More on Landscape Structure
To-date, we've defined our spaces for play, entertaining and transitioning and are beginning to think about those surfaces. Should they be grass or hardscape (stone, wood, etc)? Our goal is to minimize non-native, maintenance-intensive lawn to what is essential and to plan, stage, and eventually plant a low-maintenance landscape layered with primarily native, and some non-native, plants. One yard at a time, we are improving our own individual ecosystems while creating lush, cozy, inviting outdoor living spaces for our friends and family.
We have decided on the locations of additional shade trees and have mentally mapped new beds as well as extended existing beds. To keep it simple (the artistry is in the planting beds), we are sculpting long, smooth, shallow curves and then loading them with 6-8" of recycled tree chips from a local tree service. But I have to pause here to clarify.
Some of the most productive trees for a healthy landscape include our native Oaks, Maples, Poplars, and Hickories, which become massive trees. They not only mature at a height greater than 50 feet (a 5-story building), but they can get 40-60 feet wide. In order to limit competition for light and water, I typically space shade trees no less than 20-30 feet apart, allowing for 5-10 feet of overlapping canopy. I also try to stagger tree placement and always use a variety of trees. At this stage, it's important to know the mature height and width of trees you are considering. For a list of recommended eastern US native trees and their mature sizes, use the Connect page to sign up for E-News.
Next, we will discuss the sizing of patios and decks as we continue to think about the structure of our landscape before plant palettes.
Sculpting New Space for Planting
Picking up from last week, we are in the process of limiting the lawn to only clearly defined places for play, entertaining, and transitioning. Also, many homeowners live in neighborhoods with homeowners associations (HOA), so a front yard lawn space is probably not only desirable but necessary. The rest of the property will be layered with plants.
Along with defining lawn spaces, the locations of additional trees should be considered simultaneously. Trees feed healthy ecosystems, especially the Oaks, and the shade they cast reduces the ability of weed seed to germinate both in the beds and in the lawn. It takes a long time to realize these benefits, so trees should be planned for and planted early in the project.
To sculpt new beds or enlarge existing beds, I use at least 6-8" of tree chips from a local tree service, requesting a "clean" load after a recent chipper blade-change. I go right over the lawn, creating a slightly raised area. Bed curves are long and smooth so they look more natural and less contrived. If I plant right away, I add top soil in the planting hole, and then closely watch the moisture levels around the plants, especially shallow rooted plants, such as perennials.
Some will argue that the decaying process of the chips robs the soil of nitrogen, a valuable plant nutrient. However, more recent studies have shown that, although the front end of the process draws out nitrogen, the back end of the process delivers nitrogen at the same rate so there is no net deficiency. I have never had an issue.
When we first moved into our home, we quickly reworked the front foundation. We then sculpted lots of backyard beds, planting them as the budget allowed and refreshing the chips as needed. Today, the beds are comprised of rich black soil just teeming with life from years of decaying tree chips, and only the front edge is mulched with tree chips.
Next week, we'll continue to break down the design process into more manageable pieces. Until then, enjoy the beautiful spring weather.
Another Perspective on Design
Several journal entries ago, I shared some tips on filling holes in the landscape with new plants. We looked at the level of existing contrast between groups of plants, in terms of leaf color, shape and size, and used this information to select new plants. That information will become useful again when we finally begin to pick our plant palette. Today, however, we have a blank slate. We are starting from scratch. So how and where do we begin?
As a designer, one of my goals is to work with homeowners to establish healthy landscapes. We start by clearly defining the lawn lines and hardscapes for play, entertaining, and/or transitioning. Then, the remaining spaces are layered with plants that will eventually touch at maturity. Native trees, shrubs and perennials are used wherever possible, simply because they contribute more to a healthy ecosystem and food web than non-natives from other parts of the world.
Notice my focus on "lawn lines" rather than that of planting beds. This exercise of defining lawn space early in the design process limits its size to what is necessary and ensures the non-native lawn does not become the default landscape. Larger beds provide a lush backdrop and private space for play and entertaining as well as ecosystem function for the greater landscape. And, if the planting beds become too deep, we break them up with winding paths of grass, moss, mulched or hardscape.
So how much lawn do you really need?
Over the next several weeks, we'll look at several easy methods of installing new beds or simply enlarging existing beds where there was lawn, how to divide up the planting beds into more manageable spaces for design purposes, and then how to design for low maintenance. At some point, I'll have to digress and talk about irrigation. Besides siting plants correctly, proper irrigation is the most important step to growing success. Until then...
Welcome to my journal. For over 20 years I've created original landscape plans to help homeowners increase property value and really enjoy their yards. I approach every project as an unique opportunity to develop a work of living art, one that will require minimal care and age beautifully with time. In this journal, I will share some of my field experiences and tricks of the trade with you. Feel free to email questions. Thanks for visiting.