Monday, March 31, 2014

Landscaping: Plan Your Garden, Garden Your Plan

In the spring of 2004 my husband and I embarked on a fairly large renovation of the exterior of our home. Implementing a landscape garden in the lot adjacent to the house was not our primary goal, but it certainly ended up being the icing on the cake at the project completion that fall.  We increased the overall curb appeal of our home significantly, and have continued watching the garden's beauty unfold each season since. We're just beginning our garden's eleventh year, a point where gardens really mature. Here's a look back at how we planned our garden, and how we gardened our plan.

When we started in 2004, we were rated as plant hardiness growing zone 6 by the USDA (link to current USDA plant hardiness growing zones). Our landscape soil consists of rich, river bottom dirt, and had never been dug for as long as property records had been kept in our town (more than 100 years). The rendering pictured below is on a 1" to 20' scale. The house and garden lots, combined, are approximately 100' wide, and 100' deep; the main garden is about half of that total space, or 50' x 100'. Plants are identified at suggested locations within the drawing (listed in detail at the end of this post).
We worked with a landscaper, but had definite ideas of what we wanted.  We knew:

  1. we wanted an overall traditional, Southern look to coordinate with our home's appearance and location
  2. we wanted a curved appearance within the straight lines of our perimeter fencing 
  3. we definitely wanted some privacy on the lawn so passersby would be separated from us
  4. we wanted colorful, annual flowers to grab one's attention when passing by the front
  5. we wanted plants that would be both low-maintenance staples and showstopping specimens 
  6. we wanted year-round interest planted in the garden, as we have four seasons, distinctly, in our region
  7. we wanted a plant to disguise a utility pole in the center back of our property (while our home's lines are underground, adjacent properties' are not, and they run along the alleyway of our neighborhood)
Our landscaper and I would volley back and forth with various plant suggestions, I would research and get Mr. P.'s input, and then we would discuss the pros and cons.  Once decided, our landscaper helped us select the optimal quantity of plants for proper spacing when the garden would mature (where we are now).

Here's a closer view of the garden rendering, though it is without all the proposed plants in the frame:
To get a better understanding of our garden, I need to explain a bit about our renovation and the hardscape construction. Where you see the "A." (about midway, on the right of the teardrop lawn in the above photo), a trellis was installed, coming from our courtyard (next to the residence).  There was already a 6' brick wall enclosing that courtyard, both part of the original house construction, which extended parallel to the garage, with a gate access out to the alleyway.  That existing brick wall became the springboard for our renovation of the lot that eventually became the garden.
The renovation project involved having the 6' bricked wall built from the courtyard edge at the back of the property, 50' across the back side of our adjacent property lot, and then forward again to the street. It also included a new design for a portico / balcony (the initial reason for the exterior renovation project).

Here's what the front of the house looked like prior to the renovation:
In the photo above, the side yard (what's now our landscape garden) is partly visible to the right of the crabapple tree at the corner of the house. Our property extends to the back, where you see the weathered cedar fence on the adjacent neighbor's property, which is across the alleyway.

The next photo shows the existing courtyard wall at the edge of the house (tall conifer near the gate), where the proposed trellis would become the gateway into the landscape.  The proposed wall would enclose the opposite side of the yard to this point, and then stair-step down for more openness, all the way to the street front.
Below is a photo showing the just-finished project (October 2004).  The new portion of the brick wall (enclosing the lawn) was stair-stepped down, directly across the point at which the courtyard wall existed.  To the far right, inside the yard (against the adjacent home's side wall), you can faintly see where the 6' brick wall meets the lower fencing.  There is a Japanese maple planted at the junction of the high/low wall change.
From the high/low brick wall intersect, and all the way around the front lawn, brick columns and custom-aluminum fencing were constructed.  All of the already mature landscape plants were removed as part of the renovation, including yews, spireas, azaleas, conifers, and the crabapple tree. In the photo above, outside the fence, we planted boxwoods, liriope and annual flowers. Our parking pad was extended across the entirety of the house and adjacent lawn, curved at each end.

Below is a photo of our landscape when first planted, taken from just inside the back brick wall.  The teardrop shape of the lawn is evident, and you can also see the curve of the lawn toward the front of the house (center of photo).  On either side of that curve, we planted kousa dogwood trees to act as the natural gate of the lawn.  It allows privacy from passersby while we're on the lawn, yet gives both us and passersby a glimpse in/out. The huge trees you see in the distance are actually across the road, on our river property.
You can also see the Japanese maple on the left side, across from the courtyard high wall. This is the point where the wall drops down, behind the maple.
While I didn't have the forethought to capture the garden layout from above just after planting, I did photograph it that next summer (2005).  The next photo shows the front lawn, just inside the brick fence, looking out from the portico balcony, on the right side of the lawn.  Annual flower beds are all in front of the house, and are positioned just in front of the boxwoods, positioned in a curve at the house's front. The boxwoods are positioned with a good 3' between their centers and the front wall of the house. This was part of the plan to allow for mature growth.  The previous plantings were butted right against the house, something we definitely wanted to avoid with the new landscape. Annual beds are also outside of the front gate. In the upper left corner, white-blooming azaleas face the street (curve of parking pad is visible outside the fence), while three PJM rhododendrons (fuschia-blooming) are along the side wall.
The photo below shows the lawn from the left side of the balcony.  You can see how the lawn curves into the entry of the main lawn. Just behind the liriope in the arc of the curve are three holly plants, positioned right at the corner of the house. A curve of knockout roses begin just in front the holly trees.
A view from around the curve is below, entering into the main lawn, where the kousa dogwoods act as the natural gateway on either side of the teardrop.  In the background, just behind the liriope grasses, are a curvature of white-blooming azaleas, and several snowflake viburnum in the far corner.  Near the concrete pedestal are nandina plants, and red twig dogwoods to the left of those.  In the foreground, behind the liriope and kousa dogwood, are the knockout roses.  One of several plants of juniper ground cover is visible on the left side.
The view looking toward the back of the lawn is below.  The trellis (with mandevilla vine growing) is visible at the courtyard gate in the foreground, and the neighbor's cedar fence beyond the back wall gives a hint of the previous lay of the land.  It is much clearer in the photo below to see the utility pole at the back center which we wanted to disguise in our plan.  You can see the maple tree between the pole and the outer wall of our fence, disguising the pole.  Within the left mulch bed are five spirea bushes, and beyond them are black-eyed susans and asters, with butterfly bushes in the far left upper corner.  Flanking the benches are a sea of hosta plants, with hydrangeas and rhododendrons among the borders of the back wall and right side.  The three trees within the landscape are white birches.  Most of these plants are great staples for a landscape, requiring just annual maintenance (trims), and many have year-round interest. Most of the flowering plants are perennials (reblooming each year).
Just beyond the yard umbrella you see in the photo above (to the right of the birdfeeder and black-eyed susans) is this specimen plant, a weeping cedar atlas (below).
Just across from the trellis is our southern lady, a Betty magnolia, another specimen planting (below, with her very first crowning bloom on top).  Another planting of perennials, Lord Baltimore hibiscus, can be seen below in the bottom, right corner (huge red blooms).
The detailed plant listing that we worked together with our landscaper is below.  Only a few changes were made at the last minute, before the actual, initial planting (mostly due to availability).
If you noticed, liriope has no quantity.  I know from cutting them by hand the first couple of years that there are well over 400 of them.  They have multiplied over the years, and have been thinned out.  Seasonal annual quantities vary, and perennial quantities (black-eyed susans and asters) were not quantified at the time.

The garden has now matured, and many lessons have been learned over the course of the last ten years of gardening.  The main lesson learned when considering a landscape garden is simple - plan your garden, and garden your plan. Watch for an upcoming post to see how the garden looks now, in maturity, ten years later. It even amazes me to see how drastic the changes are. I'll share the best of our lessons learned and pitfalls to avoid, many of which can save you money. You already have a good idea of one type of garden plan (traditional, southern), and can take away any of the ideas / information you think may work to your advantage, should you choose to create or alter your own landscape garden either now (spring) or later (fall).

If you have any questions you'd like me to address about the plan or the choices we made, let me know either by comment or email, and I'll try to include them in the follow up post.

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