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Landscapes with a Sense of Place

The Characteristics that Make Landscapes Unique

a sense of place, landscape design sense

A sense of place is the combination of characteristics that make a landscape unique. It is an intangible feeling, similar to the way you feel when you detect a new school year is about to begin and the wind whispers through the tree tops with a fresh scent. It is a perceived change from the usual that your site possesses. Each outdoor area you prepare to transform deserves a moment of reflection. Record the surrounding environment, and provide some continuity with the distinguishing essence of the natural and constructed history of the site.

Good professional designers incorporate their client’s wishes into their plans, along with the challenges and limitations of a site, while giving due respect to the sense of place. Even so, they must establish their own authentic sense of self and hold fast to their unique design voice. Start developing your style. Don’t be afraid to propose an independent and untried idea. The combination of sense of place and sense of self make for beautiful landscapes.

Married with Children Landscapes

Landscapes for Young Homeowners

children's landscapeWhen you move into your first non-rental home, my best advice is to keep the grass mowed and wait a year. Relax about the landscape. It can wait until you get moved in. Take notes and pictures of anything exciting you see happening throughout the year. It would be a shame to start digging around, only to find out you destroyed a nice mass of native azaleas in the process. You never know where the bulbs are located until you see them sprout and bloom.

When you are ready to tackle the yard, your first priority is enclosure. Establish property boundaries and install fencing and screening to control access and egress. Mix things up along your new walls. Use evergreens, fence panels, gates, and flowering shrubs to build private outdoor rooms.

Just because your property lines are on an odd trapezoidal geometry doesn’t mean you must strictly follow those lines. You can fill a weird corner with tall evergreens and place your fence in front of or behind the vegetative screen.

If you plan on having pets, the enclosure project must include ground level (and below ground level) mechanical restraints. Fencing will need to done to the entire perimeter. Bury inexpensive wire fencing a few inches under the ground and bend it toward your yard to deter tunnel digging later. Another nice benefit from this is fall leaves are corralled and easier to rake.

Screen planting can be multilayered and varied. A boring hedge of cheap evergreens soldiered along the property line lacks flare. Undulating tall, medium, and low shrubs is much nicer. Add groups of flowering shrubs within your privacy hedge for color and seasonal interest.

Ways to Save Money on Your Landscape Project

The Most Bang for Your Buck

landscape project cost cutting, saving money on landscape projects

How can you save money on your landscape project and get the most bang for your buck? It depends. That’s the answer. How much money you are able to save on a major landscape project is dependent on how skilled, responsible, vigilant, and expensive your crews will be after installation. With the perfect crew, you can save a lot of money.


The Landscape Design Element that Makes the Biggest Difference

landscape design contrast, contrast of blue sage with yellow arborvitaeWhat’s the difference between a ho-hum landscape and one with “Wow!”? Contrast. Use different textures and colors to excite the eye.

Texture is the design element that provides visual excitement, especially since woody plant material has only fleeting moments of color. The strong contrast of coarse foliage against fine-textured leaves is a great look!

The form and natural habit of plant material can vary quite a bit. Try to provide interest by using spiked shapes with mounded shapes and weeping shapes with low, flat ground covers. Juxtapose fine-textured foliage next to coarse, dramatic leaves to provide emphasis to the different silhouettes. Use a delicate hand with contrasting forms in your landscape design, just as you would in adding spices while cooking a soup. Think through each variation carefully.

Contrasting colors spice up a design, too. There are lots of color combinations and harmonies you can try in your landscape designs. Color can pull together your design into a cohesive whole or provide neutral breaks in disparate and clashing set of schemes. The fun thing about landscape color is the added dimension of time. You need to time your designs with the changing seasons to make your color creations work. Timing your plant schemes to bloom in concert shows off your creative expertise. It is the final detail that makes color in the garden a delightful design challenge.

You can mix colors opposing each other on a color wheel for a pleasant contrasting display. A design of only one color can create a sophisticated, monochromatic color scheme, but opposing colors add pop! Mix different types of color harmonies.  Analogous schemes use colors near each other on the color wheel, and contrasting/complimentary schemes mix opposites on the color wheel. When combining different colors, try to let one color dominate the scheme and the other act as an accent.  That way, the colors don't fight for attention.

Contrast is not the same as conflict when it comes to landscape design. Distinct differences add excitement and draw your visitor’s attention to interesting plant material. If your garden feels a bit boring, you know what to do—add contrast!

Seven Options for Dealing with Deer Browsing

Look What Came to My Yard!

deer, fawn, deer browsing, deer problemsThe stems and leaves in the perennial bed were rustling in an unusual way. The movement was too big to be a cat. The spots on the back of a little fawn did a magnificent job of hiding it! I am not quite sure why camo sells so well, when this speckled coat mades little deer disappear. I walked down and found this oh-so-adorable baby just a few feet away, nestled in the bee balm.

A visit from deer to your lovely, landscaped garden is not always such a tender moment of joy. They will eat just about anything that grows, without consideration of the cost to you and your careful landscape designs. They especially love to devour newly planted ornamentals, which can be devastating for a large commercial or industrial installation. If you are in an area where the deer and the antelope play, you have a few options.

Cool Season Grass Choices

The Best and the Worst

Kentucky bluegrass, cool season grasses

Cool season turf grass choices are the best and the worst. They are for lawns where temperatures stay below ninety degrees almost all the time. You can seed them. They germinate when temperatures are in the fifties. Cool season grasses go dormant or die during drought or temperatures over ninety, so southerners are out of luck with these. That doesn’t stop them from trying, though.

These grasses stay green all year. That fact alone has created an industry in the south, providing hope and temporary results for people fixated on the idea of having a lawn that is green in the winter. Well-heeled southerners and some golf course superintendents will over-seed Perennial Rye Grass at three to four pounds per one thousand square feet every fall on their dormant, brown, warm-season sod to maintain the pretense of the ideal lawn. By the heat of early summer, the Perennial Rye has burned out and died, and the warm-season species has finally “greened up”. This process stresses the lawn, and uses a lot of wasted effort and chemicals to provide a temporary look.

Some of the cool season rye grasses are adapting to southern climates and have become invasive. You will need full sun for decent ground coverage. In cooler areas the main cool-season grasses can create beautiful, lush, green lawns. Here are some quick facts about each.

Kentucky Bluegrass

They nicknamed a state after a turf grass—and the state is famous for Bourbon, but they chose the grass, instead! That alone should tell you something. There are over one hundred cultivars of Kentucky Bluegrass, and they are all pretty. Choosing a cool season turf species is easy.

Kentucky Bluegrass is the best lawn possible, hands down. Why would you plant anything else? This makes a beautiful, run-barefoot-to-your-true-love-gorgeous lawn. It is refined and soft. Its only weakness is shade-tolerance. There is no need to make choices. The only other competitive turf seed species are slightly cheaper, but the quality is no contest at all. For those of you in the south who would like to take on the challenge of growing Kentucky Bluegrass, forget about it. It can’t be done. Really. Don’t bother.

Being able to seed a beautiful lawn is a great cost advantage, because seed is much less expensive than sod or sprigs, but suppliers attempt to reduce costs even more by mixing cheaper species in with the finest, most elegant turf grass of them all—Kentucky Bluegrass. It is best to avoid the mixes. Seed suppliers will market their special mixes aggressively, so don’t be tempted. Instead of trying to compete with the shade, turn those areas into mulched plant beds. Go for pure Kentucky bluegrass seed, without the added shade fillers. Pick the best.

Landscape for Birds

Beyond Birdfeeders

gold finch pair, landscape for birds

A new landscape design starts with a decision. Are you thumbs up or thumbs down for birds? It is a delight to see the chittering goldfinch grace your yard with their presence, but not so wonderful to have thousands of black birds rooting over your patio, so you can love and hate birds at the same time. Your landscape design can influence the type of birds you want, the landscape impression you are trying to make, and the uniqueness of the species that might visit your site.

Birds can damage a landscape. They eat ripe garden fruits and vegetables. They eat invasive plant seed and deposit them throughout the garden, adding instant fertilizer encapsulation in the process. When living too closely to humans, they might carry disease. In large groups, they can deposit copious amounts of droppings. Yuck!

On the other hand, they can fly and they are beautiful. Some are brightly colored. They eat harmful insects. They provide entertainment through activity and song. Anyone living in Guam, especially after the brown tree snake arrived, will tell you how precious they are. Without birds, a lot of native trees would lose their seed distribution. In the balance of things, birds belong outdoors.

There are ways to encourage birds to choose your area for their home. Bird feeders are okay, but they tend to bring mobs of a limited number of species at best, or squirrels at worst! They also leave unattractive seed litter on the ground below. It is much better to provide a diverse, inviting habitat. Go beyond birdfeeders. Your natural vegetation can provide a bounteous food supply. Save the one hundred dollars you would spend on a bird feeder, along with constant trips to the grocery for birdseed, and create a natural and welcoming home for birds.