Starting from Scratch ~ Create the Landscape of Your Dreams

Feeling overwhelmed in a new house surrounded by a barren landscape can seem dismal and daunting? To get the ball rolling and move toward the landscape of your dreams start the process quickly on paper.

Start by creating a simple plan for your landscape on graph paper. You do not have to be artistic to make a basic layout – the first step is to establish your property lines, put in any significant trees and utility boxes, Include the footprint of the house within this framework. A plot plan is usually available through your local town hall. This can save a lot of time with hand measuring and can be enlarged to make a good base drawing. Try to be as accurate as possible, using one square foot of space for each square on your graph paper. Add any significant existing elements such as walkways, decks, patios, trees or shrubs. A copy shop can enlarge your plan so it will be easier to work with. Once the basic design is on paper, the whole site can be viewed from a fresh perspective. Differing shapes and proportions will start to emerge as you start to see both the positive and negative aspects of your site. Your goal will be to enhance and embellish those positive elements and lessen or camouflage the negative elements.

When applying a simple geometry to our home landscapes, boundaries are delineated, potential screening borders are defined and areas for shade providing trees becomes more apparent. Avoid turning large areas into water demanding lawns-this only reinforces the redundant use of wall-to-wall green carpets of grass. An American cliché that needs to change if we are to support self-sustaining, healthy landscapes devoid of chemical dependency. Select shrubs such as abelia, deutzia, itea, Lespedeza and viburnums because they bloom at different times in the season- interplant with ornamental grasses and native perennials to break up large areas. To offset these beds, consider using grass as more of a visual “scatter rug” that links one area to another. Working in this way, creates more fluidity and spontaneity in the landscape-while creating separate and perhaps more intimate areas in your garden.

For example, strategically placed flowering trees may define where a pathway starts as well as eventually add a nice canopy of shade. The verticality of trees brings the scale of the house down while adding a cohesiveness to the overall landscape. Aim to select a palette of plants that complement each other-it is better to choose a limited amount of varieties that blend and reinforce each other in terms of bloom sequence, form and texture. Filling a border as well as the overall landscape with too many differing varieties creates a chaotic look – giving an unsettling and even conflicting relationship with the architecture of the house. The plant selection should enhance, echo and lend a sense of continuity to the lines of the house. Good plant selection along with well-designed hardscaping will anchor the house to the site providing a sense of coherence and stability. This is especially important when working with a new home.

Understanding and appreciation of the style of your home is vital to creating a landscape plan that marries the hardscaping to the plantings. An orderly Cape Cod home works well with a curving brick walk that is edged with lush perennial beds. A more contemporary home may lend itself to large irregular stones laid in sweeping patterns that echo the lines of the home. A wide curving path with planting beds on both sides will soften the long, horizontal lines of a ranch house. Straight somewhat geometric stone patterns can work well with the clean linear lines of an early 1900s home. Patterns, motifs and prominent feature of the house in the form of roof lines arched windows or ornate entrances can be clues to connecting the walkway to the house as well as creating a pathway that flows and encompasses the rest of the landscape. For instance, a repeating path from one doorway should lead seamlessly into a back patio or deck.

Aim to address the hardscape first. Specifically the main walkway from the driveway to the front door keeping in mind the potential for patios, decks and other walkways that may be added later. If the contractor has left you with an uninspired straight and narrow walk that goes from the drive to the front door, consider rethinking the walkway and making it at least 4′ wide. Adding curves will add some drama and make the walk to your front door more visually interesting. A gracious wide walkway with some gentle curves will also suggest areas for interesting planting beds that will add interest and a strong visual appeal to the house. Unifying the plantings and the walkways together provide a strong underpinning that will give the house a more finished look.

When creating a planting border against the foundation of the house, aim to create borders that are 8-12′ deep which will provide for a multilayered planting bed. Also, avoid planting too close to the foundation-a good rule is to plant shrubs about 2-3′ away from the house. Deep beds allow you to be able to select many more interesting plants that will allow for a beautiful succession of blooms. If a cement foundation is unsightly, a solid line of low growing evergreens such as Ilex crenata ‘compacta’ is a good selection that will not only camouflage the foundation but also act as a nice backdrop for flowering shrubs planted in front. Select compact and hardy shrubs that will provide a consistent progression of flowering from Spring to Autumn. Aim to create a border that will have a graduated look in terms of height, balance and form. Embellish the front of your border with long blooming perennials and sweeping ground covers. Low growing Spring bulbs can be added between the ground covers to create additional color in early Spring before anything else is in bloom.

 

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