Defining Edges in The Garden

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Many years ago I attended a lecture by a well-known garden designer who was emphatic about the need to understand the edges of a property before you embark on a landscape plan. This was more than just understanding the location of the property lines, or compiling an inventory of trees, plants, and other structures — both essential to the design process.

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A stone pathway winds through a stand of mature trees.

The premise was to create a clear framework of well-chosen trees, shrubs, fencing and other appropriate hardscaping for that garden perimeter. In essence, to envision an appropriate perimeter. By starting at the edges, the overall intent or scheme of the garden will present a framework that will suggest how the rest of the garden will evolve.

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By removing all weedy overgrowth, the backbone of a good design is revealed such as existing ledge, retaining walls and previously hidden shrubs and perennials. (Click for a larger view.)

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Revealing the bones of the garden — border prior to be cleared for planting.

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The second year after planting — ahhhh, the spring garden!

Property Profile: Patio Project

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The renovations to the house were nearly complete, and the area consumed by piles of discarded lumber, uprooted bushes, and muddy tire tracks was to be the garden.

Yes. The garden.

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But, as I stood there talking to the client, the patio, walkways and planting beds began to form in front of us. In our imaginations…which is always a good place to start.

Still, as it true with most new garden plans, question marks dotted the landscape: what would be the shape and size of the patio? how do we create a privacy screen but retain a visual connection to the larger landscape? would there be ample space for the children to play?

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So began the first of many steps in the landscape design process — addressing the issues and concerns. And it moved from there to wish lists, obstacles, sketches, plant idea and more.

The drawings and photographs on this page illustrate how a landscape can be transformed from the blank canvas of a new yard into a welcoming refuge of visual interest that endures throughout the seasons.

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The garden is built from the ground up: stone patio, walkways and grassy areas form the ground plan and define flow patterns. Trees and evergreens create the canopy and enclosure for privacy and definition–shrubs, flowering perennials speak to the tactile and fragrant sensations.

The result? A curved bluestone patio surrounded by a seating wall, and garden beds offering up color and fragrance from April to October, as well as intimate privacy on a busy corner lot.

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A Concert of Summer Perennials

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Stand-alone perennials can be pleasing to look at, but to make a garden sing, it’s the interplay of colors, textures and forms that create grand crescendos!

Perennial combinations create visual symphonies, and the pure serendipity can seem wonderful, especially when plants entwine and the colors vibrate and echo each other. But, it takes real planning and a willingness to think about staging, spacing and bloom sequence to get the tempo and flow of the garden to really come alive.

When summer is in full swing, our gardens can be abundant. To keep a nice rhythm of flowers and color throughout the season, remember these tips:

  • Think about selecting plants to bloom at different times in the summer, so as one group passes the next takes center stage.
  • As you plan your summer garden, the initial layout of plants is important. You want them spaced so that one flows into another one. Interweaving foliage and flowers lends a fluidity and cadence.
  • Flowers may be fleeting, blooming only 2-3 weeks, but their lush, green foliage remains consistent. Choose plants that have nice strong leaves, or vertical interest along with good color and texture to hold interest in the garden until the very last notes of the season.

Help for Your Gardens During This Heat Wave

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This really hot week has really taken a toll on everyone and everything, especially our gardens. Cooler conditions are coming along with much needed rain, but in the meantime, it is important to follow a few good tips for watering your gardens to get them through this very stressful time.

  • Prioritize your watering. It is most important to water newly planted trees and shrubs.
  • Aim for at least an inch of water per week.
  • Water early in the morning, before 7am if possible
  • Avoid overhead watering such as sprinklers. Instead, place a hose running at a low volume at the base of each plant and let the water dip down into the root system slowly.
  • Consider using soaker hoses or drip irrigation which will allow the water to percolate down into the soil.
  • Established trees and shrubs should be watered deeply every week or so. Be especially attentive to shallow rooted shrubs such as rhododendrons, azaleas and hydrangeas.
  • Avoid watering your lawn. The brown patches will green up right after the next rainstorm.
  • Your containers and window boxes will need watering twice a day during this time, as they dry out very quickly.
  • I find an application of liquid seaweed and fish emulsion, diluted per bottle instructions, indispensable during drought conditions. Apply every 5-7 days.