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Water-wise Landscapes

xeriscaping, southeastern cactusFresh water is in limited supply and it is essential for life. That should be reason enough to care about water conservation and drought-tolerant landscapes. There are several ways to be smart about outdoor water use.

• Capture Stormwater—The first and best way to get the most out of water in your landscape is to capture free stormwater before it runs off your property. You can use rain barrels and gutter chains on a small scale, but better yet is to lobby for large-scale constructed wetlands for your regional water use.

• Get a Soil Test—Good, healthy soil allows water to percolate and grabs it for distribution to plant roots.

• Amend the Soil—Use decomposed organic matter as a soil amendment. It has magic fairy dust. It really does!

• Limit Fertilization During Dry Periods—Pushing plants to put out more vegetative growth when they are stressed is not nice. Let the plants focus their survival resources on staying alive.

Midlife Landscapes

Entertaining and Outdoor-Fun-Party Space

landscape fountain, showy patioThe most intense use of a residential landscape happens in midlife. A home landscape can flourish when the property owners are all grown up. Once everyone can swim and stops eating the poisonous berries on the shrubs and loses their inclination to climb dangerously in tree tops, the design of outdoor rooms can be more adventurous. You can add fire and water and expensive sculptures and dramatic staircases. Your plant material can be extravagantly ornamental. It is high display season in the garden.

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!

Cool Season Grass Choices

The Best and the Worst

Kentucky bluegrass, cool season grasses

Cool-season grasses cover lawns where temperatures stay below ninety degrees almost all the time. Cool-season grasses go dormant or die during drought or high temperatures, so southerners are out of luck with the cool species. That doesn’t stop them from trying, though. You can seed cool-season grasses, so they are inexpensive to establish. They germinate when temperatures are in the fifties, so most landscapers seed them in the fall. The lush, green blades last through the entire winter, just like the yards we used to draw in kindergarten pictures. As long as temperatures are moderately cool these grasses stay green all year.

Being able to seed a beautiful turf is a great cost advantage, because seed is much less expensive than sod or sprigs. Suppliers attempt to reduce costs even more by mixing cheaper species seed in with the finest, most elegant turf grass of them all—Kentucky bluegrass.

There is no need for hard choices. Kentucky bluegrass is the best lawn grass possible, hands down. Why would you plant anything else? It makes a beautiful, run-barefoot-to-your-true-love-gorgeous lawn. It is refined and soft and a deep green. Its only weakness is a lack of shade-tolerance. The only other turf seed species that can compete, because it is slightly cheaper, is Tall Fescue, but the quality of a Fescue lawn cannot compare to Bluegrass.


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