Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Make it Easy on Yourself: Garden Design Equation

Karen asked a great question about her backyard.  Once their old deck comes off the house, she wants to replace it with steps down to a stone terrace.
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After that, she doesn't know what to do.
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Garden Design is not voodoo, or, I-think-I'll-try-that.  It's a science thousands of years old.
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First, she needs to write a mission statement for what she wants from, and for, her backyard.  Nothing complicated, no more than 2-3 sentences.  If you aren't a mission statement type of person, describe the elements of your completed garden.
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Once seeing a pic of her space, reading her mission statement, and seeing the inside of her home, and how the window views, and doors interact with the backyard, it's time to use my Garden Design equation and draw her garden.
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Garden Design Equation?
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How could I not see an equation?  Studying historic gardens across Europe & USA for decades, there is a template to what lasts & what works.
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With my Garden Design Equation you'll never be 'stuck'.
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There is an order to designing a garden.
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Design your trees.  They are the ceiling of your garden, and will give shade in summer, sun in winter, adding more than pleasure to your garden, yearly HVAC savings.  Canopy trees, and understory trees.  At my last home, tiny garden, I 'stole' canopy trees from several neighbors, they were my view too, and designed in understory trees solely.  Many people are lucky, their trees already exist.
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Design your paths.  How will you get around your garden?  Lawns are paths.  Flagstone or gravel terraces, are paths.  Beware trying to have lawn if you are shady.  Shade wins, and groundcovers will have to suffice.  Have sunny areas and shady areas?  Nice to have paths of stone, or gravel in sunny/part sun areas, and wood chip paths/edged with tree limbs 3" diameter, in the shade.
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Focal points.  Place focal points on axis from main views of the house.  The best focal points are a focal point from several axis.  Often I have put a bench into a backyard, seen from every window at the back of the home upstairs/downstairs.  Often I've put a pair of benches into a backyard, opposite from each other, on axis with each other and window views at the back of the home.  Remember the Tara Rule for buying a focal point, "Is this focal point so wonderful it will be fought over at my estate sale?"
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Evergreen shrubs.  They are the walls of your garden, you'll want tall/medium/short.  Backdrop to focal points, and screens against the dreaded reality of eyesores, and perhaps a neighbor's view into all you do.  At this phase of designing your garden have zero concern for which evergreen shrubs.  Merely know their height, and that groupings of shrubs should contrast with each other, big leaves next to small leaves, dark green next to light green, you get the idea.  More, you want little diversity.  Simple gardens are potent gardens.
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Deciduous shrubs.  Design shrubs that go naked in winter, after you've put in evergreen shrubs.  Otherwise you will have a naked winter.  Muck better having naked sticks backed with evergreens.  Add daffodils to the base of your deciduous shrubs, once they leaf out the daffodil foliage will be going yellow, and hidden.
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Groundcovers.  Beware what you 'like'.  Choose, instead, what does the job with minimal care.  Often I've put in 'dreaded' groundcovers because they are tough & easy to take care of and my client turns their nose up until I describe how much caretaking their favored choices are or they go away entirely in winter.  Consider plant choices to be hiring choices.  Set the job requirements, and stick to them.  Be tough.  You'll enjoy your new employees, if they make life easier, make your world beautiful, make you money monthly with HVAC savings, and make property value increase with better curb appeal.
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Annuals & perennials.  If you must.  I use only self seeding annuals, and only tough low care perennials.
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Bottom line, I want to enjoy my life.  Anyone who knows my day-to-day life knows my garden is a place of filling the spiritual well, not a place to work.  A garden that needs working in more than enjoying in, 20% work to 80% pleasure should be about right, until the garden ages to maturity, and the work is 10% to 90% pleasure.  Yet, that 'work' is blessed in grace to me.  My relationship to Nature.  Living biblical metaphors.  Tending my garden is washing-the-servants-feet to my soul.  Work I'm honored to be given, and perform.  Gratitude.

Collage of Life:

Story of a beloved garden, above, here.
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With my Garden Design Equation, it's impossible to get 'stuck'.
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Garden & Be Well,   XO Tara
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Each section of the Garden Design Equation has allied narrative, hence, why this blog is so easy to write, gardens are never dull.  At the front end of learning about gardens I rebelled against 'rules'.  Using the Garden Design Equation, or perhaps you're able to copy a beautiful garden entirely, you will always create a garden that is unique, and deeply your personality.

4 comments:

Unknown said...

Tara,
Thank you for a great article! You make it sound so easy. Now could you follow it up with a list of the plants that best make up that equation?!!
Rita

Brenda Coffee said...

Later this year I hope to be able to build a small garden home and have a backyard with a focal point. I've given it a lot of thought, but this post helps me so much more! Thank you, Tara! Brenda

Karen said...

Ok, Tara, you're on! I am ordering this book right now, mostly for enjoyment and maybe for learning? Anyway, I am going to try to use your equation and see what I can come up with. I know you say I won't get stuck, that is exactly what I am afraid will happen. If it does, I will be contacting you to come help me. I think already the 20%/80% is way off. I work like a field hand and in the heat, watering takes a goodly amount of time. Next year, I will cut WAY back on the flowers and concentrate on trees/shrubs and paths. My wheels are turning. Wish me luck. Thanks so much for your advice and this blog. I love it!

Sandy Fry said...

Re groundcovers, the "dreaded" kind - I had a recommendation for liriope on my steep front slope, planted just a few years ago. I thought it was OK because indestructable (and limited to where it can go, by street and driveways)... but it has a fungus-type disease, turns yellow, dies in patches. Not so indestructable after all. It thrives in some places, dies in others. Do you have any advice for saving it?