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The Landscape Design Element that Makes a Big Difference

landscape design contrast, contrast of blue sage with yellow arborvitae

What’s the difference between a ho-hum landscape and one with “Wow!”? Contrast. Use different textures, forms, and colors in the landscape to excite the eye. 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!

Textural contrast provides visual excitement, especially since woody plant material typically has only fleeting moments of color. The strong contrast of coarse foliage against fine-textured leaves is a great look! It is easy to find bread-and-butter shrubs with fine to medium textured foliage, but finding large-leaved plants is more of a challenge. The effort pays off with striking landscape displays.

The form and natural habit of plant material can vary quite a bit. Try to provide contrast in forms 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, so the silhouettes you create provide a pleasing outline.

Contrasting colors spice up a design, too. There are lots of color combinations and harmonies you can try in your landscape designs. You can mix colors opposing each other on a color wheel for a pleasant, contrasting color 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. Color can pull together your design into a cohesive whole and provide neutral breaks in disparate and clashing color schemes.

The differences in life are what make things exciting. Embrace conflicting textures, forms, and color to make them stand out when juxtaposed. Contrast elevates landscape design.

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.

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.

Warm-season Turf Grass Choices

Fine Lines

turf grass choices, warm-season turf grasses, Griffin, GA research and education gardens

There is a thin green line between all the choices for warm season turf in the south. I designed an educational garden to allow consumers to compare and differentiate the choices for their lawns. As you can see above, they are all green, with subtle differences in hue. All of them can be mowed to less than four inches tall. They all have blades of grass that form a fine-textured carpet on the ground. The big difference in all the warm-season turf choices is in the cultural practices needed to keep them thriving.

Before choosing turf for your clients, answer these questions: Once you do, your turf choice is simple.

• How much sun will there be?

• How much supplemental water can you provide?

• How much foot traffic will be involved?

• How often will mowing take place?

• How refined and manicured do you want the lawn to be? Do you want golf-course perfection?

• What is the budget for installation and maintenance?

• Does your client insist on green year-round?

• Does your client insist on non-invasive species?

Invasive Pests

Carpenter Bees and Other Uninvited Creatures

carpenter bee damage, invasive pestsPart of a good ornamental landscape design is gaining control—controlled lines, controlled growth, and controlled water. Invasive pests will not allow coexistence. Invasive pests are out there, trying to wrest away your control and dominance of your outdoor space, and you have no option but to battle them. Vigilance is required to stand and hold your ground. Eradication must be your goal.

Do You Want to Be a Landscape Architect?

The Comptetion from Other Disciplines is Fierce

landscape plan, landscape architecture

Landscape Architects bring substantial value to public projects. Landscape Architects are trained to pull together information from all the disciplines and make them work in practical applications. Construction, project management, design, ecology, hydrology, horticulture, and contract specifications are fields that can cause a project to derail in diverse ways, especially if the process for creating plans is compartmentalized. Experts in these fields are prone to think they have the only worthy answers for their niche, because it takes a lot of education and experience to become good at them. However, I’ve seen civil engineers that were afraid to draw anything but geometric shapes and straight lines, ecologists out of touch with practical solutions, horticulturalists more interested in showing off their Latin than choosing appropriate plant material, and contract engineers focused on meeting the technicalities of specification requirements while knowingly sabotaging the project results by doing so. I’ve seen those same experts turn cooperative and willing to try new things when a Landscape Architect is included in project meetings.


A Sophisticated Landscape Design Tool

interplanting, ferns, mayappleSpellcheck highlights the word “interplanting”, but it is a legitimate planting technique that enriches your landscape design. I am adding it to my dictionary! When landscape designers incorporate interplanting in their plans, it is a sign they are experienced and willing to elevate to high-level garden design. Interplanting takes skill, complex thinking, and an intimate knowledge of plant material. The results can be elegant. It’s a sophisticated design tool to provide year-round interest or make a single garden area have continuous appeal.

Interplanting for successive bloom and foliage interest is a skill worth cultivating. If you learn the peak moments of growth and bloom for the plants in your yard, you can interplant to keep a garden spot performing aesthetically at its best for several months. Interplanting can be combined with thoughtful seasonal planning to stretch the usefulness of a landscape through all twelve months. By taking notes, recording observations, and using combinations that work in succession, you can build your interplanting aptitude.

The maintenance required for interplanting is high-level, too. Landscape crews must be able to nurture plants that are declining while encouraging new growth in successive plants growing in the same plant bed. I’ve seen miles of highway medians, through carefully timed mowings, progress through winter cover crop, spring wildflowers, to summer turf grasses, to autumn native plant mixes, changing color with the season and out-competing weeds. By deadheading, allowing last season’s growth to wither in place, and cutting back spent growth at just the right moment, you can make your own successful combinations. It is common for some plants to have two or even three flushes of bloom, with rests in between. With either careful maintenance or happy accident, the interplay of plant combinations can be developed into self-sustaining performances that repeat year after year. Planning for successful interplanting requires weekly observation and careful plant editing/clipping by someone with an artistic eye.