Thursday, April 26, 2012

Landscape Design

Garden designs should start by putting pencil to paper. It’s easier to correct mistakes with an eraser.

Spring is the perfect time for site analysis. Garden centers are overflowing with garden materials plus it’s a wonderful season to be outdoors.

Even with horticultural savvy, landscape design is sometimes an abstract concept – it’s difficult to visualize the impact of a garden space than a single element like a flower, tree or trellised vine. So, divide your garden into smaller parts so you can better understand it.

Twenty-eight years ago, I developed a system called Lernscaping™ to assist homeowners with the basics of landscape design. It helps determine what you want so your landscape reflects your personality.

Lernscaping™ translates your intent into the “language of landscape” so you can communicate what you want to a landscape professional before you begin your project. Here are some key points to assist you in creating landscape ideas to fit your personality and budget.
An informal fountain adds interest
• What elements excite you in the garden – sculpture, colors, rocks, smells, paths or types of paving?
• What ambiance do you prefer more than others – formal fountains, rock water cascades, symmetrically balanced paving or curved, sweeping beds with a patio in the woods?
• Get to know your outdoor space. You’ll save time, money and aggravation when you begin installation of your garden.
• Record your garden's vital statistics.
- Measurements of design areas
- Compass points and hours of sun
- Pleasant views
- Unpleasant views
- Drainage patterns/problems
- Location of underground utilities (You must call 811 before you dig)
- Features worth keeping
• Consider all aspects of your garden – favorite colors, seasons, plants, building materials and activities.
• Do you entertain, have children?
• Number of hours you spend in the garden?
• Do you want screening, seating, lighting or water?
• How does the sun traverse your garden, casting shadows, creating hot spots?
• Where is the most pleasing place to face for maximum comfort?

Look to the horizon noting panoramas from every angle. Enhance or frame aesthetically pleasing vistas, screen unpleasant ones and create your own.

Heat pumps and highways are worth screening. But remember that planting in or fencing off unsightly structures might call attention to them – distract the viewer to hide an eyesore. Place an ornamental bench and direct the view away from the object. Plan color and interest on the opposite side of the garden. If you use shrubs or a planted trellis to screen the object, repeat the theme and use elsewhere in the yard.
Face an ornamental bench toward the garden
Develop designs that retain and enhance existing features like native wildflowers, streams, rock outcroppings and native plants.

Sculptural elements, seating, fountains, and water gardens are a welcome addition to most landscape designs. At least one piece in a private corner of the yard, tucked into the background of shrubs or surrounded by perennials will add interest.

Your budget will determine the size and quantity of plants you install. Cost doesn’t hold you back from creating an ideal design on paper.

© 2012 Joel M. Lerner
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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Lawn Substitutes

Homeowners who want to decrease their turf are on the rise. Requests are for groundcovers that are more interesting, don’t require mowing, provide color and can handle light foot traffic. I call these lawn substitutes.

Some landscape designs look great with groves of trees, ferns, shade tolerant plants, rock gardens, wildflower meadows, patios, decks or large island beds as alternatives to turf. The challenge is how to integrate areas when lawn creates a good connector or common thread. The cool, deep green color is visually attractive as a backdrop for red, pink, magenta, lavender and other colors.
Wildflower meadows create colorful groundcovers. 
Here are some dependable lawn substitutes that will ultimately grow together and create large lush areas.

• Low growing drifts or sweeps of native grasses, like native broom-sedge (Andropogon virginicus) or blue gramma (Bouteloua gracilis) make an impressive display with showy seed-heads, colorful foliage and seeds in summer and fall, holding their form into winter. They never need mowing and are drought tolerant and will cover large sunny areas, self-sowing to naturalize.

• Creeping thyme (Thymus serphyllum) will fill smaller gaps with flowers and fragrance. Provide good drainage and full sun and plant between path stones where you might brush or step on the foliage exuding fragrance.

• Bugleweed (Ajuga) is available in red, pink, purple, green, variegated, curled and smooth-leafed forms. Drifts look beautiful in spring bloom. They are happy in shade and spread widely. Leave enough room for them to wander.

• Other low growing plants for full sun and smaller areas that won't show much damage if exposed to some foot traffic and will emanate fragrance when bruised are Corsican mint (Mentha requienii) and a hybrid of Roman chamomile called treneague (Chamaemelum nobile 'Treneague'). They will cover open spaces in rock or herb gardens and “travel” between the joints of paving.

• Try some mazus in partial sun. With regular moisture, it will spread to cover areas previously occupied by lawn. It works well between flagstones on informal paths. It hugs the ground flowering purple, blue or white in late spring. You can walk over healthy stands of it and divide into mats for other sections of your property.

• Dwarf mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Nana’) is an evergreen grassy member of the lily family that grows 3-4” high and never needs mowing. The plants tiller together like turf and are tolerant of drought, foot traffic and shade.

• Two groundcover mat forming plants that make an impression, but won’t take much foot traffic, are pearlwort or Irish moss (Sagina subulata) a diminutive, fine textured, ground hugger (flowers white, related to carnations and good for rock gardens) that will cover large areas in well drained sites, and sedum (S. spurium ‘Dragon’s Blood’) with copper red foliage, reaching 2-4” in height and spreads quickly. It can languish in summer humidity but will stay full the rest of the year.

• Moss makes a handsome low maintenance cover for the woodland, but won’t handle much foot traffic. It has several millimeter rhizoids that anchor the plant, but will cover an area only if it’s happy. In addition to spores, it spreads by growing new stems and colonizing patches of soil, rock, brick or other organic material that provides moisture. If it's doing better than the lawn, acidify (according to labeled instructions) with aluminum sulfate to encourage growth.

• Cover the ground with wildflowers. Sow wildflower seed in June in weed-free, lightly loosened soil. Leaving an area to nature will also result in plants covering the ground, either voluntarily or by counting on wildlife and weather.

© 2012 Joel M. Lerner
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