Design — published on August 29, 2010

Tricks to help you landscape like a pro

Professional landscapers have a lot of tricks which can help your own DIY landscaping projects. The basic concept is planning, and working smarter, not harder. That can also provide a lot of real dollar value, so much that you can buy a swimming pool with the money you save. You can spend time figuring out what sort of pool cleaner you want, not how to untie your shoulder muscles from all the hard physical labor.

1. How to landscape without doing anything at all

Start with a basic check on your property by asking yourself some very basic questions:

(a) What do you want to keep? The things you really love are excellent landscape content. They’re meaningful parts of your idea. You can literally design your whole landscape around these priceless features. These highly valued things are also good quality control, and will assist in your landscape design concept.

(b) What doesn’t need doing? This question alone will pay for your swimming pool. There’s a tendency to slash and burn in DIY landscaping, based on the theory that everything must be landscaped “on principle”. Wrong. A nice bit of lawn or a little tree can easily be incorporated into a good landscape design. The amount of unnecessary work also blows out your time frames, costs and patience, not always in that order.

2. Planning your landscape concept

The classic mistake of home landscaping is to work without a real vision for the concept. This can lead to a lot of hard work and problems when landscaping ideas clash with each other. A fountain may be planned with no idea of how to ensure the water supply because there’s now a miniature forest planted where the pipes need to go.

The best option is to start with a general concept. What do you want to include in your landscape? You’ve already got the things you want to keep, so use them as a basis for your design.

For example:

    The beautiful tree you’re keeping needs a birdbath and a rockery with roses?

  • How about a reflecting pool to go with the birdbath?
  • A little round the garden path, following the features?

You’ve already got half your plan, and some leads for the rest.

3. The more thought, the better your design.

The key to the most beautiful landscapes is content, not masochism. The fabulous landscaping you see in the big lifestyle magazines is quality based design. Some of them are big places, but you’ll notice the landscapes are all simply and well laid out at their basic design levels.

4. The “How” factor

Always ask “how” you’re going to do your landscaping. If a feature looks costly or difficult, check your options before you spend a single cent. There’s always a way of achieving what you want, and it should be simple, cheap, and easy. If it’s not, keep looking.

Professional landscapers use the simplest, most cost-effective designs and construction methods. That’s why landscaping is one of the highest paid of all professions. It’s so good you can start picking your pool pump while you’re planning your own personal paradise.

Design — published on April 6, 2008

The Small Landscape

Within the last couple decades, the size of the average home’s landscape has shrunk considerably. Two trends have brought this about. Houses are becoming larger, taking up most of the lot. In addition, the cost of land has increased greatly. Those with small landscapes need to plan very carefully. Small landscapes are less forgiving of our landscape design mistakes.

If you have a good landscape design, half the work is done. Just be very careful when choosing the individual plant species or cultivars. Know the mature size of each plant, and allow enough space. Overcrowded plants are more likely to be sickly and stressed.

If you can’t visualize how much space a plant needs, use practical aids. Get cardboard boxes, bushel baskets, pots, or other appropriately sized items, and place these in the intended spot.

Buy only the number of plants you need. It’s easy to get carried away. Ask yourself, “Do I really have enough room for this plant?”

Keep the plant’s needs in mind. Your plants will grow better, and your garden chores will be much easier. Match the plants to your small garden’s growing conditions.  Small landscapes don’t have room for invasive plants. Assuming growing conditions are suitable, the aggressive ones can become bullies.

Don’t take on more than you can do. During the winter months when we’re garden-deprived, it’s so easy to create large landscape plans that require countless hours of labor. If you have limited time for landscape maintenance, choose care free plants that require a minimum of attention. Select plants that can accept inattention without becoming sulky. So choose carefree plants and keep the  garden a manageable size.

Once you have your landscape plan completed, it is best to do the work in phases so you don’t feel overwhelmed. Spring may seem like the best time. But in fact with all the other spring garden planting and chores, it might be better to wait until fall.

For plantings of annuals and heat-loving vegetables, late frost can be a problem. The easiest approach is to wait until this date has passed before you plant tender things.