Jan 30, 2019
by Roger Raiche David McCrory, Planet Horticulture
When creating a new landscape, understanding goals and seeing the potential, are the most essential elements. We analyze what is there and then try to imagine what could be there. In most gardens we design, critical spatial goals include screening and privacy, circulation, destinations, and focal points. A majority gardens have many layers of previous features; plantings, trees, hedges, fences, walls, terraces, steps, water features and more. Even if adequately maintained over the decades, some of these features may not serve your needs today. Many gardens have a cluttered, unfocused look. Some properties like those in the fire zones or new neighborhoods are blank slates with few pre-existing elements. In either case, with your goals in mind, you can create a garden space that works for you.
Flow and Space. Circulation, how to get where you want to go on the property in a comfortable way, is usually a primary concern. We generally start by creating a circulation plan that provides central circulation around the house and that branches off from there if there is more space. Good flow should free up, rather than take up space. Promoting spaciousness should be a primary goal of a satisfying landscape. We like to create naturalistic serpentine paths, in flat areas and on hillsides, as a way of gaining the most access to the land and also to prevent hard lines from breaking a garden up. Then, along the way, we find the areas that make the best destinations, for sun, or shade, or vistas, or features like pools and hot tubs.
We have redesigned many gardens that were previously designed in the exact opposite way, dividing everything into quadrants with expensive stairs and walls, resulting in a space that feels divided and smaller than it really is. Excessive hardscape may clutter or divide your landscape into small, unusable zones. A commonly seen approach to landscaping a hillside has been to terrace each slight gradient and put a central stairway up the center and/or both sides, all breaking up the sense of space and creating a checkerboard of hard to use rectangles. Eliminating superfluous walls for minor elevation changes and creating switchback paths without steps does marvels for the garden. Walls of same species privacy hedges can also close in a space unnecessarily. Consider using a variety of screening plants and only use them in areas where privacy is critical.
Hillsides. If you’re lucky enough to have a slope in your garden, it’s a great blessing, though many consider it their biggest challenge. Hillsides offer topographic relief in a landscape and a variety of viewing perspectives. The display potential for plants on a slope is excellent. Trail circulation on slopes make them safer and more comfortable to access for maintenance and enjoyment. Trails and vistas across the garden welcome a visitor and provide an incentive to explore. Vistas away from the garden to a distant ridge, river, or just “beyond” can enormously expand your sense of “ownership” of the view. The borrowed landscape can sometimes be easily achieved with pruning an overgrown hedge. In so many cases, planned or self-sown plantings have become dominating thugs. Deciding what preexisting trees and shrubs serve your needs, and what doesn’t, can free up a lot of light and space. Many plants can be pruned back significantly if you like the plant, but not the size. The more area you have, the higher the options for you, and the larger the property will seem.
Forested Properties. Forests help provide clean air and capture CO2. Many people like to live in the woods. The same landscaping principles apply, smooth circulation, avoidance of clutter or unnecessary grade disruption, creating open spaces, sun/sky gaps, vistas. Trails are a relatively inexpensive way of enjoying larger forested properties and can highlight unique trees, rock outcrops, seasonal streams, etc. A grand old tree can make the most incredible focal point and destination. Trees, whether native to the site or planted, present significant challenges in using a property.
Because of their size, they also impact your neighbors. In many cases, the original intent of historic plantings may not have been maintained and allowed to overgrow without proper management. Thinning out unnecessary trees, especially unhealthy or dying trees, and cleaning up trees closest to residences can create a safer environment to live. Removing invasive and fire-prone plants, especially close to homes is a critical to proper management.
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