Doing Garden Design, part 3: Field Notes

As summer’s yard work draws to a close, I offer the following garden-related “notes-to-self” that have been scribbled in my journal during the season.

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fatsia berries

 

PLANT CARE

  • Consider and then use the best available tool for any given task.
  • Don’t cut corners in any task, large or small.
  • Learn about the form of root systems of undesirable plants, the better to eliminate them.
  • When pruning, eliminate dead, weak, and crossing shoots/branches. Be mindful that any cut made will determine the leading edge of new growth. Try to visualize the direction the new growth will take. Cut to encourage growth into outward-inclined free space.
  • No two plants can thrive in the same exact location. Choose one. Carefully extract the other. (See item #4, above.)
  • Mulch, and mulch again.

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magnolia, with hardy geranium ground cover

 

REFINING THE DESIGN

  • Think big, pay attention to tiny details. Be on the lookout for surprises.
  • Allow room for growth.
  • Build into the design some tolerance for chaos. Selectively groom to let in happenstance.
  • Cut losses with too-far-gone plants or schemes.

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giant fern, unfurling

 

MINDFULNESS

  • Note the cycle of patience punctuated by decisive action.
  • Observe with focus.
  • Stand back regularly, and take the long view.
  • Pace self.
  • Slow down. Patience is a goal.
  • Stop and smell all of it.

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tulip

 

All photos by Laura Kraft.

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I invite your comments.

Doing Garden Design, part 1: Analyze This

(a 6-part series)

1996                                                            2016

A garden constantly changes over time. So, too, does the gardener. And (lately), so does the climate. After 3 decades of tending my lush and ever-bearing yard, it was time to re-think its current design. There was little to limit my imagination except the limits of my physical ability and my time.

I approached the design similarly to the way I approach any architectural design project, with a progression of phases.

Phase 1. Identify Problems in Need of Solutions:

  • Some beds have become grass-and-weed-choked beyond repair.

this path (L) has become tangled up (R)

 

  • The shade from established trees has expanded.
  • I have gotten more measured in my energy expenditure as I age, and need to dial down the amount of high-maintenance plants.
  • The summers have gotten hotter and drier; some plants now wither where they used to flourish.

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this slope became too dry and shady for its plantings

 

Phase 2. Gather Facts About Prevailing Conditions.

Over the years, I have developed a head full of experience and opinions about this garden’s performance.

The hardscape (paths, stairs, retaining walls, and paved areas) has been developed over the years. It will essentially remain as-is.

I have noted plantings that have succeeded and those that failed. Some of them combine with others. Some are easy to care for. Some offer great rewards, such as long blooming time, delicious scents, beautiful colors, and/or striking textures.

On the other hand, others are short-lived, invasive, fussy, too chaotic, or I just don’t like them.

I made the following double-duty diagram.

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sun/shade exposure        /        existing features, to remain

 

Examples of elements well worth keeping as-is:

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enormous old rhododendrons with 70’ tall Western Red Cedar beyond

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native ground covers within the rhododendron grove

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sunny flower garden near house

 

Phase 3. Scheme, daydream, and imagine possibilities. Start wish lists, accompanied by deep research in books and on the web. Some of my lists:

  • Flowers I want.
  • Drought-resistant shrubs with “winter interest.”
  • Plants that will bring sparkle to the shade.
  • Plants (from small-to-large) with remarkable foliage.
  • Scented plants to locate near the path.
  • Evergreen ground covers, bedding plants, and specimens.
  • Plants with notable shapes.
  • And so on…

wish-list

I love the evocative names, and all of the promises they hold

At the end of this third phase, armed with information and ideas, I am ready to start drawing.

The next 2H Pencil post will be:

Doing Garden Design, Part 2: Plans

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10 Lessons from Hurricane Sandy

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1.   Almost everyone can make do with less.  Of everything.
2.   After days at 48-55 degrees indoors, 66 degrees feels almost balmy.  We can all stand to lower the thermostat a bit.
3.   Everyone should eat by candlelight more often.
4.  A headlamp was the most valuable tool during the days without power.
5.   Disaster recovery is a full-body workout.
6.   The human race is split, more or less, 50/50 between self-absorbed jerks and good decent people.
7.   If you want the facts about looming weather, turn off your television and get your information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (noaa.gov).
8.   Don’t wait for a disaster to appreciate and thank people whose vocation or avocation is to serve the greater good (firefighters, police, soldiers, committed volunteers).
9.   Mother Nature will always win in the end—we can’t out-engineer, out-build, outsmart, or outrun her.  Let’s work with her, not against her.
10.  Please, let’s all try to be less wasteful, more grateful, and more respectful of our planet. Treat it like it’s your own home.  Because it is.

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NASA photo of Sandy

Thanks to my friend Allison Thomas who, after her community and home were hit by the hurricane, spent nearly five days without electricity, and spent the following weeks helping others recover what they could of their damaged homes.  She wrote this list.

First photo courtesy of Franklin J. Schaffner, filmmaker of Planet of the Apes.

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I invite your comments.