Archive for Sunday, March 1, 1998


March 1, 1998


Oh my, have I been inspired. After visiting area flower and garden shows for the last two weekends, I am eager to incorporate the multitude of ideas I have seen. The gently curving beds filled with colorful flowers and flowering shrubs rekindled the gardening embers cooled by the long winter and dark skies. Miniature trees, white picket fences and stone paths leading through skillfully arranged containers filled with bright spring bulbs, summer blooms and fall flowers whet my appetite to start gardening again.

Arbors, benches and huge terra cotta containers spilling over with flowers were invitations to everyone to linger and enjoy. I saw many folks bending down to sniff the hyacinths and gently touch the growing plants, so hungry to stroke the things of a garden once again. I admit, the shows infused me with fresh enthusiasm to begin gardening projects this year.

Landscaping a new home or renovating the tired landscape of your existing home can be an exciting project, yet one not to be taken lightly. The finished product should be worthy of the time, money and effort that went into it. It should reflect and accommodate your lifestyle. And it should be one that you can maintain given your schedule, your desire and your budget.

Sources of inspiration abound for landscape ideas, in addition to visits to local garden and flower shows. To be sure, not all the ideas you collect will be used in your garden, but they will give you a springboard from which to begin your landscape project.

Keep a scrapbook of ideas torn from the pages of gardening magazines. Mark the best ideas you spot in your gardening and landscape books for future reference. Look at public gardens wherever you visit. Take pictures of those you find most appealing. Watch the garden shows on television. While it may be true that some featured gardens are on a grander scale than would be reasonable in a neighborhood garden, the fundamental look and feel of the garden are what you are after. In the end, you need to consider your house style and lot size, immediate neighbors and general character of the neighborhood when thinking of your landscape.

For a more realistic tour, visit the gardens you admire of friends and family. Notice how the various elements are brought together to give the garden its completed look. Talk to the gardeners about the pros and cons of the their landscape. You may also benefit by their offers of plant divisions.

Not to be overlooked for landscape ideas are landscape professionals and local garden centers. They know, firsthand, about the growing conditions we face -- the climate, soil conditions, rainfall and pests of the area. They are knowledgeable about the winter and summer hardiness of plants and the best cultivars on the market. They can provide many ideas.

Points of inspiration

When you review the collection of possible ideas for your landscape, you may notice that you are attracted to certain styles -- perhaps ones that are similar to the garden of your youth with its assortment of fond memories or ones that will easily fit into the conditions of your yard. Thus begins the starting point for your landscape venture.

The utility between your house and garden is the result of careful planning. Through thoughtful plant and hardscape selection, you can develop a sense of belonging to nature that anchors your home in the landscape. The American Association of Nurserymen suggests several ideas to help your landscape blend beautifully with the surrounding environment.

  • Keep it natural: The current trend toward naturalistic landscapes eschews the traditional foundation plantings of tall evergreens at each corner of the house and low rounded shrubs in between. Landscape should accent architectural features not obscure them. Understand mature growth characteristics to avoid plants that will eventually block windows or require heavy pruning.
  • Keep the hardscape in harmony: Avoid hardscape features that draw attention to themselves and away from the overall beauty of the landscape. When natural stone is not practical or available, select pavers or concrete in colors that blend with the landscape.
  • Design a front entry with curved lines: The smoothness of a gently curved entry softens the landscape and extends an invitation to visit. Design your backyard as an outdoor living room. It will become a calm retreat in your busy life. Often the narrow side yards are forgotten. Fill them with plants and paths that make the journey from front to back a visually enjoyable one.

Plant in odd numbers, typically in groups of three or five -- Try grouping three colors or shapes within a four season blooming schedule. Planting in pairs will draw attention to a feature in the landscape, though at times may be desired. Using the same idea, follow a triad method with texture as well. Group a broad-leaf shrub with a blade-shaped perennial and a low-leafed fuzzy plant.

  • Use complementary colors in your flower selection: The color schemes of yellow, pink and blue play off each other when they bloom in the same tonal gradations. If your house has a strong accent color, use it to give structure to your landscape. For example, echo a red cast in bricks or trim by adding a plant with vibrant red leaves. Complement gray with crimson barberries or accent it with silver-edged plants.
  • Consider style options: Formal homes may require structured designs. Landscapes for small homes should avoid tall elements that will dwarf the house. The landscaping options for contemporary and cottage style homes may be different from each other. Informal architecture lends itself to color and activity. No style option is binding. Cherish diversity in your landscape without forfeiting visually pleasing styles.

Designing with technology

Even with knowing all this information, taking the plunge into landscaping can be frightening. If you are like me, you lack the imagination to visualize the garden one year from now let alone 10 years. If I had that capacity, I would never had planted a puny 3-foot tall river birch tree just two steps off my front porch. Now, only a few years later, it towers over the house, its branches drooping in the way of folks making their way to the front door.

Perhaps one way to help your imagination is to put your landscape ideas on a computer screen and allow the program to let your trees ``grow.'' You can move large plants much easier with the click of the mouse than with a shovel and wheelbarrow. You can put up virtual fences, experiment with a variety of plants well-suited to your particular site and, at no cost to you, put in a sprinkling system and outdoor lighting.

I have been having fun doing just that with one landscape program called ``LandDesigner,'' from Sierra Home. The program allows users to input property lines covering up to 10 acres. From there, 55 landscape and garden templates can be imported or, if you prefer, created from scratch. Naturally, I choose to do it on my own. That was probably a mistake since I am a novice user. An extensive database offering information on the cultivation and habits of trees, shrubs, flowers and groundcovers was overwhelming.

In the design of my garden, I identified my site and sun conditions and water availability. I specified how tall I wanted the plants, the desired bloom color and when they should bloom. The entire process was very time consuming, almost as long as if I had actually been in my garden. I didn't really finish it; I just stopped. Then I was ready and eager to take a 3D tour through my new landscape.

Oh my! Good thing I did this on the computer instead of with muscle. I believe I'll go back to the drawing board and redesign a few things. Nonetheless, I remain inspired. After all, I can still see the white picket fences, the stone paths and colorful flowers of the garden show. Soon I will bring them to my own landscape.

-- Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. You can send e-mail to her at gardenspot

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