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.

 

Take a Fresh Look at Your Landscape

Winter is the perfect time to think about creating a fresh and vibrant garden design that can be implemented this spring. Taking the time now allows you to explore what may be missing in your home landscape. Perhaps, you might consider a new walkway that leads out to the backyard for a more intimate connection between house and garden. Privacy screening in the form of large evergreens will block some unsightly views that have been bothersome in the past. The dream of a stone patio with a fire pit surrounded by billowy flowering perennials might fit perfectly into a large swath of unused lawn.

This is true for new homeowners who may have a totally blank slate as well as those who have an existing garden that may look congested and overgrown. A fresh perspective now may be the incentive to really dig in this spring to create a fresh and exciting new look to your landscape.

The view out of a main doorway or larger window of your home is the perfect starting point for creating a new garden this Winter. This is the perfect opportunity to frame a view that links the inside to the outside.

From the warmth of your interior — inspiration for a grander garden scheme becomes more apparent.

The simplicity of a lovely view offers a wonderful relaxing moment — a true break from a busy day

An arbor is helpful to frame the view and increase the drama to entering a garden.

A long axial walkway leads the visitor into a pergola covered dining area – trees flanking the walk represent the “walls” of the garden room.

A nicely proportioned home entrance is enhanced by an overhanging tree and well positioned planting beds.

A garden bench allows for a quiet meditative moment in a May blooming garden.

M.J. McCabe Garden Design Named Top Houzz Page for Inspiration

M.J. McCabe Garden Design is pleased to announce that it has been named as one of the top HOUZZ pages for landscape design inspiration!

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Planting Spring Bulbs

 

Early bulbs are much smaller and will do well planted about 3-4” deep. Top dressing with an autumn mulch keeps the ground warmer allowing for root development before the deep cold of winter sets in. This insulating mulch also protects the bulbs from quick freezes and thaws that often occur in late winter.

A generous mix of bulbs are being incorporated into any existing garden.

As the days become longer and the daytime temperatures gradually rise, the bulbs will naturally begin to emerge and start the wonderful process of sequential blooming. Since the early spring bulbs are low growing and devoid of a lot of foliage, the first flush of flowers magically appears making the early spring garden abundant in a sea of blooms–creating a breathtaking picture that can last for several days of even weeks. When one group of bulbs start to fade, another grouping takes center stage quickly filling in any vacancies in the garden.

 

After flowering, it is important to give them a feeding of organic fertilizer and allow the foliage to die back gradually. Later bloomers like tulips and alliums along with emerging perennials will eventually camouflage the waning bulbs. By creating a design that promotes a progression of bulbs, the garden will never be without something in bloom.

In late April and early May, tulips the grand-dames of the garden lend flirt and fancy in an abundant array of colors and shapes. Species tulips are tiny in size often blooming along with daffodils which makes them less likely to be eaten by deer. To deter rodents from eating the bulbs, use a rodent repellant or add cayenne pepper or garlic flakes to the planting hole.

Spring bulbs in a sculpture garden.

Another trick is to spray bulbs (especially tulips) with a diluted solution of old fashioned liquid lysol and let the bulbs dry completely in the sun prior to planting, The offending critters are hindered by the smell and taste of this strong smelling cleaner. Another tip from a bulb importer is to plant them in the same hole as the allium. The strong onion odor of the allium helps to keep critters away as well.

The dynamic and vertical lines of flowering onions or Alliums continue the show into June- globe-like flower of the allium may be allowed to dry in the garden, which adds texture and interest to your perennial borders. There is a multitude of allium varieties in the market–from very low growing to impressive 4‘ varieties. Alliums add an elegance and dramatic verticality to the late May and early June garden Fragrant and dramatic lilies, “the wings of the garden” take flight in late June and July. You can find a multitude of different hybrids in dazzling colors and shapes in all of these species of bulbs.

An enchanting collection of peony-flowering tulips and late daffodils in a seaside garden.

To encourage your bulb garden to flourish, select a site that has well-drained soil. If the soil needs work, start by enriching the proposed area with good top soil or compost to a depth of about 6”. Bulbs do not like to be planted in area that is usually wet–so good drainage is essential when preparing your site for a bulb garden. Plant bulbs with the pointed side up adding a tablespoon or so of an organic fertilizer that contains rock phosphate, which will ensure proper root development.

It is especially important to plant the bulb to the proper depth which is about 3-4 times the bulb’s length. For example, a tulip which is about 2” long needs to be planted about 6-8” deep. The earlier bulbs are much smaller and will do well planted about 3-4” deep. Top dressing with an autumn mulch keeps the ground warmer allowing for root development before the deep cold of winter sets in. This insulating mulch also protects the bulbs from lifting when quick freezes and thaws occur in late winter. As the days become longer and the daytime temperatures get warmer, the bulbs will naturally begin to emerge and start the wonderful process of sequential blooming. When one group of bulbs start to fade, another grouping starts to take center stage and fills in any vacancies in the garden. Since the early spring bulbs are low growing and devoid of a lot of foliage, the flowers in full bloom appear as luscious masses of color–creating a breathtaking picture that can last for several days of even weeks.

After flowering, it is important to give your bulbs a feeding of organic fertilizer because this is the time they are storing food for next year’s blooms.

Always allow the foliage to gradually die back naturally. By late June most of the foliage has completely withered and can then be safely cut down. Later bloomers like tulips and alliums along with emerging perennials will eventually camouflage the waning bulbs.

By creating a design that promotes a progression of bulbs, the garden will never be without something in bloom. At present, bulb supplies are still plentiful and you can safely plant your bulb garden right up to Thanksgiving. A warm sunny afternoon in late October or early November is the perfect time to plant your spring garden–so don’t hesitate to get out there soon!

 

You’re never too young to learn how to plant bulbs for the family garden!

Autumn Considerations

Spring’s Instant Unexpected Color

Early Spring Perennials always provides some instant unexpected color for your
garden!

Usually in early April, somewhere between the waning blooms of daffodils and before
the massive display of May flowers, early bloomers such as candytuft, phlox subulata,
forget-me-nots and leopardsbane fill a nice spot in the garden. Subtle, petite and
unobtrusive, they can still make a commanding presence in soft spring-like tones
covering the otherwise barren ground with unexpected color. Even though they tend to
be fleeting, these delicate beauties deserve a special place in your perennial garden.
They are an exceptional addition to spring bulbs as the color complement and reinforce
each other.

Of special significance are the spring ephemerals such as Virginia bluebells, trillium,
mayapple, trout lily and bloodroot. They create little niches in the garden once the soil
start to warm, emerging from dormancy and flooding the garden with soft pastel colors.
Growing quickly, they burst almost overnight into flower, providing pollen and nectar for
an abundance of early insects such as bee, flies, and early bumblebees. After flowering
these plants quickly fade and form seed before gradually go dormant. Once dormant, it
is important to mark where they are in the garden and protect their roots from damage
during the busy gardening months of the summer.

With little encouragement, these early spring stalwarts will return and multiply each year
during a time when little else is blooming. They are the perfect companion to native
ferns and hostas.

Evergreens in the Winter Garden

snow1In Winter, when the landscape looks barren and devoid of life, evergreens really come alive, adding dramatic scale and balance. When most of the shrubs and perennials have wilted under mounds of snow, the elegance and majesty of evergreens add depth, volume and structure to the garden–providing the stability and bones to our otherwise empty landscapes.

A mature hedge of evergreens not only provides privacy but also a sense of enclosure and permanence at a time when the outside is not always very inviting and hospitable.

With a plethora of varieties to choose from, it is important to consider the overall shape and size the evergreen will become at maturity. A wonderful winter landscape can be created by mixing differing varieties of evergreens in terms of size, shape, texture and color. For instance, a tall blue spruce becomes more vivid and commanding when flanked by gold-toned evergreens — the contrast becomes striking and dynamic. This can also be true with subtle color shifts in evergreens — a long hedge of various chamaecyparis with contrasting colors and textures can be dramatic and beautiful in every season.

Consider the importance of including evergreens into your landscape especially this spring when shopping for new plantings. By looking at your landscape now, you may be pleasantly inspired to find places where evergreens will really enliven your winter garden next year.

Vibrant Japanese Maples

Japanese maples really come into full brilliance in late Autumn. As wonderful as they are during the spring and summer in terms of shapes and forms, with the transition of cooler weather in the Fall the leaves take a new and vibrant coloration that continues for many weeks.

As the green chlorophyll in the leaves breaks down, the red pigment of anthocyanin emerges pushing the foliage color into full intensity. Japanese maples tend to retain their leaves longer which makes them a real standout especially when surrounding trees have lost all their leaves.  

The Brilliance of Berries

Now that most of our flowers have finished and the leaves are falling in abundance, brilliant color can still abound with many different fall shrubs that produce wonderful colorful berries. The palette of these colors are almost endless, from dazzling reds, fiery oranges, gand lowing ambers to steel blues and astonishing purples. These amazing shrubs make the autumn garden glow in glorious colors which continue into early winter. As an added benefit, these nutritious berries provide food for many different species of birds at a time when little else is available.

A Plethoria of Spring Blooms