Power Point gives you the option of smooth, graceful “transitions” from one photo to the next. Or you can just have them pop dramatically into view.
Landscapes operate just about the same. There are many boundaries that show up in our gardens, and how we handle those transitions can go a long way toward determining the success of our designs. Sometimes we want them to be subtle, and other times we prefer that they be well defined. I thought it might be useful to discuss a few of these garden transitions and the ways with which you could handle them.
Bed edgings that separate turf from other plants. I admit to being obsessive about this particular transition. It may stem back to my childhood when I crawled through our landscape on my hands and knees with a dull hand ax cutting runners from our St. Augustine to create smooth edges to our beds. I’m a “straightener,” so I guess that follows suit. But there’s something great to be said about a clean dividing line between shrub or groundcover beds and the turf that adjoins them.
Many of us started out using heavy timbers, railroad ties and bricks for this edging. Some of us even poured concrete edging. That was until we discovered that landscapes evolve and that bed edgings must be easily removable. I learned that one the hard and heavy way!
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As our landscapes grew smaller those elements seemed too heavy visually. Metal or plastic edging can be put almost flush with the ground so that the line of demarcation becomes almost unnoticeable. If you choose one of these products, use a square-bladed shovel to cut a slit to insert it, then push it almost full depth into the ground so it doesn’t stick out. Rusty metal bed edging sticking up out of the ground is (1) unsightly and (2) a possible source of injury.
Groundcovers, stone, mulches and other coverings. I like to think of the woody plants in my landscape as a stairway, with taller plants to the rear and to the sides, tapering down to shorter plants in front (adjacent to the lawn) and near the entry. That’s where I use groundcovers and low, bordering plants. I will often use baseball-sized river rock as a groundcover just for a natural-looking alternative. And I really like finely ground pine bark mulch as a covering. It looks natural, and it decomposes to enrich the soil in the process. It blends in beautifully with its surroundings.
Color schemes of the seasons. Think of each part of your landscape as a “room.” You have color schemes for the rooms of your house so that everything within each of the rooms looks like it belongs in that setting. You need to do that with your gardens as well. Those color schemes can change with the seasons, but they need to be in harmony at any given time. You might choose pastels in the spring (Easter egg colors), cooling lavender, purple and blue shades in the summer and rich reds, rusts, oranges and yellows in fall. Plan for a natural flow from one season’s scheme into the next.
Flowering times of perennials. This is one of the most difficult of all concepts to teach. Perennials may come back year after year, but almost all types only bloom for a few weeks each year. That means that a successful perennial garden requires careful attention and planning. Aim to have one or more types of plants in bloom at any given time from late winter until the first freeze of the fall. That’s probably going to involve planting 15 or 20 types of perennials, and for each type you’ll have to know its season of bloom fairly precisely, its height and width and, of course, its flower colors. Good perennial gardens require successful transitions.
Shade into sun in your lawn grass. Bermuda grass is our most popular North Texas turf. However, Bermuda requires full or nearly full sunlight. As your trees grow larger and larger, the “bald spots” beneath them grow larger as well. Most folks turn to St. Augustine, and that may be a good solution, at least until the shade grows still heavier. But the kicker that many people don’t realize is that St. Augustine trumps Bermuda. It’s the more dominant grass, so it will overtake Bermuda in the rest of your lawn. If you plant St. Augustine into a Bermuda lawn because of shade, you will eventually have a full lawn of St. Augustine. We no longer have any herbicide to stop its spread. The “transition” will turn into an “invasion.”
Textures in contrast. This is probably the least obvious transition we’ll list. Plants’ comparative textures are seldom considered, but you do notice them, whether you’re aware of it or not. Plants with large leaves, thick bark, stout trunks and vertical or vase-shaped growth habits are listed as “coarse-textured.” Plants with small leaves, smooth bark, thin, wiry stems and rounded or arching habits appear finer-textured. It’s nice to plant for a variety of textures, and it’s best to do so in a way that provides a nice blend of the types.