How to design landscaping?

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Landscape Design Principles for Residential Gardens

Eight rules for creating a satisfying garden that is neither fussy nor constraining By Rob Steiner

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Illustration by David Despau.

Table of Contents

  1. Obey the “law” of significant enclosure
  2. Follow the regulating line
  3. Use the Golden Rectangle to get proportions right
  4. Turn to Thomas D. Church when designing steps
  5. Size matters
  6. Plant big to small
  7. Plant in masses
  8. Remember this above all

It’s tempting, in a field as subjective as garden design, to feel that rules do not apply. However, after 28 years and hundreds of projects later, I’ve come to believe in certain rules and guidelines that are neither fussy nor constraining. All have proven invaluable to me over my years of garden-making. Applied by any gardener, amateur or professional, they will result in a more successful, satisfying design.

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Let’s start with two rules that can kick-start the process of laying out a landscape, then move on to guidelines that help in scaling the proportions of a garden’s elements and, finally, to choosing and using the right plants.

01: OBEY THE “LAW” OF SIGNIFICANT ENCLOSURE

Yes, this one’s a “law,” not just a rule! It addresses the root meaning of garden, which is “enclosure.” This, to me, is absolutely critical in creating a sense of refuge and of feeling oneself within nature’s embrace. The law of significant enclosure says that we feel enclosed when the vertical edge of a space is at least one-third the length of the horizontal space we’re inhabiting. Probably derived from behavioral psychology studies, this rule came to me from a professor in graduate school, and it was one of the best things I learned.

On this project in Pacific Palisades, CA, an existing and overgrown row of ficus was reduced by half knowing it would still more than adequately enclose the patio. Illustration by David Despau.

Just yesterday, as I was starting the design of a patio that I wanted to separate from an adjacent play area, it gave me instant guidance for how tall a hedge I would need: the area was 17 feet wide, and so my hedge should be at least 6 feet. Sit near a tree in the park, or a wall, and gradually edge away, and you’ll see how it works. Of course, there are times when the point of a landscape design is a monumental sense of scale or view, but the best gardens, whatever their size, modulate a feeling of enclosure and openness, and this rule will help.

02: FOLLOW THE REGULATING LINE

My formal architectural education also introduced me to the concept of the “regulating line.” The idea is that an element of architecture (for example, a doorway, or a building edge, even a window mullion) or a distinctive landscape feature (prominent tree, existing pool, property boundary) can “generate” an imaginary line that helps connect and organize the design. For example, in laying out one backyard, I projected the lines of its building addition into the garden space and then aligned the swimming pool and wooden walkway with those lines. The result is orderly and cohesive, even after being softened with planting. “A regulating line,” wrote the great architect (and theoretician) Le Corbusier, “is an assurance against capriciousness…It confers on the work the quality of rhythm…The choice of a regulating line fixes the fundamental geometry of the work….”

The decking on a different project in Pacific Palisades, CA, creates a regulating line that is parallel to the plane create by the gray wall of the house in the upper right of the image. Another regulating line is created by the edge of the pool running parallel to the glass window on the home. These lines intersect at the base of the tree. Illustration by David Despau.

Le Corbusier hits on the two aspects (a bit paradoxical, perhaps) that make the regulating line so valuable. First is the idea of underlying order: that the garden, for all its naturalness, or wildness, is founded on strong principles—what’s sometimes known in garden circles as “good bones.” Second, that regulating lines—at least as I employ them—are subjective; it’s the designer who identifies and manipulates them to create the garden. And I’d say that the use of the regulating line, more than any other concept, separates professional from amateur design.

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03: USE THE GOLDEN RECTANGLE TO GET PROPORTIONS RIGHT

Certain rules help us refine design. One is the Golden Ratio which is a ratio of proportion that’s been observed in everything from the Great Pyramids at Giza to the Greek Parthenon and has been used throughout history as a guide to a pleasing sense of balance and order. The practical application that I make of the Golden Ratio involves its sibling, the Golden Rectangle, in which the ratio of the short side to the long side is equal to the ratio of the long side to the sum of both sides (a/b = b/a+b)—you probably didn’t know that landscape architects had to learn math. Numerically, the Golden Rectangle ratio is close to 1: 1.6, a proportion I regularly use to lay out terraces, patios, arbors, and lawns. The raised beds in my vegetable garden are 5 by 8 feet. It’s a rectangular proportion that always looks good—they don’t call it golden for nothing!

Raised planters in my garden follow the Golden Rectangle. Note, too, the significant enclosure provided by the Eugenia hedge. Illustration by David Despau.

04: TURN TO THOMAS D. CHURCH WHEN DESIGNING STEPS

Another ratio may even be platinum: That’s what I’ve always called the rule for step design advocated by landscape architect Thomas D. Church, often credited with creating the California style. Laid out in his seminal work Gardens Are for People, it says simply that twice the height of the riser plus the tread should equal 26 inches. That means that if the riser is 5 inches, the tread (what you walk on) should be 16 inches. All I can say is that the rule is true, and I’ve used it from steep canyon faces to gentle changes of patio levels. A useful corollary states that 5 feet is the minimum width for two people climbing steps side by side.

At this Mediterranean inspired garden in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, the tile-faced steps follow Church’s ratio. Illustration by David Despau.

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05: SIZE MATTERS

A final rule related to scale and the sculpting of space is this: Go big. Faced with a decision to make a staircase wider or narrower, a pool longer or shorter, a pergola higher or lower, the answer is almost always the former. In my own garden, I remember laying out an arbor, with its posts 10 feet high, and listening to trusted friends wondering whether it wasn’t “a little too tall.” Thankfully I stuck to my guns, and some 18 years later, wreathed in wisteria and anchored at the ground by clusters of pots, the arbor seems just right.

At ten feet, this arbor in my garden allows for hanging and surrounding foliage to intertwine and connect the arbor to the space without infringing on the sense of space. Illustration by David Despau.

06: PLANT BIG TO SMALL

It’s with plants, probably more than any other element of gardens, that the infinite variation and fickleness of nature is most evident—and so perhaps, they are the trickiest to prescribe rules for. And yet, successful planting is the crowning touch of a garden. Three rules have always served me well.

The big palms on this Mediterranean project were already on the property; the pepper tree followed. Then the hedges and vines were installed. Only after all this were the perennials and containers planted. Illustration by David Despau.

First, is to plant big to small: start with trees, then shrubs, then perennials, then ground cover. This is important not only in a compositional way (seeing the bigger forms first gives a better sense of the overall structure), but in a completely practical sense. Setting a big tree may require machinery or at least multiple gardeners and ample space for maneuvering and stationing amendments and soils; it would be sad to damage or undo some newly planted bed. This seems so obvious, but for lots of gardeners (the author included) a block of fresh perennials may be impossible to avoid planting right away. Be strong; resist the temptation.

07: PLANT IN MASSES

While there is much to be said for the cottage garden, with a rich array of varied planting (indeed, it’s the real master gardener who can pull this off), there is a power to seeing a quantity of one plant that is genuinely affecting. Russell Page, one of the great twentieth-century landscape designers said it well: “the most striking and satisfying visual pleasure comes from the repetition or the massing of one simple element. Imagine the Parthenon with each column a different kind of marble!”

Ornamental grasses, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ and Sesleria autumnalis flank a garden boardwalk in Pacific Palisades, CA. Using drifts on both sides of the walk reinforces a sense of mass planting. Illustration by David Despau.

I remember as a beginning garden designer in California being taken aside by my mentor, a transplanted Englishwoman who owned the nursery, walking through a vast block of salvia, and being told that I could, if I liked, use 30 of them—not the three or five I’d typically been planting. It was a liberating moment.

08: REMEMBER THIS ABOVE ALL

Maybe my favorite rule of all time, all the more charming for its need to be adjusted for inflation: It’s better to plant a 50-cent plant in a $5 hole, than a $5 plant in a 50-cent hole. Imparted by Ralph Snodsmith, my first official gardening teacher at the New York Botanical Garden and talk radio host (a character whose working uniform was always a forest green three-piece suit), there is no greater planting wisdom. No matter how brilliant a plan one conceives, if the plants are not well planted—at the right height, in a sufficiently sized, and properly amended pit—the results will likely be poor. Some rules just can’t be broken.

On yet another project in Pacific Palisades, CA, I planted a Brugmansia versicolor (angel’s trumpet). This plant had been banging around in the back of my truck for weeks so I asked the client if they wanted it. With a well-dug and amended hole, it flourished. Illustration by David Despau.

The books shown here are Garden Design editor favorites.

ABOUT THE AUTHORGardens are such personal and individual expressions that the very idea that there is a “way” to create one seems almost insane. And the range of prescriptions about how it should be done—from conventional wisdom such as planting tall plants in the back of the border and short ones in front, to the ironclad strictures of codes, covenants, and restrictions—will stir the rebel impulse in any creative soul. Faced with a building code that dictates a 42-inch limit on planting, I will make it a point of honor to go higher. I am all for a healthy anarchistic impulse in the garden.

But I am also formally trained, the product of a prestigious East Coast graduate landscape architecture program—deemed ready to design gardens when I moved west to Los Angeles to begin my career. In fact, as I see it now, I knew only a few things then, and those in a largely theoretical way. What’s more, my knowledge was to be tested and often subverted in my new environment. Everything was different: plants, climate, construction technologies—everything. The first time I saw eucalyptus trees hacked into coat-racks of stubs and stumps, I remember thinking “maybe that’s how they’re supposed to be pruned.” (I got that sorted pretty quickly.) It was some years later—working first in a large office, then in a wonderful nursery where I got an intensive course in appropriate planting for Southern California—that I migrated towards residential garden design. There, personal involvement seemed the highest, and the experience of landscape the most intimate—just the thing that had drawn me to the field in the first place.

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Read about five more landscape design rules on LandscapingNetwork.com.

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This article, adapted for the web, originally appeared in the Early Spring 2015 issue of Garden Design Magazine under the title “Rules of the Game.”

When the weather gets warm, a smattering of flowers and plants gives your outdoor space a springtime feel. With their pops of color and texture, flower beds easily shake the winter dullness off of your home. This list of 27 beautiful flower bed designs can help transform your yard from boring to “wow!”.

27 Pretty Flower Bed Projects

Whether you want to plant flowers, herbs, vegetables, or shrubs, there are pretty flower bed ideas here list for you. If you think plant beds are for grandmas and country cottages, think again! Flower beds don’t have to be boring or predictable. On this list you will find gorgeous floral layouts, unique planters made from repurposed household objects and designs using fun props.

From old suitcases to antique cauldrons, all it takes is a little creativity to show your personality through your garden! There are also tons of simple and easy to make projects, too. There are even ideas for raised beds so you never run over your plants with the lawn mower. Never fear if you have a small yard; simply try one of the vertical flower bed decorations on this list. It’s time to find your favorite bright and sunny flower bed ideas!

1. Perennial Flower Bed for Summer-long Blooms

Source: ctbetterhs.com

A flower bed filled with perennials is just the thing for blooms that last the entire summer then return year after year. Try a bed with a serpentine border dominated by pink begonias edged with smaller white begonias. Break up the pink and add height with discreet plantings of boxwood, miscanthus grass, barberries, day lilies and tall, orange canna lilies.

2. Combining Tulips with Annuals and Perennials

Source: .com

This dream garden creates a harmonious arrangement. Why not extend your garden blooms every year with tulips, annuals and perennials that will come back around each year with little maintenance? Space your flowers out so that the tulips stand taller than your shorter, low-growing annuals and perennials. Your tulips will return for several years when winters are cold, but may not survive when grown in warmer, moist climates. This stunning flower bed has a unique blend of red and yellow tulips. There are numerous color choices from white to even black tulips. Planting clear, primary tulips will create a festive effect in a mixed flower bed. Daylily, Catnip, Salvia and Bells of Ireland are all great companions for tulips and ones to consider if you’re thinking about recreating this gorgeous full flower bed.

3. Side Yard Flower Bed for Small Spaces

Source: hometalk.com

Don’t neglect the side yard! Plant bizzy lizzies in a flower box and around the edge of a modest foundation bed. Contrast their pink and white blossoms with plantings of deep green hosta lilies. Though hosta lilies are mostly planted for their foliage, now and then they send up spires that bear small, lavender, violet or white flowers.

4. Pretty Repurposed Tree Stump Flower Bed

Source: thegardeningcook.com

Old tree stumps are hard to dig out, so why not use them for a flower bed? One idea is to add pelargonium in the center surrounded by orange and gold nasturtium with variegated leaves — nasturtiums, by the way, are edible — and deep purple bellflowers. Plant some pelargonium, bellflowers and ornamental grass around the roots for a perfect balance.

5. Flower Shaped Floral Garden Layout

Source: alternative.net.br

Why not have a flowerbed shaped like a flower? Plant pink begonias for the petals, blue forget-me-nots for the center and a prostrate green plant such as Hacquetia for the curving stems. Scarlet impatiens tucked into a curl of sky blue spring gentian add a lovely accent. Make sure to keep everything trimmed and tidy.

6. Rustic Hollow Log Flower Bed

Source: pinterly.com

A hollow log also makes an excellent flower bed. Shovel in some gardening soil and fill it up with cheerful flowers such as daffodils, pinks, blue and white phlox, blue irises and red gerbera daisies. The sword-shaped green leaves of these flowers contrast with the softness and brightness of the blooms.

7. Tile Deck with Built-In Flower Beds

Source: chiclittlehouse.com

A homeowner who is thinking of adding a deck should think about one with built in planters. In this case, the deck has a tile floor, but planters can also be built into decks made of wood. These beds delight the eye with pure white roses contrasted with purple lavender and butter yellow sundrops.

8. Side Yard Plant, Flower, and Herb Garden

Source: flickr.com

It’s perfectly acceptable to mix ornamental flowers with herbs, as long as they can be planted together. Try chives and different species of basil along with hosta lilies, heuchera, hen and chicks and ornamental grasses. Strategically placed round cobbles give the bed a certain gravitas. Their hard, rough brown surfaces go well with the soft green of plants and herbs.

9. Raised Block Flower and Plant Bed

Source: ideas.wursttex.com

A raised bed made of pre-cut blocks and pavers makes tending to the plants easier, especially if the gardener is getting on in years. Plant some ornamental grasses, turf lily, chrysanthemums, asters, thrift and perhaps a small, ornamental tree. Like the garden mentioned above, a vegetable or herb can be added. Don’t forget the garden gnome.

10. Make a Statement with a Bold, Colorful Flower Bed

Source: .com

What better way to add a little color to your garden than with a round flower bed with bright colorful flowers. The round cement border makes this little flower bed stand out and make a statement. The painted concrete border is an easy DIY that makes this backyard flower garden look customized and almost like a built-in feature. When it comes to choosing the actual flowers you want for your flower bed, the options are endless. If you want a cohesive look, try pairing the same color flowers together, like this yellow and purple all throughout your garden or around the backyard to really maintain the color theme.

11. Gravel Yard with Plant Bed

Source: gardendesign.com

A bed in a gravel yard lets the gardener indulge in all kinds of colors, heights and textures provided by aloe and agave plants, ornamental grasses, sedges and a rosemary plant allowed to grow to shrub-size. Blue gravel used both to separate the bed from the yard and as mulch brightens the colors of the plants.

12. Flower Bed with Clay Pots

Source: sequingardens.org

When it comes to convenience, nothing beats flowers planted in clay pots half-buried in a bed of gravel. Bulbs do fantastically well with this scheme, including these party-colored tulips. Other flowers that sprout from bulbs or corms that would do well here are daffodils, members of the allium family such as onions and garlic and crocus.

13. Flower Bed with Wheelbarrow Planter

Source: fur.press

If a homeowner has an old wheelbarrow that is past its prime, there’s no reason not to install it in the middle of a flower bed. Fill it with bizzy lizzies against a background of golden false sunflowers. Plant more bizzy lizzies, bellflowers and daylilies in front. An old fashioned streetlamp behind the wheelbarrow gives the bed height and interest.

14. Vintage Suitcase Flower Planter Idea

Source: .com

An old suitcase can be repurposed as well as an old wheelbarrow. Prop the suitcase on chair and plant some magenta or white and purple striped bizzy lizzies or petunias and white asters. A gardener who is worried about filling the suitcase directly with dirt can place the plants in containers first.

15. Pretty River Rock Flower Bed

Source: plantas.facilisimo.com

River rocks make an interesting border for a bed that’s been planted under a cheerful window box. The main planting can be orange canna lilies, yellow and pink chrysanthemums or zinnias, stonecrop and a semi-circular hedge of bugleweed. A planting of white candytuft echoes the curve of the river rocks and makes the viewer think of a waterfall.

16. DIY Wood Flower and Herb Bed

Source: classia.net

Another DIY flower and herb bed is made of wooden “soldiers.” In the center, at the base of a tree which may be an ornamental maple, are stalks of flowering onion surrounded by chives, dill, orange and yellow chrysanthemum and sage. A small mounded juniper gives the bed some heft and contrasts with the tall stalks of the allium.

17. Round Flower Bed with Pots

Source: housely.com

Surround a stately Norfolk Island pine with plants bursting with color in this bed. A circle of purple and white and red and white striped bizzy lizzies spread out from the pine ringed by stonecrop, moss and pots of pink and white bizzy lizzies. Colorful zinnias and impatiens are found at the very edge of the bed.

19. Lush, Magical Flower Garden with Pathway

Source: bhg.com

A brave gardener can tolerate their garden going a little crazy. In this one, a sturdy pergola is muffled with a blue-flowering wisteria, and white roses cling to the wall. The lower stories of the garden are planted with stonecrop, wild onion, ornamental grasses, lamb’s ear and a mass of pinks. A meandering, gravel path winds through it all.

20. Antique Bed Frame Flower Bed

Source: forums2.gardenweb.com

A lovely trend is to make a garden out of old furniture. This garden bed has a headboard draped with white, gold and purple flowers, pillows made of small privets, a “mattress” is made of grasses, violets or flax, a footboard of a white-flowered shrub. A playful group of golden-ray stands at one corner near a fern frond.

21. Flower Bed for Small Yards

Source: fur.press

Sometimes a small yard is a blessing. There’s less work, and the gardener can make a statement. This little yard has a back story of lovely euonymus or holly shrubs with different types of hydrangeas in the front bordering a lush lawn. At the edge the border, a vine quietly climbs an old tree.

22. DIY Vertical Flower Garden Tower

Source: groweris.com

If the gardener finds that they really do not have a lot of space, they can build a vertical garden. This garden tower is made of white, salmon, pink, magenta, lavender and white bizzy lizzies. Of course, a gardener can use just about any flower of their choosing to make a garden tower, including roses and flowering vines.

24. Wood Trellis Vertical Flower Bed

Source: theidearoom.net

Another idea for a gardener with a small space is a vertical flower bed made of a wood trellis. Gloxinias, petunias and their foliage cheerfully poke their heads out from between the slats. Above, alternating yellow lady’s mantle and a scarlet flowered plant grow in a box that spans the length of the house’s wall.

25. Antique Cauldron Flower Bed Design

Source: woohome.com

This whimsical planting has a cauldron chained to a post. But instead of stew, this cauldron is filled with white bizzy lizzies. The flames are made of red salvia, yellow Adonis flowers, African daisies and planted among kindling. More warmth is added by the red mulch that covers the garden soil.

26. Pretty Birch Log Plant Bed

Source: home.texasdinnercruise.com

Sawn birch logs also make an interesting plant holder in this bed. The birch log, with its pale bark and darker markings, has its own beauty. Its planting of a red-brown ornamental grass such as Japanese blood grass, spilling ivy, red and bronze coleus and red azalea make it even more aesthetically pleasing.

27. Easy DIY Peony Flower Bed

Source: twotwentyone.net

Peonies are so showy that they don’t need company. The flowers come in white as well as the pink and red seen here, and their foliage is also attractive. This foundation planting is so full of these sensational flowers that the visitor won’t even notice the A/C unit or the electrical meter around them.

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The Curbly House 2017

Being a homeowner is a big responsibility, and while there’s plenty to take care of inside you home, don’t forget about the outside, either. If you’ve ever looked into the cost of hiring a professional landscaper, you know they’re not cheap. Fortunately, there are a slew of inexpensive and affordable DIY landscaping ideas at your disposal, so long as you’re willing to get your hands a little dirty. From the front yard to the back, barbeque pits to bistro lights, here are 59 ways you can affordably improve your outdoor space.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Front Yard Ideas

Source: Pretty Purple Door

1. To create dynamic visual impact with little long-term commitment, try layering flowers and low-growing greenery in your front yard. These plants are arranged in the ground in a curving pattern, rather than just straight across the lawn.

Source: Manitoba Design

2. Add drama by layering the height of your plants. Big in the back, small in the front.

Source: Rocks With a Touch of Class and a Side of Sass

3. Have a section of your front yard that’s too awkward to mow? Fill it with rocks. Problem solved.

Source: At Charolette’s House

4. Take the DIY landscaping ideas off the ground and to the house by installing a few window boxes (they’re surprisingly easy to build).

Source: Arbor Original

5. Or try an outdoor shelf instead.

Source: Pine Landscape Center

6. If you have a large front yard with little dynamism, add large boulders and rocks for variety.

Source: Gardening Know How

7. How about creating a berm? What’s a berm, you ask? It’s when you transform your totally flat yard by creating mounds of interest. Easy, and totally affordable. Be sure to do your research first before create a berm around the base of any tree, as too much dirt can suffocate the tree.

Source: Better Homes & Gardens

8. No trees on your lawn? Build a trellis or two for your front yard flowers to climb (they are also fairly inexpensive to purchase).

Source: Curbly

9. Looking for inexpensive ways to create borders or edging? Border your walkway with plants and flowers to define lines in the front yard.

Source: The Home Depot

10. DIY landscaping ideas don’t get much more affordable than this: install brick edging to outline areas of your yard using salvaged or recycled brick.

Source: West Lake Landscaping

11. Go for a more natural look by using stone to edge your plants.

Source: Rocks with a Touch of Class & a Side of Sass

12. Or, edge flower beds with river rock. How easy is that?

Source: This Old House

13. If you want to keep your yard tame but still want contrast, consider a ground cover plant. Add a few of these low-growing ground cover plants to add variation and color.

Source: Better Homes & Gardens

14. Display flowers in containers along steps, walkways, or on ledges. This is a great way to add visual interest if you have a lot of brick or asphalt in your front yard.

Source: The Spruce

15. You don’t need a professional – learn how to add a pretty stone walkway that leads right to your front door.

Source: Christmas Lights Etc.

16. Use rope lighting to create illuminated borders to your front yard for a bright footpath at night.

Source: Better Homes & Gardens

17. Have a steep front yard? Try creating cliffs with stone and native flowers to eliminate the need to mow.

Ways to Improve Your Backyard

Source: Decoralink

18. Ugly or boring fences no more! Create layers of plants and bushes to frame out the edges of your backyard.

Source: Etsy

19. Grow marigolds in your back yard to deter mosquitos and aphids (you can also grow chrysanthemums, lavender, and basil).

Source: Sunset

20. Create a raised garden bed to grow your own veggies (or buy an inexpensive one). It will add visual appeal, and you’ll be able to reap the benefits of your labor.

Source:Not Just a Housewife

21. Give your back yard some interest by building your own paver patio.

Source: A Beautiful Mess

22. Or go for a full-blown pergola! A bigger back yard project, but much more affordable if you do it yourself.

Source: Curbly; Photo by Faith Towers Provencher

23. Hang some outdoor bistro lights on these easy-to-build light stands to illuminate your yard.

Source: Not Just a Housewife

24. Get ready for DIY landscaping ideas straight out of childhood. Why not create a secret garden in your back yard? The 9-year-old in me is absolutely giddy over this idea.

Source: Not Just a Housewife

25. Create a flower-filled fence line. Here are some plans a fence with built-in flower planters.

DIY Fire Pits You Can Create

Source: A Beautiful Mess

26. First time fire pit builder? Here’s how to make this one in four easy steps.

Source: ManMadeDIY

27. Follow this tutorial for a more modern fire pit.

Source: House & Fig

28. If you have an old washing machine lying around, you can create this one-of-a-kind upcycled fire pit.

Source: Oh The Potential

29. Would you have guessed that this fire pit was initially made out of cinder blocks? Learn how to skim-coat to create this clean look.

Source: The Brick House

30. If you’re handy with a welding torch, you can make a minimal fire place from metal.

Source: The Art of Doing Stuff

31. Maybe you don’t want a whole fire pit, but a little glow would be a nice touch to your back yard. Here’s how to create a mini glass fire feature.

Source: Elisabeth McKnight

32. No back yard to build a fire pit? No problem. You can still toast marshmallows in a terra cotta pot.

Water Features to Add Appeal Outdoors

Source: HomeTalk

33. Water features don’t have to be complicated, or even powered. They can be as simple as a bird bath. Build your own, or purchase an inexpensive one. Give your yard something of interest, and beautiful song birds, too.

Source: Erica Glasener

34. Create visual appeal in your yard by building your own urn water feature from a ceramic vase.

Source: Addicted 2 DIY

35. Stack ’em up! With a little extra effort, you can transform the previous project on this DIY landscaping ideas list into a multi-level water feature.

Source: The Family Handyman

36. You don’t need special skills to build a water feature, just a bit of time and the right tools. Here’s how to build one from stone.

Source: Curbly

37. This is one of those DIY landscaping ideas that is going to require the help of a friend, but if you’re into drama, consider building a stone pond fountain.

Source: The Family Handyman

38. Don’t you love this low-to-the-ground look of this stone fountain?

Source: The Interior Frugalista

39. Big impact at a little cost! Check out this tutorial for making a waterfall wall for under $300.

Source: The Spruce

40. For the ultimate “wow factor,” accent your outdoor space with an outdoor waterfall.

Hedges, Fences, and Other Privacy Features

Source: This Old House

41. Add privacy by planting some shrubbery yourself. It’s as easy as digging a trench, dropping the plants in, teasing out the roots, and watering.

Source: The Home Depot

42. Nothing beats the backyard privacy of your own fence. Before you begin the building process, you’ll need to be sure of a few things: Verify your property line, check with your city or township about the limitations and height-restrictions of your fence, have someone from the city come and check for gas lines, and have a neighborly chat with anyone you’ll be sharing the fence line with.

Source: Curbly

43. Need just a bit of privacy? Build this floating garden wall. It comes complete with shelving for plants.

Source: The Horticult

44. For natural privacy, build a trellis wall out of copper pipe to create a green barrier over time.

Source: A Beautiful Mess

45. Create a visual divide and build a mod trellis.

Source: The Faux Martha

46. Transform your privacy wall using shou sugi – the process of burning wood, making it water-resistant. Side effect, the shou sugi treatment transforms wood to a beautiful, rich black color.

Source: Curbly

47. Create an implied wall to divide your yard using small trees or shrubs.

Source: Fast-Growing-Trees

48. Need lots and lots of privacy? There are cheap trees you can buy that over time will block out the neighbors, like the inexpensive Leyland Cypress.

How to Create Shade in Your Yard

Source: The Home Depot

49. No shade? Create an outdoor hangout space by getting an affordable fabric gazebo.

Source: A Beautiful Mess

50. Or sew curtains to hang from your pergola to block a little light when needed.

Source: DIY Network

51. Add a sun sail for immediate shade (bonus if you hang it over your own trampoline lounge!).

Source: BHG

52. Grow shade by planting rhododendron in your yard. They’re a dense evergreen with broad leaves, and the flowering in the springtime is lovely.

Source: The Old Farmer’s Almanac

53. Grow Chinese Wisteria on an existing structure or trellis to block light (be mindful – this plant is known as an invasive plant in some areas).

Creating Visual Interest Around Trees

Source: Jacksonville Tree Service

54. Add mulch to cover the most shaded parts of your lawn.

Source: This Old House

55. Another genius (and affordable) of the DIY landscaping ideas: Add ground cover plants to hide gnarly roots.

Source: Costa Farms

56. Or, opt to grow some moss instead.

Source: Rocks With a Touch of Class and a Side of Sass

57. Use stone to edge the area around the base of your trees.

Source: The Great Goodness

58. Or build a raised flower bed at the base of the tree (be careful not to add too much dirt around the base of the tree, as you could hurt or kill it).

Source: This Old House

59. For extra seating, create a one-of-a-kind tree bench.

Developing Your Spring Fertilization Program

Photo:

When it comes to designing a landscape your customers will treasure for years to come, it’s true that a lot of thought must go into the planning.

Understanding and implementing techniques such as massing, grouping and repeating patterns can help add depth and dimension to an area, and it can also help bring out certain attributes of the landscape that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

Take a look at a few tips we’ve compiled to help you better understand why these particular techniques and ones similar to them help bring out the best of a landscape.

Massing/grouping

When choosing the option of massing/grouping for a landscape, it simply means that you will take one type of plant and mass it into one big group or section. Massing has been used for ages to achieve well put together looks in lawns.

When you plant a large group of one plant type tightly together, you are able to achieve a good visual impact, and it also works to balance and proportion out the landscape. If plants aren’t massed together, it can sometimes be difficult to achieve this same aesthetic impact with plants scattered in little groups here and there.

When plants are massed together, it helps create texture, form, larger pops of color and it can reduce maintenance in some situations. Plus, when comparing the landscape to surrounding features like houses, large trees and other buildings, massing the plants together can help them stand out from their competition.

But how many plants do you need in an area to consider it massed? To start off, planting about six should suffice; after that, the choice is really up to your customers. When working with grasses, woody shrubs, sturdier perennials, groundcovers and sometimes annuals, this technique will work well, and you can even consider grouping five or so planted pots together to achieve the same look.

Plants such as hydrangeas, catmint, ferns and black-eyed Susans group very well together and can either provide a dramatic pop of color or a tantalizing patch of green, depending on your customer’s preference.

Repetition and patterns

Repetition is one of the key principles of landscape design. Repetition is sometimes the repeated use of elements or features that create sequences or patterns in the landscape, and it can also be used simply by using repetition with the same color, form or texture throughout the area.

Consider repeating colors, forms, lines and textures throughout the landscape to create a unique rhythm in the area. To do this, first, take time to consider the natural way your eye focusses on objects that are a distance away. Eyes are drawn to areas with symmetry, and when items are grouped in threes, fives and sevens, the eyes tend to be drawn to them more.

Using the same plant over and over again in a landscape is a simple method of repetition, and using the same series of pots, arches and more elements like that throughout can also be considered simple repetition. A third easy method of repetition is using a group of similar features that differ slightly in color, size or texture.

Whether it’s taking advantage of repeating stepping stones, stone structures, baskets, planters and more, don’t be afraid to use the repetition of items and hardscapes to your advantage. The repetitions don’t have to be saved for just the green elements.

When considering what look to go for in your customer’s yard, take note of how some plants naturally form patterns when left to their own devices. They will mix and mingle, grow over each other and spread out naturally, so don’t be afraid to let things become a little wild when it comes to design.

Patterns are most commonly created by using layers and repetition, and layers can occur both vertically with height variation and horizontally with plant masses along the ground.

By taking advantage of repetition, patterns can be created, and when organizing the plants, always remember that the first step is to create the horizontal and vertical layers before the repeating patterns.

Vertical layers take place at the ground level and include turf and lower plants that grow about 6 inches high. These plants cover the soil and can serve as the composition baseline. In the foreground layers, plants will usually be about 6 inches to 2 feet tall. When massed together, these smaller plants can work to form the edge of plant beds to serve as the transition to larger plants. The midground layer is the next and consists of plants from 2 to 5 feet tall. These plants will take up most of the space and can serve several functions, such as creating special definition, creating color and texture and more. The last and tallest layer features the background plants and consists of trees and larger shrubs. These are often used to block views or provide shade.

Horizontal layers are considered the plant masses that interlock and overlap from the plant bed’s front and run to the back of the bed along the ground. Any plant masses here should vary in depth across the front of the bed, just like the height should vary along the top of the plants. Overall, it’s good to stick to two simple rules when it comes to creating horizontal layers: space the individual plants enough so they don’t touch each other once they’ve completely grown and overlap the masses to connect them and make them flow with no space between them. Be sure to keep large gaps and open areas from appearing between the masses, as any voids will attract more attention and distract from the overall look you’re wanting to create.

“My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.”
— Claude Monet

A beautiful garden takes time, effort, money and maintenance. Starting with a good garden plan can help cut down on all of those things. Thinking about your yard or garden before getting to work can create a unified area that accents your home and provides years of enjoyment.

Consider the factors that will affect how your garden will grow — sunlight, shade, wind, drainage, access to water, foot traffic patterns — and the balance between lawn, shrubs, flowers and vegetables. A landscape analysis that considers these and other factors is an important first step in garden planning.

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Start With A Map

Before you know what you want, you need to figure out what you have. Start by drawing a map of your yard with existing trees, shrubs, slopes, patios and whatever else is out there. The map can be as formal (a scale version on graph paper) or casual as your need for detail dictates, but the more accurate it is, the more thorough your garden plan will be.

Make note of the factors noted above that influence the kind of plantings that will follow. Locate areas with full sun and partial shade. Indicate places that are sheltered from the wind and where the best soil is. Also note the paths people take to get from one place to another. These might be actual paths of brick or stone, or just the routes that commonly get used. Are there places the kids like to play or the dogs use? And consider the viewing angles when placing plant groups and gardens. Where will people be when they are admiring your work?

Water sources are another important detail to add to the map, whether that means underground sprinklers or simply a spigot. Elevations are also important. Does the land slope towards its borders or rise in the center? Generally, you’ll want drainage to move away from your home, not toward it.

Consider What You Want

After you’ve mapped out the yard and have a thorough understanding of what’s out there, it’s time to figure out what you want. There are a lot of ways to start thinking about your garden plans. One way is to walk around your neighborhood and take note of what you like and don’t like. Or peruse gardening books (Janet Macunovich’s Designing Your Landscape and Garden is a step-by-step, goal-oriented description of discovering and realizing your perfect outdoor space), magazines (Sunset and Better Homes and Gardens) or apps like iScape. Take a field trip to your local garden store and ask a lot of questions, particularly about what plants are best suited to your area.

Design your garden around a theme. Do you want a Japanese tea garden, a butterfly garden, an organic vegetable garden, or simply a landscape to sit and relax in? Will your family want a lawn to play catch on? An outdoor room to host dinner parties in? Something low maintenance, or a place to spend a lot of time playing with plants?

IT’S ORGANIC!

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Put The Map And Your Dreams Together

Now that you have a map of what’s already in the yard and an idea of what you want, it’s time to put the two together. Reevaluate your garden dreams based on your budget and the types of plants that can grow in your region. A total revamp of the yard might be prohibitively expensive; perhaps some perennial flower borders might be more practical. Likewise planning for ferns and redwoods in Arizona just doesn’t make sense. Surf the web, ask questions on garden forums or check with the Cooperative Extension Service in your area about what plants grow best and require the least amount of water and maintenance.

Using your original map, draw where you’d like to see new features. A veggie garden instead of lawn? Flowerbeds along the edges of a walkway? Maybe even a water feature, say a fountain or reflecting pool, in the shade of a large tree. Think about what each new feature needs (for example, a vegetable garden requires lots of sun, good soil and frequent watering) and decide whether it will work in your place of choice.

Consider the placement of paths. Frequently traveled areas may need a wide, direct path. Less traveled routes can be no wider than a foot-path and can comfortably meander from destination to destination. Choose a surface — pavers, gravel or bark– that matches your home and yard and is affordable.

If there is a nook out of view — from both you and the neighbors — it might be the perfect spot to tuck away a compost pile or in which to nestle a small shed.

Use shrubs to screen for privacy or block off unsightly parts of the yard (like the compost). Or plan for a privacy fence.

Choosing Plants

There are several things to consider when picking out plants. Budget, ease of care, compatibility with neighboring plants, aesthetics and size all come into play in garden design.

When choosing trees and shrubs, consider their height and width at maturity. A sapling takes up a lot less room than a full-grown tree. Not only do trees need adequate space and resources, they can be damaging to houses and sidewalks if planted too close. Large trees and shrubs can shade out other plants, so carefully decide the size and location suitable to your plan.

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Many flowering trees bloom with pretty flowers in the spring or summer and have colorful autumn foliage. Choose native varieties for best results. Flowering trees can be used as specimen trees on the lawn or as accents in the flower garden. They usually don’t grow as tall as shade trees, but can be useful for pinpointing shade on picture windows and doorways.

Some deciduous and most evergreen shrubs need full sun while broad-leaved shrubs thrive in the shade. With proper planning you’ll know which type to pick for your yard.

Native plants can be an environmentally sensitive and cost effective way to landscape your garden. Because they are acclimated to the area they need less watering, fertilizing and overall care. See Go Wild with Native Gardening for advantages and uses of native plants.

Consider the form, color and texture (surface structure and density of leaves and flowers) of various plants as you make choices for individual gardens and other plantings. Don’t hide smaller plants behind larger foliage. Keep larger plants in the background, smaller plants in the foreground.
Designing The Garden

When is comes time to get your hands dirty, it helps to layout the garden on the ground — literally. Imagination becomes a valuable tool here. Use garden hoses or string to mark off paths, borders, flowerbeds, vegetable gardens, lawn and where any other features will be. Fill a trash bag to simulate shrubs; place it on the end of a big stick or pole to make pretend trees. Then walk the marked paths, move around the yard and test out the new look. Ideas that look great on paper sometimes don’t translate to reality, so make your test garden as realistic as possible.

Check the view from various places in the yard, from the house and anywhere else the garden can be seen. Watch how the shade moves during the day and move your plantings as needed.

Borders

As with any type of garden, start by measuring and sketching your space on graph paper. (There’s even software available for designing your gardens; see 3D Garden Composer.) Mark where there are shady and sunny spots and existing features. Now you know how much room you have to plant.

Before the fun part (planting) comes the preparation. Dig out any weeds, till the soil and add any amendments the soil requires. It never hurts to mix in a healthy dose of compost. Preparing the soil now will save time and effort in the future.

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Herb Seeds

Flavorful and exotic, these varieties have passed through kitchens for generations.

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Flavorful and exotic, heirloom herbs have passed through kitchens and tea rooms for generations. And they’re easy to cultivate… try raising them indoors! Planting instructions are included with each packet and shipping is FREE! Need advice? Visit our herb growing guides for tips and information on specific types.

Considering the height and breadth of shrubs in 5-10 years, start picking out both evergreen and deciduous shrubs with interesting foliage or pretty flowers that are appropriate for your region. In general shrubs are planted at the back or middle of a border and herbaceous perennials near the front or middle. If you have an island border, then the taller shrubs can be planted in the middle and the shorter plants around them. When picking perennials look for a mix of showy flowers and beautiful foliage.

While plants are still in their pots, place them in the border to see how they look. Don’t forget that they will fill out and spread. Be sure to leave adequate space between them. Clump same species and same color together in patches of 3-5 plants. If there are big empty spaces that you are waiting to fill in, add some colorful annuals.

For hardy perennials, plant in the early fall so they can establish their roots before winter. When spring rolls around, these plants will be ready to take off. Perennials can also be planted in the spring, but they will require more water and maintenance than fall-planted plants.

Start planting at the back of the border and work forward (or the middle and work outwards for island borders). Then water well and mulch around the plants.

Vegetables

When planning a vegetable garden ask yourself how much time you want to spend in it. Unlike perennial gardens, vegetable gardens require constant attention; they need to be weeded, watered, maybe fertilized and certainly harvested. You may need to manage pests and process the harvest as well. The size of the garden and the variety of plants in it dictates how much time you’ll need to spend tending it.

Decide how much space you have that can be converted into usable garden. Your space should get 6-10 hours of direct sunlight and be fairly level with loose, well-drained soil. Take the time to prepare the bed with good organic matter (like compost). This is much easier to do before anything is planted. Trees and shrubs can compete for water and nutrients, as well as shade the garden, so keep the veggies away from them. Watch the shade patterns in the garden throughout the day and season, if possible, to determine the sunniest locale.

Vegetable Seeds

There’s few things more rewarding than growing your own organic vegetables.

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All heirloom vegetable seeds offered by Planet Natural are non-treated, non-GMO and NOT purchased from Monsanto-owned Seminis. Planting instructions are included with each packet and shipping is FREE! Need advice? Visit our vegetable guides for tips and information on growing specific types.

If a sloped hillside is all that is available, plan to use terraces, contour rows, or raised beds to avoid erosion. South-facing slopes are warmer than north-facing slopes. Also, avoid places where water and cold air settle such as low spots in the yard or the base of a hill.

Be sure to pick a place that has access to water and convenient to the house so you can work on it for short periods of time if that’s all you have.

If you must grow in a windy spot — and try not to — plant or build a windbreak to protect fragile plants.

Consider raised bed gardening rather than planting in rows. This keeps the soil from getting compacted (due to people walking on it) and makes it easier to concentrate compost and organic fertilizers. Raised beds should be 8-12 inches tall and no wider than you can reach across to weed, plant and harvest.

Once you’ve decided where the garden will go and what size it will be, draw an outline of the garden and beds on graph paper. Indicate where each type of plant will go. Keep in mind that some plants grow better together than alone; this is called companion planting. A list of compatible and non-compatible plants can be found at the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (ATTRA). Rotate crops every year so that one species is never in the exact same location more than once every three years.

Flowers

Flower gardens are probably one of the most enjoyable gardens to plan, plant and play with from year to year. Ask yourself what your particular style is and what will look most appropriate with your home. For instance, an English garden looks great around a Victorian home, while a xeriscaped garden, one that reduces the need for watering or irrigation with a lot of rocks and flowering cacti, might be better suited for an adobe house.

When choosing a location, consider planting the flower garden close to an existing structure (house, patio, fence, window etc.) to create a transition between the house and the yard.

Existing trees and shrubs (or new ones) can lend form and act as anchors for the garden. Evergreens will continue to add color and texture in the winter after the annuals have died and the perennials have gone dormant.

Flower Seeds

Our flower selection — from asters to zinnias — will brighten any landscape.

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At Planet Natural we offer a wide selection of heirloom flower seeds that are sure to brighten any landscape. From amazing asters to unusual zinnias, we’ve got the one-of-a kind flowers you’re looking for. Best of all, we ship them FREE! Need advice? Visit our flower guides for tips and information on growing specific varieties.

Start with as wide a bed as you can get away with. It might seem like an intimidating amount of space, but flowers fill in quickly and within a couple years, you’ll be looking for more room for all your plants. A bed that is 5 feet wide provides enough space for three layers of plants, making a lush, full garden. The longer your bed, the wider it should be.

Use a garden hose to outline pleasing shapes and gentle curves before digging out the bed. Then, add a path, bench or fence to add more interest.

To assure color and blooms from spring to fall, choose a mix of bulbs, annuals and perennials. Add plants that with interesting foliage that can provide texture and color year round. Think about whether you want to attract wildlife, add beauty, or grow lovely-scented flowers.

To create interest, plant in odd numbered groups rather than even numbered, and place several, same-species groups throughout the garden. Massed colors will maximize color contrast. As with borders, plant tall growing flowers in the back (or middle for island gardens) and low-growing flowers in the front.

Hard Landscape Features

Patios, decks and pathways make the garden usable and provide space for you to enjoy all your hard work. A spacious sitting area (one where you can push the chairs back without them reaching the edge) is the perfect spot to enjoy the garden. A variety of deck plans, some using eco-friendly materials, can be found here.

Think about the placement of paths. In frequently traversed areas, paths should be at least 3 feet wide and travel as direct a route as possible. Decide what type of stone, brick, gravel etc. matches your home and yard and is affordable. Paths can be as wide as your space allows. Keep in mind that they will get functionally narrower as plants spill over the edges from surrounding borders.

The final test of your garden design is to settle in to it. Wander the paths, sit under the shade trees, pause to admire the flowers and features. You’ll know you’ve succeeded if you feel a sense of pride, a feeling of peace and an overwhelming surge of accomplishment.

Other Resources

Plant Search, How to Find a Plant
Landscaping with Spring Flowering Bulbs

Unique Garden Plantings

Turn an Ordinary Yard into an Extraordinary Landscape with Unique Garden Plantings

No two pieces of property are the same, and nor would we want them to be. Your outdoor spaces should be every bit as special as your home or business.

Every landscape design we create is unique, beautiful and custom tailored to meet the needs and desires of each client we work with. We have such a large number of landscaping structures, tools and practices in our arsenal, that it’s nearly impossible for any one landscape to use every feature we offer. But the one thing we do for every single client we contract with, is integrate unique garden plantings into the designs we create for custom gardens, landscapes, and outdoor living areas.

Adding distinctive or unusual plants can take an ordinary landscape design and transform it into a one-of-a-kind work of horticultural art. These “accent plantings” in our landscape designs bring your property out of the realm of a usual, everyday yard and turns it into a striking space that you’ll be proud to show off. We love taking the opportunity to create a touch of unexpected drama that will be sure to have your neighbors, guests and passersby talking about, admiring, and maybe even envying your property.

What Makes a Plant Unique?

When we say that we use unique plantings, we aren’t necessarily talking about exotic plants from the other side of the world whose names you might have trouble pronouncing. Instead, we look at unusual features when deciding what works best for creating a wow factor for focal points in your landscape. Some reasons we might suggest a plant for your yard are the shape, color, branching habits, uncommon leaf or trunk texture, or the striking nature of its flowers when they are in bloom.

Of course, our client’s needs always come first. We will work with you to determine which plants are the best fit for your yard, your vision, and your lifestyle. For example, you may be looking for a low maintenance landscape design. In that case, we might suggest the weeping cedar, a tree that can survive with minimal care. The waterfall-like branching habits of weeping trees create beautiful, graceful shapes that you might expect to find in the forest of a fairy tale.

We recommend a variety of plantings to our clients, such as:

  • Trees
  • Ornamental plants
  • Flowering and nonflowering shrubs
  • Foliage plants
  • Perennial foliage
  • Ground creepers and cover-alls
  • Grasses
  • Year-round flowering plants

Other popular choices for plants include various other weeping trees and shrubs, such as the weeping white spruce, weeping mulberry, or weeping pea shrub. Vibrantly colored Red Barron crab apple trees or the more softly colored hydrangea and Miss Kim lilac are also among some of our favorites.

Slowing down and taking a moment to really enjoy what nature has to offer is what a great landscape is all about. That’s why we also love to incorporate plants that attract butterflies and hummingbirds in the spring and summer. These additions will make your garden come to literally spring to life, adding an entirely new dimension to your property’s charm.

Healthy Plants, Happy Clients

Unique garden plantings can be added to any space, large or small. You won’t have to worry about your new plant’s ability to thrive, because we carefully consider every detail of your landscape’s environment, as well as our client’s needs. Soil and moisture conditions, sunlight, and maintenance needs all play a factor in our recommendations. Our aim is to beautify and enhance your home and outdoor space by helping you select the appropriate trees, shrubs, flowers and plants for your spaces.

Our founder, Laura, has extensive training and practical experience in horticulture. Drawing on her expertise and the taking into consideration the conditions of your spaces, we will recommend only those plantings which will stay healthy and look great, whether you intend to care for them yourself or opt in for our seasonal maintenance service. We also use our own special soil mix for all of our garden beds to give your new plants the healthiest start in its new home.

If you’ve got a particular plant in mind, let us know. We’ll offer our advice about how it might fit in with the rest of your landscape, and we’ll be honest if it’s not the best fit for the Minnesotan climate, or for your property. (But we’ll be happy to offer alternatives!)

They May Look Exotic, But They’re All Home-Grown

All of the plants and plant materials we use in our unique custom landscapes come from farmers and suppliers right here in Minnesota. Sourcing from local suppliers not only supports Minnesota businesses, but saves you time and money overall.

Buying sight-unseen is never a good idea, so we always hand select and tag each specimen on behalf of our clients. With our experts selecting for you, you can be sure you’re getting a healthy, quality plant that gives off just the atmosphere and appearance you’re looking for.

Creating Landscapes With a Sense of Balance

At ALD, we believe that a great landscape is never one-note. While we love using the unexpected in our designs, our unique plantings are only stunning because we pair them with more conventional plant life and a variety of features that serve to create contrasts and comparisons.

We are proud to offer a diverse selection of beautiful flowers, trees and other plant life for you yard, but we also know that plants alone are not enough to unleash the full potential of your property. Creating the right balance between plants and features such as patios, hardscapes, stone work and outdoor living areas is what brings a landscape design together. We would love the chance to talk with you about how our unique plantings can work together with our other services to create a truly one-of-a-kind landscape for your property.

If you’re ready to get started on reshaping and redefining your landscape with gorgeous flora and foliage, give us a call at 952-242-9368 or send us a message today to schedule your 100% obligation-free consultation.

Common Landscape Design Problems: Tackling Issues With Landscape Design

When we pull up to our homes, we want to see an inviting, perfectly unified landscape painting; something like Thomas Kinkade would have painted, a soothing scene where we could picture ourselves sipping lemonade on a rustic porch swing surrounded by a peaceful flow of scenery. We don’t pull up to our homes hoping to see a crazy hodge-podge collage of distracting landscapes, a little Monet there, some Van Gogh here and some Dali over there.

Whether cottage, modern or unique landscape styles are your taste, a properly designed landscape will display your style with unity. Your landscape should be appealing and inviting, not an eyesore for the neighborhood. Read on for common issues with landscape design and how to avoid them.

Problems in Landscape Design

Overuse of common plants. With over 400,000 species of flowering plants in the world, it often amazes me that no one can seem to find anything to put around trees besides a ring of hostas. One of the most common mistakes in landscaping I come across is the overuse of the same old humdrum plants. While there are hundreds of different varieties of hostas that can be used to create beautiful shade gardens, that singular ring of variegated hostas around every tree in the neighborhood is quite boring and unnatural looking.

In nature, woodland plants like ferns, trilliums and wild violets happily grow in little patches around trees, not in a perfect ring within a perfect circle. When landscaping around trees, create natural looking beds that also match the style of the rest of the landscape; don’t spend a fortune on a fancy foundation landscaping and perfectly placed shade trees only to have them cheapened by quick, easy and boring rings of around the trees. If you love hostas, like many people including myself do, plant groupings of different varieties mixed in with other shade plants for different bloom times and textures. You may be surprised how many shade plants there are if you look beyond the hosta tables at your local garden center.

Like hosta rings around trees, yew, juniper, mugo pine, spirea and daylilies are often overused as foundation plantings. They are all nice plants that can be used in combination with other plants to create beautiful landscapes, full of varied but unified colors and textures. However, if a landscape designer comes to your home for a consultation and says “We’ll just put a row of yews along this side, a bunch of spirea and daylilies on that side, a big sprawling juniper here, and rings of hostas around all the trees…,” simply thank them for their time and call the next landscape designer on the list. Most likely, if you’re considering spending money on a new landscape, you are hoping for actual curb appeal, not just yawns from passersby.

Incorrect site and soil for plants. Hostas around the trees and yews on shadier sides of the home does at least prove that the designer has some knowledge of what plants to use in different light settings or has read some plant tags. One of the most common mistakes in landscaping is improper placement of plants. When purchasing landscape plants, read the plant tags and ask garden center workers about the plant’s needs. Plants that need full sun and well-draining soil can become stunted, not flower and eventually die in shady, moist landscapes. Likewise, plants that need shade and love moisture will constantly need to be watered and burn up if put in a sunny, dry location.

Landscape plantings too big or small. Plant size at maturity is also important. Most plant nurseries or garden centers carry small manageable 1- to 5-gallon sized young plants, so while it looks small and compact when you’re buying it, in just a couple years it could be a 10 by 10-foot monster. Be careful of planting large plants in areas where they might block windows or walkways. When your landscape is first installed, it may look a little empty from the small size of the young plants, but be patient and resist the urge to cram more plants in the spaces. Plants can grow quite rapidly once planted and over planting is a common problem in landscape design.

Plants or beds don’t fit into surroundings. Another landscape design problem that I often see is landscaping that does not fit the style of home or landscape elements and are oddly out of place. For example, an old grand Victorian home will look best when accented by old-fashioned landscape plants and curved beds, while a modern style home should be accentuated by bold geometric shaped beds and plants. There is no law that says all landscape beds must be curved and rounded. The bed shapes and sizes should match and accentuate the style of the home. Too many curves in landscape beds can actually be a nightmare to mow around.

Unbecoming water features. Out of place water features are also common mistakes in landscaping. A bad water feature can lower your property value. The common urban backyard does not need a six-foot tall boulder waterfall in it. If you live in Hawaii and have natural, beautiful backyard views of waterfalls or volcanoes, lucky you. If you live in an average city, with an average sized backyard used for average activities like cookouts, parties or a game of catch with the kids, you do not need to build a volcano looking waterfall monstrosity in your yard. There are many fountains and smaller water features you can buy that can easily be placed in landscape beds or on patios, no back-hoe required.

A well-designed landscape will give your home proper curb appeal and catch the eye of visitors in an “oh that’s nice” way rather than a “good lord, what is that mess” way. Well-designed landscapes can make a small yard appear larger by creating open expanses of lawn framed by narrow beds of plants. In addition, it can also make a huge yard seem smaller and cozier by dividing the large expanse into smaller spaces.

When designing a landscape, it’s best to look at the home and entire yard as a whole beforehand, then plan out beds that flow together through shapes, colors and textures, while also allowing for enough room for general yard usage.

Above: Justine adds a layer of crushed eggshells to the soil at the base of her hostas. Read more about the benefits at Gardening 101: How to Use Eggshells in the Garden. Photograph by Justine Hand.

Keep It Alive

  • Site hostas out of direct hot sun in USDA growing zones 3 to 8.
  • Hostas are tolerant of most soils but prefer slightly acidic, rich, moist, well-drained soil.
  • Water your hostas regularly (preferably early in the day) to prevent leaf tips and edges from scorching or turning brown.
  • A layer of mulch added in the spring will help to keep your hostas from drying out.
  • Hostas are readily propagated by division, which is most easily done in early spring before leaves have fully appeared.

Above: Variegated hostas and liriope in the Toronto garden of writer Marjorie Harris. See more in Garden Visit: At Home with Canada’s Favorite Garden Writer.

Another lesson my first hostas taught me was that while these plants are generally quite easy to grow, they can be subject to a few vexing problems. Deer love them. That wasn’t a problem for me in Queens, of course, but the fact that they are also a favorite target of snails and slugs was definitely a concern. Snails and slugs and hostas all love moist, shady habitats where the gastropods are quite fond of munching away on hosta leaves and leaving slimy trails and tattered foliage in their wake.

Above: A copper coil to repel snails, designed by Grafa.

There are endless theories and remedies for dealing with these slippery pests: Diatomaceous earth, copper mats, nematodes, garlic sprays, and keeping chickens or amphibians are recommended deterrents.

There are popular commercial products, such as Sluggo Snail and Slug Bait (a 25-pound bag is $69.99 from Grow Organic) and Escar-go Slug and Snail Control (a 5.5-pound bag is $44.99 at Gardens Alive).

An age-old DIY method is to bury small containers (cat food cans work very well) up to their rims in soil and then fill them with beer. Slugs apparently find the beverage irresistible and will slime their way into the cans for a taste. Sadly for them, they are not great swimmers and usually drown. I have used this method and it works very well… too well, actually. Eventually, I got tired of having to dispose of cat food cans full of stale beer and slug carcasses.

Above: Big-leaf hostas add a layer of texture at the base of a fence. See more of this garden in The Dark Mirror: A Backyard Reflecting Pool in Eastern Europe. Photograph courtesy of Eva Wagnerová.

Read more growing and care tips in Hostas: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design in our curated guides to Perennials 101. See more of our favorite shade garden layouts:

  • 10 Shade Garden Ideas to Steal from an English Woodland
  • Beth Chatto’s Garden: Shade-Loving Plants for Year-Round Interest
  • Native Perennials for a Shade Garden: 9 Favorites for Cold Climates

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