Garden design is like any other art form. We all perceive beauty differently. So what I’m about to jot out today may or may not jibe with your own landscaping goals. Take with you any of these tips that will help. Leave the others behind. These are just my own stream-of-consciousness — the things that roll through my own mind as I’m planning a basic home landscape design.
▪ Simplicity is always OK. You’ve been in homes where the rooms were neatly decorated. Everything had its own place and purpose. You felt comfortable as you entered. Gardens that are handsomely understated evoke those same feelings.
▪ Think of your landscape as the frame for the portrait. Your home, after all, is the star of the show. You don’t want the landscape to overwhelm it, to draw attention away from the house. Simple designs can make it all happen.
▪ Plan for scale and proportion. You can use most of the same design principles whether you’re planning an acre or a zero lot line property. When the space shrinks, you just have to tune it on down to smaller plants for compact places.
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▪ Determine the focal point. In the front yard, it will almost always be the front door. In the back yard, it’s going to be the pool, a garden statue, a fountain or some other feature that’s part or all the way to the back of the landscape. Use your landscape plantings to create a visual funnel to draw attention to that focal point. Taper the plantings from the tallest plants to the sides and down to the shortest near the front walk.
▪ Construct beds that are proportionate to the size of the house. In most cases, curved beds look most natural. Use a supple garden hose to lay them out, and carry them right across the front walk in one single line. For a two-story house, let the beds come as close as 4 or 5 feet from the foundation, then swing them out 8 or 12 feet around the corners. Narrow, little, straight beds give you no room to be creative.
▪ Plant in clusters and groupings of odd numbers of plants (more visually relaxing). The old days of “foundation plantings” went away when Texans turned to concrete slab construction 50 years ago. There is no sin in leaving some of the foundation exposed and visible. Group one type of plant beneath low windows on one side, and another type of taller shrubs to the opposite corner.
▪ Choose plants that grow to the mature sizes you need. Don’t count on shearing to keep them in bounds. In fact, for the most natural look, avoid formal shearing entirely. We have scores of varieties of dwarf and miniature shrubs. “Cutting plants back” is a phrase we ought to eliminate.
▪ Avoid formal rows that repeat the lines of the house. Unless you’re planning some very formal garden design, it’s best to keep it all natural. Don’t line your shade trees up with other trees on the block, and don’t plant them straight out from the corners of your house. Along a similar thought, don’t center trees in their part of the yard, but use the 60/40 ratio instead, planting them 60 or 40 percent of the way from one side to the other and 60 or 40 percent of the way from front to back.
▪ Evergreen shrubs have a look of permanence. Use deciduous shrubs sparingly up near the house. That includes most of our flowering shrubs. They always show up better when they’re planted in front of dark green evergreens.
▪ Limit the numbers of plant species you show in any one part of your landscape to just six or seven. You’re not trying to create a botanic collection — just a tasteful assemblage of compatible sorts.
▪ Use a variety of growth forms and textures. Those features are often overlooked as we worry too much about color, whether from flowering plants or variegated foliage. Contrasts in growth forms and leaf sizes can be just as exciting.
▪ Good landscapes are moving targets — they’re never really finished. Your tastes will change, and old shrubs may grow tired. Don’t be afraid to remodel your gardens. You do it indoors. You can do it outside as well.
▪ Plan color beds carefully. You don’t need big expanses of flowers to create a fine show. Plant color, instead, near the focal points. “Warm” colors (bright red, yellow, orange) show up best from a distance. “Cool” colors (blue, purple, green) recede in the landscape, giving a feeling of greater depth to small spaces.
▪ Plan for a full season of color. Know when each type of plant will have flowers, fruit or colorful foliage, and schedule pockets of color throughout the seasons.
This is a great time to start planning your landscaping improvements. Take stock of what looked good this past year and, more especially, what needs to be changed. Start sketching those changes. As soon as the holidays are behind you, schedule an appointment with a local nursery or landscape contractor to start talking things over. Let your dreams take you. It’s part of the fun!