Mid-Winter Blooms

On the infrequent dry winter days here on the Wet Coast, I have to go outside to see what’s new in the garden. When you’re planning your garden makeover, be sure to include winter-interest items.

Witchhazel--Hamamelis x intermedia 'Diane'--

Witchhazel–Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’.

Lenten Rose--Helleborus niger 'HCG Jacob Classic'

Lenten Rose–Helleborus niger ‘HCG Jacob Classic’

I've made an exhaustive but unsuccessful search for the name of this Hellebore. Alas.

I’ve made an exhaustive but unsuccessful search for the name of this Hellebore. Alas.

'Julia Child' Rose. This bud has been happily sitting here through two frosts, almost unending rain, and at least two months,

‘Julia Child’ Rose. This bud has been happily sitting here for well over two months, through two good frosts, and almost unending rain.

Sarcococca humilis. This insignificant flower has absolutely WOW fragrance, right by the front door.

Sarcococca humilis. This insignificant flower has absolutely WOW fragrance, right by the front door.

Viburnum tinus 'Spring Bouquet'. Can't beat it for all winter buds and blooms.

Viburnum tinus ‘Spring Bouquet’. Can’t beat it for all-winter-long buds and blooms.

Rhubarb. Not exactly a bloom, but more colourful than anything else in the garden right now.

Rhubarb. Not exactly a bloom, but more colourful than anything else in the garden right now.

 

Re-Designing Your Garden

Apparently I’m not the only blogger starting the year by focussing on design rather than various plants and techniques. These three sources were in my inbox since Jan 1:

Challenge

Design Your Dream Yard is a 6-day challenge with Garden Tribe and Billy Goodnick to help you identify what you want from your garden, and how to get there.

It’s pretty simplistic, IMO, but it does go a long way toward preventing the most egregious errors, not least of which is starting the process at the nursery. Always DANGEROUS!

Errors

And speaking of egregious errors, saw this today: 10 Landscape Blunders and How to Avoid Them.

Now this sounds like the author, Don Engebretson, is teaching from the negative standpoint–don’t do this, don’t do that–but happily, each negative problem is balanced by the positive solution. Like why this picture is really awful!

 

 

Principles

And the third is Landscape Design Principles for Residential Gardens.

The title sounds a little heavy, and indeed, it does start off pretty “weighty” with “01: Obey the Law of Significant Enclosure”. Hmmm. But stick with it and you’ll find the principles more practical than theoretical. You’ll catch on quickly.

I’m going to collate the various elements that I think are most important to the home gardener looking to make changes to the structure and layout of their garden. So stay tuned…

Gabions in the Garden

Gabion wire mesh cages for residential landscaping

Gabions are boxes made of wire. They hold all manner of materials, but mostly rock of some description. They  usually serve as retaining walls or dividers/fences. And up until recently I found them extremely utilitarian, dull, and pretty ugly. OK for a highway project, but totally unsuitable for my beautiful garden designs.

I’ve changed my mind. Partly because I recognize their practicality, but more because creative people are coming up with new and attractive applications.

So without further ado, here are some of my favourite images cribbed from Garden Supply:

many different applications of gabions

Many different applications of gabions; these are pretty small–click to enlarge.

The above images are pretty self-explanatory (and click for enlarged picture): most are retaining walls, numbers 3 and 10 are fences. But let’s look at some more closely:

Gabion adapted for decorative garden application.

#4 Gabion adapted for decorative garden application.

Above you’ll notice they’ve used alternating dark and light stone to fill the cages, and of course, angled them rather than just positioned them straight across. Landscape cloth lines the back of the cages to prevent soil from filling the spaces between the rocks. One of the great benefits of gabions is allowing water to seep through, eliminating the need to create a drainage system behind the retaining wall as you would need to do with any solid wall.

Gabion fence

#10 Gabion fence

The fence above consists of 8′ long panels, 6′ high, 9″ deep (according to Garden Supply). As with any fence, the posts are sunk into a concrete footing. But look how creatively they filled the cages, with waves of different coloured rocks. The website doesn’t say where this garden is, but it would look lovely in an arid location. Hello Kamloops?

Here’s another attractive fence:

Gabion fence

#3 Gabion fence

Similar to the red one, but simpler and more practical, with less labour involved. In the case of the red fence, the wire mesh is almost invisible so nothing interferes with the look of the decorative rock. This one on the other hand leaves the mesh purposely visible, and even the bracing wires (you can see the black squares holding wires that keep the sides together preventing buckling) are clearly exposed. Both may all be coated with a poly-something material. Incidentally, using gabions for some of your residential garden needs may cost less than concrete, depending on size and materials.

 And this gallery from Gabion Wall Expert of some of my favourites: again, click to enlarge.

gabion collage 2

More gabions.

Many of the above pictures show different textures that can be achieved. Here are more:

Creativity using texture.

Creativity using texture.

And last but not least, lighting:

Lighting

This retaining wall is capped with wood decking which is under-lit with pot lights, and one step light. Nice.

Lighting a gabion wall with spotlights

Lighting a gabion wall with spotlights

This just gives you an idea of what can be accomplished with gabions. Admittedly they do take up a little more space than their equivalent anything else, but to what great effect!

 

 

Garden Makeover

GARDEN MAKEOVER

May 2015. This is still early growth. By July it was a jungle. I went out and tagged plants that were superfluous.

May 2015. This is still early growth. By July it was a jungle. I went out and tagged plants that were superfluous. It was also BP–before pond.

A timely article from Lee Valley, Garden Makeover 101,  was published right when I’ve decided to write more on design than on individual plants or techniques. So thanks Lee Valley, and author Frank Kershaw!

A few days ago I wrote on starting with your viewpoint: where is it, what do you see, what do you want to see or what should be changed, and does that view draw you out into the garden? Once you’ve decided that, it’s time to go out and investigate.

May 2015. This is the view for people approaching my front door. Their perspective is important too.

May 2015. This is the view for people approaching my front door. Their perspective is important too.

These are the main points Frank Kershaw covers in the article (which of course, you can just read yourself, but I have some comments to add):

  1. The overgrown garden–this includes plants that have outgrown their designated space, hardscape that is deteriorating, and the areas that suffer as a result;
  2. Otherwise harmless plants or structures that have nevertheless outlived their usefulness;
  3. Time-wasters–like lawn you never use;
  4. The makeover process.

PROCESS

Let’s start with the process. You already know where to begin, because you looked out your windows from your favourite spots and identified special views and focal points. Now you go outside and check the condition of everything that occupies those spaces. Does a shrub dominate and shade out anything else? Has a particular perennial spread far beyond its appropriate borders? Is a tree growing too close to the house? Now is the time to identify plants and learn some techniques for managing them–division, replanting, pruning, and “shovel-pruning”–i.e., disposing of plants that just don’t pass muster. Oh, and WEEDING.

OVERGROWN GARDEN

Way too many plants in a small space: two roses, black elderberry, numerous different daylilies, a vine maple, corkscrew willow, red twig dogwood, croscosmia... Wow, didn't realize there was THAT much!

Way too many plants in a small space: two roses, black elderberry, numerous different daylilies, a vine maple, corkscrew willow, red twig dogwood, croscosmia, lilies, lady’s mantle… Wow, didn’t realize there was THAT much!

The overgrown garden is one that hides a lot of virtues. You may be intimidated by your garden, and think that it needs a complete overhaul, when maybe all that’s really needed is a fresh eye. Right now in January is a good time to see the structure of your garden; without all the volume of greenery, you can see more clearly what constitutes the “bones” of your garden. (FYI, it’s also a great time to see those evergreen weeds–like buttercup–and deal with them…) These bones should include layers–tall trees, short trees, shrubs, tall perennials and short perennials; paths to take you through the garden; and “negative space“–open areas that may be planted (turf or other ground cover) or hard surface, which allows the eye a rest from constant looking, and allows you areas to sit and relax.

This is a lovingly tended but overgrown garden that takes way too much time managing, even for these garden-lovers.

This is a lovingly tended but overgrown garden that takes way too much time managing, even for these garden-lovers. But no shortage of LAYERS!

The overgrown garden of course brings up the question “why did it get overgrown?” In most cases it’s due to a combination of two things: wrong plants, wrong place; and lack of time or interest to do the maintenance work any garden requires. (I don’t include “ability”, because anyone can learn what it takes to keep their gardens manageable, if they have the time and interest.) If indeed you don’t have the time or interest, it may be true that your garden does need a complete overhaul, making it much more low-maintenance. (Not no-maintenance–there’s no such thing!)

Terrible waste of space, and the tree is being strangled by the English ivy (Hedera helix).

Terrible waste of space, and the tree on the right is being strangled by the English ivy (Hedera helix). But the rest of the garden looks similar–clearly a case for a complete renovation in favour of a “low” maintenance plan.

Maybe your investigation has revealed that you have layers, you have paths, and you have negative space. Yay! Who knew you had such a  great garden? Well, I guess you didn’t, because it’s overgrown and you couldn’t see how great it is. In this case, dealing with all the excess –with pruning, division, weeding and shovel-pruning–will bring the garden back to a state whereby you can see whether you need to do other things. Even if you don’t have the layers, paths and negative space, you’ll be able to see what you do have, and move on from there.

While doing your walkabout, you may have seen things that are past their best-before-date. Fence boards falling off, broken pots, cracked concrete; Unless you’re planning to make big changes in the immediate future, fix the broken things. You’ll be much happier with the overall look, and may discover the big change isn’t necessary after all.

IS IT STILL USEFUL?

That in-ground trampoline, the play structure, the pool or pond; have you and your family outgrown these features? Are they occupying valuable space? Are they more work than they’re worth? The cost of removing some things (like an in-ground pool for example) may feel prohibitive, but the alternative (maintaining it ad infinitum) may be worse. And the value of your home will always be enhanced by a renovated garden.

My racoon problem of last year persuaded me that keeping a lawn in the front was not worth the work, and by removing it I could get what I wanted but didn’t otherwise have room for–a pond. And in the back yard I was tired of fighting the buttercup that was overtaking the turf grass. (For some reason the chafer beetles weren’t interested in the back yard–they probably don’t like buttercup any more than I do!) Now I have 4 new raised vegetable beds, and a whole new area to develop a cutting garden.

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OCT 2014. You can see that the lawn, looking its best all year, is still pretty pitiful. The large semi-circle covered with wood chip mulch is even worse. One year later I’m completely ready for a change…

New raised beds, positioned radially leaving open wedges between them. Low growing annuals and perennials in those wedges will attract pollinators and beneficial insects.

New raised beds, positioned radially leaving open wedges between them. Low growing annuals and perennials in those wedges will attract pollinators and beneficial insects.

Related to the usefulness of various features is the usefulness of various micro-climate areas. You may notice neglected areas or spots that are unusable in their current state. Too little drainage, too little moisture, inconvenient locations or slopes. Mr Google will happily help you with solutions, but you have to be able to ask the question in order to get an answer. For two or three years I tried to get plants to grow under the three cedar trees in the front yard. The tree roots, falling debris, and the tendency of cedars to suck every drop of water from the ground made that difficult. So instead of planting drought tolerant plants and hoping they’d thrive, I laid a small flagstone patio. I identified the problem, considered a number of options, and chose the one that worked best for me.

July 2010. New patio, thanks to my ever energetic sister!

July 2010. New patio, thanks to my ever energetic sister!

First Steps to Garden Design

 

Viewpoint from Indoors

I can’t imagine how many pictures in these pages have come from the vantage point of my front window! That’s because I sit there whenever I’m working in the house (unless I’m cooking or drawing). I watch the birds, the water, the leaves and grasses blowin’ in the wind, and all the seasonal changes.

So one of the most important aspects of garden design is viewpoint. Where are you going to be looking, and where are others going to be looking. Margaret Roach’s article “Look Out the Window” in A Way to Garden reminded me of this. Because of the way my tiny house is built and situated and “decorated”, there are few indoor spots from which I can sit or stand and look outdoors. So the view from the front window is particularly important to me.

Front yard pond

Front yard pond

A focal point draws the eye to itself–like the pond above; but the eye doesn’t stop there. It  travels around subtle lines and edges–like the edge of the pond. You can’t help but look at the rocks and grasses and mosses immediately around the pond, and then follow the path further around. It’s not intentional, rather just how our minds work.

What draws your eye from your favourite vantage point? Does the best viewing spot have a sub-optimal focal point, like the bare wall of a garage or a messy fence. You probably don’t like to look out those windows then, which limits your appreciation both of the indoor spot, and the outdoor view.

Margaret writes, “… there’s one particular living-room window that catches my eye most of all when I come down the stairs, as if to say hello.” (My italics.)

Does your garden say ‘hello’ to you?