Where Do We Go From Here – Part 2

Last week I discussed the various functional roles plants may serve in the landscape – with these practical considerations out of the way now, we can finally go about utilizing plants purely for their aesthetic appeal. However, we can’t just go plopping plants into our designs haphazardly. There is still a process – indeed this is inherent in the very definition of design. According to Wikipedia, design is defined as:

  • the creation of a plan or convention for the construction of an object or a system
  • a roadmap or a strategic approach for someone to achieve a unique expectation

Note the words ‘plan’ and ‘strategic approach’ – this suggests we must arrange our plants in a mindful, purposeful fashion. Nuff said? Okay I won’t belabour the point. Alrighty then let’s get going………

Um – where exactly do we go from here? There’s so much to choose from. Well let’s see if we can’t narrow down our choices by looking at what, where, when and why.

What Plants Should I Choose First?

Trees should always be your first consideration – they are the backbone of a well designed garden. Trees provide scale and structure, and since they take the longest to reach maturity, dedicating the largest portion of your plant budget to a few of these horticultural giants, means you’ll have good scale and structure from the get-go.

Once you’ve chosen your trees you can consider shrubs – if trees are the backbone of good garden design, shrubs are the rest of its skeletal structure. Perennials then, are the garden’s attire, and bulbs and annuals, the accessories.

The irony is, most of us have proceeded in exactly the opposite direction. Our first tentative foray into gardening often begins with brightly coloured annuals (I wince at the memory of marigolds and geraniums that were my first garden) or bulbs like tulips and daffodils. Soon we discover perennials, and sometime later (often much later) we start to think about shrubs and trees. I can tell you from experience that it is difficult to go backwards – save ripping it all up and starting over again, this backwards progression will always look like a retrofit.

So what kind of trees should you choose? It goes without saying that they should be of appropriate scale for your house, and of course you’ll choose what you personally find appealing, but there’s more yet to consider. Keep reading.

Where Should I Plant What?

This really is the million dollar question isn’t it? To begin with you’ll need to take into account details like site exposure and available space, to ensure your plant choices will thrive where you place them.  Next, consider plants which will present high visual impact and position them accordingly. For example a specimen tree or other dominant feature should be situated where it can take center stage. Use your design lines, and the shape of the spaces they create, to guide you – a swell in a garden bed or an area that is enclosed on three sides can provide a visual ‘frame’ for a feature tree or focal point.

Revisiting last week’s example – with the shade trees already in place, we can now add a specimen tree, say Sorbus decora. The outward curve of the back bed is just the kind of space that invites a special feature like this showy mountain ash, with its four-season appeal. We could also add some evergreens to anchor the corners – evergreens, because of their stiff needles and their density, provide visual weight.

TREE PLACEMENT

Your design lines and resulting spaces can also help you organize and configure plant groupings. Looking again at the previous example, we see that the space beside the deck is somewhat wedge-shaped – note that the aspens are arranged to precisely fill that space. And the trio of spruces fit nicely into the triangular corner space. We can utilize the spaces between the various plantings in a similar fashion. Or we can emphasize a design line by bordering its entire length, or a portion thereof, with a single type of plant. And don’t forget to utilize Design Principles where applicable.

TREE & SHRUB PLACEMENT

Juniperus sabina planted all along the edges of the curvilinear design lines, creates gentle movement and helps to emphasize the curves. The trio of Cornus sericea on either side also follows the curves, thereby reinforcing them.

Reinforcement Planting

Planting a single type of perennial along the entire span of a design line, as this homeowner has done,  serves to reinforce the line. In this charming garden, low-growing Sedum edges the lovely arc of lawn space in the centre, as well as the straight lines abutting the sidewalks. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Thymus citriodorus 'Doone Valley'

A generous swath of Thymus citriodorus ‘Doone Valley’ borders this softly curving bed.
Photo: Marg Gaviller

Straight lines are strong design lines. This impressive rectilinear design is well emphasized by the linear plantings of Salvia and Juniperus. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Straight lines are strong design lines. This impressive rectilinear design is well emphasized by the linear plantings of Salvia and Juniperus. Photo: Pat Gaviller

When (What Season) Should I Consider First?

This will depend on where you live and to some degree, your lifestyle. Where I live it can be winter for as much as 6 months of the year, so I usually start with winter interest – evergreens, woody plants with interesting form, and plants with colourful bark, berries or seedheads.  For those who travel during part of the year, the season(s) to concentrate on would be when you are actually home to enjoy your garden or landscape. For example I have clients that spend winter in the South and summer at their cottage, so spring and fall are the seasons I considered first when choosing plant material. You’ll also want to make sure you choose plants that require very little maintenance during the growing season so you don’t come home from your cottage to a mess of deadheads and straggly foliage.

Rectilinear Concept with feature trees

Planting for aesthetics in this client’s yard began with the two spaces circled on the left. Both are bordered on 3 sides with design lines – an ideal frame for a feature tree. The underplanting of spreading junipers creates a neutral, year-round prop for these four-season trees. See the ‘real life’ view below.

Rectilinear Design lines

View from the side gate in late winter (top) and early summer (bottom). Photos: Sue Gaviller

Why Choose a Particular Plant?

Up to this point we’ve discussed plant choices mostly in general terms – size (i.e. trees first), visual impact (feature trees and anchors), cultural and maintenance requirements, and season of interest. Also worth considering are such things as tactile impression and fragrance – especially next to a patio, or in a garden designed for the visually impaired (the subject of another post). But the real reason most of us choose a particular plant is because we like how it looks – its form, its texture and/or its colour. Indeed these traits are the manner in which plants relate visually to each other, and to choose appropriately is to choose in the context of these relationships.

Last March I wrote about form, colour and texture in the winter garden – during the growing season however, these plant characteristics are that much more significant as there’s so much more plant material present. In the coming weeks I’ll be examining the visual impact of plant form, textural differences and colour relationships in order to help you arrange plants in the most effective and pleasing way.

Hope you can join me!

Til then,
Sue

© Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Where Do We Go From Here?

After 8 months exploring Design Principles we’re finally ready to tackle the third and final phase of the Landscape Design Process – The Planting Plan. We began way back in April with functional diagrams, which map out a landscape based on the function of each space, and Concept Plans, which give form to those functional spaces (these are outlined in GOOD LINES MEAN GOOD DESIGNS and CURVES WONDERFUL CURVES).

Now at long last it’s time to introduce plant material into our design. Off you go then – pop those plants into your drawing. You know you wanna. You’ve been waiting for this………….

Ha! Are you still staring at your page? Not so easy is it – where does one begin? Indeed where do we go from here?

Well, I have bad news for you. We must begin where we always begin – with function. Ah dear fellow gardeners I can hear you protest, “Oh no, not the ‘f word’ again.” Yes I’m afraid so. Plants serve many functions in the landscape and we must first determine what role we need them to play before choosing and arranging plant material.

Revisiting your functional diagram may be of help here – for example perhaps you made note that some means of providing shade on your sunny deck or patio will be required. If so, an appropriately sized shade tree might do the trick – placed strategically of course, so it can in fact serve that purpose.

A group of 5 columnar aspens provide shade for a sunny deck. While there may be room for a single larger canopy tree, these tall narrow aspens grow faster and will fulfill their intended function sooner.

A group of 5 columnar aspens provide shade for a sunny deck. While there may be room for a single larger canopy tree, these tall narrow aspens grow faster and will fulfill their intended function sooner.

How about privacy? A tree or two may be the answer – again suitably sized for the scale of your house and property. And if you require this privacy year round, you may want to consider evergreens.

Large evergreen trees provide privacy for homes abutting a year-round public park space. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Large evergreen trees provide privacy for homes abutting a year-round public park space.
Photo: Pat Gaviller

Spreading junipers make good slope stabilizers, creating a tidy uniform look. Photo: Ann Van de Reep

Spreading junipers make good slope stabilizers, creating a tidy uniform look. Photo: Ann Van de Reep

Shrubs and perennials can also serve a purely practical purpose. For example, if you have a slope to contend with, shrubs and/or perennials with dense root systems can stabilize an embankment quite effectively.

Slope stabilization

Festuca, Helictotrichon, and Perovskia make a casual, but effective hillside planting at Poplar Grove Winery, Naramata Bench, B.C. Photo: Len Steinberg

Or perhaps you want to limit foot traffic in an area – using shrubs that are thorny or abrasive can provide an efficient barrier.

Are you starting to get the picture?

As you can see, plants are great problem solvers. The size of the plant or plants you choose will be relative to the size of the problem you’re trying to solve. If you want to screen your air conditioning unit from view, a medium-sized shrub planted in front of it may be all you need, whereas if you want to screen your view of an entire street or roadway, a hedge of tall shrubs may be in order. And a windbreak or shelterbelt will require very large trees.

Keep in mind that the ability of your plant selections to produce favourable results is dependent on choosing plant material of a suitable size. For example, a shrub or planting that is too small to obscure an unsightly view may end up drawing attention to it instead.

Ineffective screening

These shrubs are too small to effectively screen the unattractive green utility box. Unfortunately the result is to draw attention, not only to the box, but the unsightly utility area behind. Photo: Pat Gaviller

So when do we get to the part where we plant things just because they look pretty? Don’t worry we’ll get there. Once you’ve dealt with all of the practical considerations you can start to think about aesthetics. But you’ll have to wait til my next post.

Stay Tuned,
Sue
© Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Gardening is a Sport Right?

To all you Hockey Fans out there – Happy Hockey Season!

No this post isn’t about the NHL and NHLPA deal that was reached earlier today, but it is about sports…….sort of.

Over the years my boys and I have had numerous animated discussions regarding what does, and does not, constitute a sport. Both my sons speak from a position of expertise on this, since one is a sports broadcaster and the other played every possible team sport in junior high and high school.

The repartee might go something like this:

Round One

Me: “Boxing shouldn’t be a legal sport.”

Them: “What? Muhammad Ali was one of the greatest athletes ever! And pugilism is the oldest sport in the world.”

Me: “Yeah I know, but there’s something wrong with a sport that requires contenders to knock their opponent out. Doesn’t that mean render him unconscious?”

Youngest Son: “Mom remember my best friend used to be an amateur boxer – he won most of his matches y’know. He wants me to start boxing too and I’m considering it. It’s an awesome fitness regime.” (Okay he probably didn’t use words like ‘fitness regime’)

Me: “Yes I know your friend was a fine young boxer, but please don’t you start boxing – you’ve already had one too many concussions.”

Oldest Son: “Mom’s right about that Bro.”

My youngest son’s friend no longer boxes because he doesn’t want to take any more blows to the head. My son quit playing football and rugby because he didn’t want to sustain any more head injuries. Thank you Lord.

Round Two

Them: “Horse racing and show jumping aren’t real sports.”

Me: “Say what? They most certainly are. Ever watched the Kentucky Derby or Grand Prix show jumping?”

Them: “Yeah but Mom the horse does all the work and the rider just sits there.”

Me: “As one who did plenty of show jumping when I was younger, I can assure you the rider is half the talent on the horse/rider team. I’ll admit the horse is the superior athlete of the two, but riders are still athletes. Riding takes real core strength. Riders have – and there’s no delicate way to put this – really tight toned buttocks, as well as strong quads and inner thighs, firm calves, strong abs………”

Them (grimacing): “Okay enough – don’t need to hear my Mom talk about buttocks.”

I suspect since seeing the movie ‘Secretariat’, they might admit that riding is indeed a sport.

Round Three

This one just the other day with my husband:

Me: “Do you think I could sell the idea of a Gardening Talk Show to our local Sports Radio station. I could call it Not Another Gardening Show”

Him: “No I don’t think so.”

Me: “Why not? If they have poker tournaments on Sports TV, why not a gardening show on Sports Radio.”

Him: “Poker is a sport.”

Me: “No it’s not. And if it is, then gardening should be considered a sport too – it requires way more physical exertion.” (We can both attest to this – so can our backs, knees, hands and wrists. And I bet if you talked to an ER doctor they’d tell you they’ve seen some nasty gardening wounds.)

Him: “I know but it’s still not a sport.”

Me: “Why not?”

Him: “Because it’s not competitive.”

Me: “Oh but it is – there are major gardening competitions all over the world.”

The conversation ends here – he’s still not buying it.

My husband isn’t particularly competitive, at least not when it comes to gardening. He’s in charge of the vegetable garden and the lawn, but he’s not one of those ‘Lawn Ranger’ guys riding around on his John Deere mower (though I bet he would if he had one). And while he grows a mean tomato, he isn’t into growing ridiculously large squash or pumpkin, just so he can say ‘mine’s bigger’. I guess it’s understandable then, that he doesn’t think of gardening as a sport.

According to Wikipedia: ‘Sport is all forms of competitive physical activity which,[1] through casual or organized participation, aim to use, maintain or improve physical ability and provide entertainment to participants.’

Sounds like gardening to me.

The SportAccord, International Sports Federations Council recognizes 5 categories of sport

  • Primarily physical – football, hockey, lacrosse, bodybuilding, etc.
  • Primarily mind – chess, bridge
  • Primarily motorised – motorcycling, powerboating
  • Primarily coordination – archery, billiards, darts
  • Primarily animal-supported – equestrian sports, sled-dog sports

I like to divide the sport of Gardening into 5 categories too:

  • Primarily physical – digging, raking, pruning, planting
  • Primarily mind – remembering botanical names and where you planted those bulbs last fall
  • Primarily motorised – riding mowers, electric hedge trimmers
  • Primarily coordination – gardening and chewing gum simultaneously
  • Primarily animal-supported – birdwatching, chasing Mr. Rabbit (if you have a dog he might do this for you), running from wasps (this can look like a weird spastic dance), swatting mosquitoes

So folks if gardening isn’t a sport I don’t know what is.

Play safe,
Sue
 
© Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.