Thursday, April 28, 2011

Formal Fronts & Botanical Behinds

Let's talk about botanical gardens.  They are a sight to behold.  Beautiful and peaceful, with thousands of different species carefully cultivated over acres and acres and acres of spotless lawn.  There's a reason people flock to Morton Arboretum every year.  It is divine.

One must keep in mind, however, that there's a huge staff of horticulturists working full-time on that place.  They are constantly mowing, pruning, replanting and spraying for bugs and diseases.  That's why they sell have enough money to keep the place immaculate.

Now, unless you are selling tickets to your front yard, I'm guessing you can't afford a staff of horticulturists.  I'm guessing that YOU are the head horticulturist and that you probably have another job which pulls you away from all that pruning, mowing and spraying delight.

So please, keep it simple.

I meet many people who are passionate about gardening and love to try out new and different plants.  They buy one here and one there and sock them in the ground and treasure them.  I know, because I am one of them.

And that's why we have backyards.  AKA: our personal botanical garden.  You can welcome people into your private sanctuary when it's looking good, and pull the blinds when it's not.  No one need be the wiser.  They'll see your immaculate front yard and believe you to be the Genius Gardener that you are.

I'm a living testament to this rule.  My front yard is very tame.  The backyard is where I let it all hang out.  The good, the experimental and the weedy, all neatly(?) tucked behind my fence.

Why keep it in the back?  A couple of reasons spring to mind:

1.  You may want to borrow a cup of sugar from the neighbors at some point in time.  Wouldn't you like to have them look upon you favorably at that moment?  Consider the orderly front yard as good PR with the neighbors.  But, some may say, "My neighbor's are so annoying....I really don't care what they think.  They play their music too loud and their dog is always running loose."  Now aside from reminding you to love your neighbor as yourself, I'll point you to Reason #2.

2.  Curb appeal for future resale.  (Maybe it's time to relocate to some nicer neighbors!)  Plan now for a tasteful, inviting and tame front yard.    Keep your front landscape simple and pleasing, so it doesn't detract from your home or overwhelm potential buyers.

3.  The wilder the yard, the harder to weed.  And once those weeds get ahold, you'll be wearying quickly.  Hence, a truly weedy front yard is predictably in your late-summer forecast.  And when you come home from a long day at work, the last thing you want to see is another project that needs doing.  So reward yourself: with a tidy front!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bloomin' Calendar

A common mistake that homeowners make is failing to plan for a succession of interest.  Translation: spread out the plants' season of interest (i.e. have spring bloomers AND fall color).  You want something looking good in your yard at all times.

Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter (yes, Winter!).  

This is easy enough to accomplish with a bit of plant research (easily done online) or by asking your friendly local expert (I will happily offer my services).  

A sample North-facing front foundation planting could include:

Serviceberry (tree, spring bloom, summer fruits, fall color)
Boxwood (evergreen, winter interest)
Rhododendron (semi-evergreen shrub, spring bloomer)
Hosta (perennial, spring foliage, summer bloom, summer foliage)
Grape Hyacinth (bulb, early spring bloomer)

This is a very simplistic plant list, but all four seasons of interest are included.

If you already have landscaping, but want to focus on developing more 4-season appeal, I recommend keeping a bloom journal.  Month by month, record which plants are showing off.  When you find empty pockets in your calendar, THAT'S the time to head off to buy whatever's blooming at the nursery.

January -
February - 
March - 
April - 
May - 
June - 
July -
August - 
September -
October - 
November - 
December - 

Stick it on your refrigerator or your calendar and fill it in as the seasons progress.  The winter months may be a bit repetitive with the same evergreens, but having something green to look at is better than just looking at a bunch of sticks popping out of the ground.  And with a bit of research, you may find a few flowering plants for late winter interest.  (No, I'm not sending you on a wild goose chase.  They're really out there.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Landscaper's Yard

I have a dream yard.   A large Magnolia stretches out in the front yard, with Hosta, Sweet Woodruff and Bleeding Heart resting beneath it's limbs.  The back yard is bordered by beds dotted with Dogwoods, Redbuds, fruit trees and Fir trees.  From March through November, bulbs and perennials paint themselves silly on a weed-free, freshly mulched canvas.  A green swath of lawn spreads out with ample room for strolling, picnics, and rollicking rounds of badminton.  A quaint vegetable garden provides the season's bounty, including fresh strawberries and blueberries.  The sound of trickling water reveals a small pond near a paver patio, with ample seating for summer barbecues.

But true to form, my dream yard is just that: a dream.

I have often worried what people will think when they see my yard.  The actual one.  If they didn't know I had a degree in landscape design, they might think that it was a decent looking place.  However, when people get that tidbit of info, they amp up their expectations.  This is understandable (I would undoubtedly do the same thing), especially when I am getting paid to tell them how to fix their yards.  But just as "the cobbler's children have no shoes", I have a yard that is nothing to sneeze at (unless you're allergic to dandelions).

So here are 10 Reasons Why My Yard 
isn't in Better Homes & Gardens:

1.  Tyler, Ryan and Lauren.  10, 8 and 5.  They're all mine.  Along with them comes the sandbox, the playground, and one rather lopsided adolescent Catalpa tree.  The chubby hands of one of my precious babies planted that tree and it's going to stay put.  Sometimes love shapes your landscaping choices.
2.  Oscar: our rather large Heinz 57 mutt.  He creates large-scale destruction on our small-scale property.  The pond that I dream of simply will not coincide with his habitat (nor will the beautiful lawn).
3.  The man of the house has on-going projects that stretch throughout the yard.  Refer back to the love-shapes-your-landscaping-choices on #1.
4.  My landscape is also my research area.  I love to try new things out.  Sometimes they work.  Sometimes, not so much.  Better I experiment in my yard than yours, right?
5.  I get bored easily.  Translation: I move my plants around.  A lot.
6.  Plants are expensive, even for landscapers.  I am a stay-at-home-mom on a stay-at-home-mom's budget.
7.  Around August, I quit.  I give up.  I wave the white flag to the weeds.  And they take me as their POW.
8.  Did I mention the kids?  I think they should count for at least two reasons.  Besides, kids need room to run, not Hostas to hurdle.
9.  My front yard is about 20 feet deep and my husband parks his car in front of the house.  Sometimes lawn ornaments are more practical than ornamental.
10.  I didn't take any turf classes.  And I have the lawn to prove it.

 Moral of the story:  Do as I say, not as I do.  Unless, of course, you have the same 10 criteria, and then, by all means, do as I do.

Monday, April 4, 2011

My Lost Love: Felco #2

Having a good pruner in the garden 
is akin to having a good knife in the kitchen.  

When I was a young college student, I splurged on a pair of Felco #2 pruners.  Ah, sweet snips!  They sliced through slender branches like butter and made quick work of overwintered grasses.  I loved wielding them on a plant, shaping my own giant bonsai (Think Edward Scissorhands x conservative Midwestern girl).  My only downfall was keeping track of them.  Any one else have this problem?  Maybe we could start a support group or a 10-step program:

"Hello.  My name is Mollie, and I lose my pruners."  

Case in point:  It's a beautiful spring day and I'm playing Mr. Miagi with the boxwoods.  Off in the distance, one of my offspring sounds the alarm.  After patching their boo-boo, it's lunch time and then one distraction after another until the sun has gone down.  

Buried beneath a pile of clippings, the pruners have slipped my mind.  

Any good detective would simply burrow down into the pile and find the missing snips.  But I can save those sleuths some time.  Some people have haunted houses.  I have a haunted landscape.  Long after midnight, the neighborhood garden gnomes move my precious pruners around - switching locations daily - until winter has come and gone.  But rest assured, those rusted blades will pop up with the Tulips.

With each successive loss, I graduated down on pruner quality.  Maybe it was the addition of 3 mouths to feed at the dinner table.  Tightening our belts, you know.  Maybe it was simply to discipline myself for the carelessness.  Most likely, it was to ease my conscience on the anticipated money-down-the-drain when the pruners pulled their next disappearing act.  As irony would have it, this last and consequently WORST pair of pruners hasn't gone AWOL.  The blades stick together, the recoil action is non-existent, and the locking mechanism sticks out and digs into my thumb with each snip.  BUT, there they are, in my drawer, every time I need them.

In spite of my poor pruner track record, I was asked to give a presention on design to the local garden club last fall. As a token of their appreciation, they gave me a gift certificate to the local nursery.  It's been burning a hole in my pocket since then, and I think the time has come to spend it.  Surely, I've learned my lesson by now, and even if I haven't... it's been too long since I last felt the grip of a Felco #2 in my hand.  Mrs. Miagi is back in action.

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