buds come to life. I have named but a few of the thousands of flowering plants to choose from to build a living oasis on your property.
One of the most effective tips I can give the home gardener is to visit public gardens. Most towns or cities have a horticultural society or a public arboretum. Go to the horticultural society for technical information and, go to the arboretums often throughout the year. Pay attention to how the plants look in dormancy, maturity and in bloom. Too many times I've heard people say "I had no idea this plant would get this big, now I might have to move it!" Go through your plans twice and (try) to plant once. It will save your back and your beautiful flowers.
How much time are you willing to put into your garden? There are some days I am out there three or four hours. For me, gardening is something I never grow tired of, and, if I can only fit in fifteen minutes a day, that's fine. It really depends on what project I am working on.
Plan first, then plant. Don't rush. Take a cue from nature, build slowly and carefully. Work with the land instead of against it. Enjoy your time in the garden.
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