In my last column I talked a little about landscape design and how the Master Gardener Manual described it as “the art of organizing and enriching outdoor space by placing plants and structures in an agreeable and useful relationship with the natural environment.”
I also mentioned that I needed a refresher course on landscape design. This is because I rarely think about how plants should look in relation to the natural surroundings in and around my “yarden.” When I bring a new plant home, I usually put it in a bare spot that needs a quick fix. What I should be doing is taking into consideration all the surrounding plants, and how new perennial flowers, shrubs, or ornamental trees ought to match or agree with what’s already established in the landscape.
“The first step in landscape design is to divide available space into use areas: the public area, the private area, and the service and work area.” This is a new concept for some of us, but very easy to understand.
Think of “use areas” as individual garden plots or sections of your landscape. The public area might be the area in front of your house that’s noticed by passing traffic, or folks walking past your property along the sidewalk. It’s an area that should present an attractive public view. Private areas might be situated in the backyard, with a patio, deck, or porch for sitting and entertaining, and maybe a play area for children. The work, or service area is usually located in an out-of-the-way area, possibly hidden from view; it’s where you might have the compost pile, garden tools, or maybe a shed, and possibly the vegetable garden or a cut flower bed.
The Master Gardener Manual states: “In laying out a design, preserve all of the site’s best natural resources.” This might include mature trees, a stream or pond, good soil, special features in the terrain that might be attractive, and so on. “These natural elements affect ease of construction and landscaping possibilities.” I have an area in my backyard where you’ll see a giant boulder protruding out of the ground. I incorporated a few shrubs and perennials into the area surrounding my big rock garden; alas, I did so before knowing much about landscape design and now the big rock garden isn’t much of a garden at all.
The MG Manual mentions that “a careful survey of the area should be made to determine whether site conditions will be a deterrent or can be incorporated into a design plan.” (A survey of the big rock I mentioned would have generated a much better design plan for that area.) Other conditions that might cause problems are trees that are overcrowded, and low areas that hold too much moisture and that cause poor soil conditions.
Changes in elevation can be one of the most pleasing effects used in designing the new landscape. But you shouldn’t create unnatural areas when grading your site. “Excessive grading of terraces or retaining walls should be avoided,” the MG Manual states. If during the construction process certain features are needed for drainage or extra digging is needed for septic systems, such areas should be designed so as not to take away from the natural features of the surrounding terrain.
When designing the new landscape, one of the most important features you’ll want to consider is how the garden will look from inside your house. “The principal rooms of the house should look out on the lawn or garden. Design special areas to be viewed from favorite windows,” reads the MG Manual. One of my favorite windows is located in the kitchen, where the vegetable garden is viewed while I do the dishes the old-fashioned way.
All of the factors mentioned above are ones that will influence the design of your new landscape. What will the public view look like? How will you incorporate an arbor or a couple of garden benches into the private areas? What’s the best location for the potting shed? Will you need special plantings that can act as noise barriers? Surveying each of these needs will allow you to incorporate the best plans for your landscape design.