This month on the Garden Designers Roundtable we’re exploring the topic of Transitions. Transitions mark all sorts of boundaries in your garden. They can help set the tone and mood for your garden and can be strong visual cues for … Continue reading
This month on Garden Designers Roundtable we’re exploring the topic of Mistakes. Anyone who’s been gardening for more than a day has at least a few mistakes they can share. Since I’ve been gardening, and designing gardens, for much longer … Continue reading
This month on Garden Designers Roundtable we’re exploring the topic of Romance. When thinking about romance, the first thing that often comes to mind are the emotions involving love. I thought it would be interesting to look at how various elements of a garden … Continue reading
This month on the Garden Designers Roundtable, we’re exploring the topic of Details and their importance in a designed landscape. In gardening, as in life in general, when it comes to design, small things can matter the most. It’s the details that … Continue reading
This month on Garden Designers Roundtable we’re exploring the topic of Designing with Native Plants, an issue that is near and dear to my heart. But, truth be told, one that I also find a bit baffling…why are we singling out native plants as in need of special design help? They’re just plants, aren’t they?
When it comes to including native plants in a designed landscape, I have three simple words to say - JUST DO IT!
Right Native Plant, Right Place
Native plants are just plants. They are not fool-proof or no-maintenance. They’re not all weedy-didn’t-I-just-see-that-growing-on-the-side-of-the-road plants. Native plants can be as lush, beautiful and colorful as non-native plants.
When using native plants in your garden you still need to consider your garden’s site conditions – sun, soil, water, wind, etc. – just like you would before planting any other plant. You can’t just plant any native plant in any garden condition and expect it to survive just because it happens to be native to your area.
It’s still a plant and you, the gardener, must meet its basic needs in order for it to live.
Designing with Native Plants
One important thing to keep in mind is that using native plants in your garden doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition.
Native plants play well with non-native plants and, personally, I believe both should have a place in a residential garden.
While there’s no magic ratio of native to non-native plants that will work for every gardener, the Planting Pyramid is a good place to start to figure out what might be best for your garden.
Whether you’re planting native or non-native plants, you still need to keep in mind some of the basic principles of garden design. Garden design concepts such as color, unity, movement, focal points, and texture, to name just a few, are the same regardless of whether or not you’re designing with native plants. Repeat after me…native plants are simply plants.
PR for Native Plants
Native plants seem to suffer from a general lack of good PR. I’ll be the first to admit that some native plants are difficult to incorporate into a typical residential landscape. And yes, some of them can indeed be found growing on the side of the road.
And let’s face it, sometimes native plant enthusiasts aren’t exactly helping the cause and showing how easy it is to find a place for native plants in your garden.
On a recent visit to the Lady Bird Johnson Demonstration Garden at the Native Plant Center at Westchester Community College, I was greeted by an exuberant mass of 5′ tall late summer-blooming perennials separated by winding paths of grass. I thought it was lovely but could also see why Jane or Joe Gardener, who is thinking about adding some native plants to their home garden, might be overwhelmed by the idea of planting some of these native perennials.
Native Plants for New England Gardens
Incorporating native plants into your garden is easy. Remember, they’re just plants after all. If you’re not sure which plants are native to your region, check out sites like Plant Native or your local native plant society.
Here’s a look at a few native plants that will be right at home in gardens in Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island or any of the other New England states.
More Ideas on Designing with Native Plants
For more tips and ideas for incorporating native plants into your designed garden, check out these posts from my fellow members of the Garden Designers Roundtable:
This month on the Garden Designers Roundtable, we have a special treat for you. Rather than exploring a specific garden design topic, we thought we’d let you peek into our own gardens.
OK, I have to admit that before I became a professional garden designer, I guess I assumed that all garden designers had these amazing home gardens. You know, something that epitomizes the best of design and is worthy of being showcased in every garden design magazine around.
Now that I’ve met so many professional landscape designers, and talked to them about their own gardens, I can tell you that many of us have gardens that are not exactly show pieces. Like the cobbler whose children have no shoes,tending to our own gardens often is not a high priority, especially during our busiest seasons.
So with that in mind, I’ll pull back the curtain and reveal what my own garden, a wooded acre located in southwestern Connecticut (zone 6b), actually looks like outside of all those staged photos you may have seen on this blog.
I think it can best be summed up in nine words…
I consider my garden a laboratory. I like to try out plant combinations, push sun/shade exposures and generally just fiddle around with the same plant in different locations and watch what happens. Last year I bought a bunch of landscape plugs to be able to experiment on a larger scale. I got Tiarella cordifolia ‘Running Tapestry’, Calamagrostis brachytricha and Geranium maculatum ‘Espresso’. I’ve learned the most from observing ‘Espresso’.
After one growing season, I’d say it is not nearly as deer-resistant as the species, it’s pretty drought tolerant and the color of the leaves, described as red-brown, are not overly attractive. They’re a bit too brown and washed out for my taste, especially with more than a few hours of sun each day. I’ll give it another few years before declaring ‘Yay’ or ‘Nay’ but I do know I’m glad I experimented in my own garden before rushing off to plant them in a client’s garden.
I’m the kind of person who likes to surround myself with objects that mean something to me and have sentimental value. Inside my home, you’ll find lots of collections of framed photos on the walls, not a print that color coordinates with the sofa fabric. My garden is the same way. I don’t have a lot of garden ornaments but the ones I do have are full of sentimental value. This old weathervane is from my mother-in-law’s garden. After she died, we decided to give it a home in our garden. Every time I look at it, I’m reminded of her and how much she loved her garden.
If asked, I’d have to admit that one my favorite trees in my garden was my coral bark maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’). Bought on a whim at a big box store several years ago, it’s ever-changing look quickly fascinated me. It was just starting to come into its own and I could see more than just hints of the spectacular tree it would become. So when a freak snowstorm in October proved too much for it to weather, I felt like I’d lost a friend.
Last summer, on a beautiful August day, a tree fell on our house! There was no wind or rain…no reason for the healthy tree to have fallen that day. Luckily, the damage was minimal because the tree basically ‘hugged’ the roof line. We needed a new roof and some gutters but, all in all, I felt like the garden was watching out for us.
One of my favorite parts about our garden is that we have two oak trees that are the perfect distance apart to hang a hammock. There is nothing quite like lounging in a hammock that is suspended between two trees. I do some of my best thinking about clients’ garden design plans (aka napping) in this very spot.
I’m an advocate for using native plants in all types of designed gardens. And my garden is no exception. One of the side benefits of native plants is the beautiful butterflies they attract.
While I love native plants, I also appreciate the beauty of exotic (non-native) plants. One of my favorite non-natives is my groundcover maple (Acer palmatum ‘Yatsubusa Kiyohime’). Mine is just a baby (only about 2′ wide) but it will eventually get to be about 8′ wide. Here’s a look at my groundcover maple on the top and a mature specimen on the bottom.
As I said in my opening remarks, my garden is often neglected, especially in the spring when my business is so brisk. Here’s a peek at all the weeds and seedlings that are waiting to pulled. Glamorous, aren’t they??
Here in southwestern Connecticut, we have a big problem with deer. While most parts of the state have about 16 deer per square mile, here in Fairfield county we have 4 times that amount, on average 62 deer per square mile. It’s not unusual to find 6 – 8 deer wandering around my garden most mornings. That means I have lots of experience with deer resistant plants, that I spray my fair share of deer repellents and that I take a perverse satisfaction in running around in my PJs, arms flailing all over the place, trying to scare away the deer.
For more peeks inside the garden of a professional landscape designer, I invite you to visit the links below to read the posts from my fellow Roundtablers …
Today I’m joining my fellow Lords and Ladies of the Roundtable in exploring the garden design topic of First Impressions.
The advice for ensuring your garden makes a good first impression is quite similar to the advice on making a good first impression that you probably received from your mom, and of course your best friends, way back when…when you first started dating.
Some of those kernels of truth, planted in your mind long ago, can be dusted off and applied to your garden to make sure it’s ready for a blind date from a surprise visitor…or two.
Dress Appropriately and Be Yourself
A sure way for your garden to make a positive first impression is for it to compliment the style of your home. It should enhance and support your home, not overwhelm it.
Incorporating a mix of regionally appropriate native plants is a simple way to add a sense of color, style and identity to your garden. Once you have the plants in place, start to add a few accessories that give visitors a sense of who you are.
Like your lucky scarf or favorite pair of shoes, adding touches to your garden that speak to your interests, favorite colors, or even the fact that you can’t seem to throw anything away (yes, now we call that re-purposing), adds a touch of flair and whimsy and makes your garden much more inviting.
Get a Haircut
Just like with any big event, grooming decisions for your garden play an important part in how it looks and feels. It can be difficult to know how and when to prune your plants properly. But proper pruning can really help rejuvenate a garden and is essential to keeping it healthy and vigorous. Buying a book or two on pruning woody plants and caring for perennials is a good investment.
For pruning trees and shrubs, I like The Pruner’s Bible by Steve Bradley since it has easy to understand illustrations on formative, routine and remedial pruning. And for caring for perennials so they look their best, I turn to The Perennial Care Manual by Nancy J. Ondra and The Well-Tended Perennial Garden by Tarcy DiSabato-Aust.
Nerds Make Great Boyfriends
Remember back in high school, it was the jocks that got all the attention. You know the type…well-built, flashy and sometimes more show than substance. Plants are the same way.
If you look beyond what everyone else in the neighborhood is growing, and instead do some research and find appropriate native plants for your garden, you’ll be rewarded with a plant that is good for the environment and, like the nerd in high school, will mature into a fine specimen with a little understanding and TLC.
Don’t Give The Milk Away For Free
Admit it ladies, we’ve all heard, or uttered, this piece of advice. Regardless of how you feel it applies to dating, it is certainly worth keeping in mind when you are designing your garden.
A little mystery and intrigue, that hey-I-wonder-what’s-around-that-corner sense of wonder that you get when you can’t quite see the entire garden at once goes a long way to making a lasting positive first impression.
Even if your garden is small, adding a fence and gate or a curving path can arouse some curiosity and have your guests wanting more.
For more looks at First Impressions, check out posts from other members of the Garden Designers Roundtable:
This month on Garden Designers Roundtable, we explore the topic of Gardening with Deer. Rather than discuss deer-resistant plants, types of fencing or books that deal with the subject, all worthwhile topics, I thought I’d look at design strategies you can use — regardless of where you garden — to help make your garden less inviting to deer.
A Little Secret & A Balancing Act
Here’s a secret no one wants to tell you — no plant species is totally immune to deer browsing. When natural food sources are scare, deer will eat anything. You can try to exclude, deter, spray, scare and confuse them all you want. But the cold hard truth for most gardeners is that if there are deer in your neighborhood, they will eventually find their way into your garden.
Like most other gardening-related topics, dealing with deer in your garden is a delicate balancing act that demands each gardener find their own comfort zone along a continuum. Some gardeners may decide to spend thousands of dollars to fence in their entire property (be careful…I’ve seen them damage a garden that is ‘protected’ by 8′ fence) while others may throw down their bottles of Liquid Fence in frustration and decide it’s simply not worth the time, trouble, or expense.
Most of us fall somewhere along that continuum. Keep in mind, none of these design strategies are fool-proof but they can help you create a beautiful garden with a wider palette of plants that will not be routinely devoured by deer.
Also, some of these design suggestions for dealing with deer in your garden are not exactly wildlife-friendly. So if you’re like me, and consider your garden a haven for most wildlife, just keep that continuum in mind and decide what will work for you, in your garden.
Designing Around Deer
♦ Plant more native plants. Studies in Connecticut show deer tend to prefer exotic ornamentals over native plants. Regardless of where you garden, chances are pretty good, the same is true.
♦ Use highly deer-resistant plants further away from your house and along deer pathways. Site those plants that deer consistently browse proof closer to house or areas that pets may frequent
♦ Deer don’t like to jump into an area that they can’t clearly see. Plant tall deer-resistant evergreens near property lines or deer pathways. Take away the landing pad.
♦ Consider walling off certain small areas of your garden, such as intimate seating areas, dining areas, and play spaces. This should keep the deer out and allow you to expand your plant palette. Just keep in mind, fencing is not fool-proof either.
♦ Deer do not like anything that affects their footing or their ability to make a quick getaway. If possible, incorporate level changes into your garden by using terracing, steps, and berms. And when choosing hardscape materials, consider using rough, uneven surfaces in areas of your garden that deer frequent.
♦ Wear blinders when plant shopping. Ok, this is not a real design strategy, but it is important when creating a deer-resistant garden. Stop impulse buying and learn to love plants the deer don’t like. If you have shade, develop a passion for ferns, not hosta. Like spring-flowering bulbs? Think daffodils, not tulips. Ask a local independent garden center for a list of deer-resistant plants and then start shopping.
♦ When establishing a new garden bed or border, stick with highly deer-resistant plants. After a few years, it’ll be safer to mix in some less-resistant plants once the deer have learned to leave the bed alone.
♦ Ornamental grasses and herbs are very deer-resistant. Create meadows with seed mixes of regionally appropriate grasses and wildflowers or adapt traditional herb-intensive designs, like knot gardens, to fit your garden’s style.
♦ Plant browse-susceptible plants in containers on an elevated deck or terrace. This is not a guarantee against deer browsing but it is a little extra insurance.
Maintenance Matters, Too
♦ Deer seem to prefer heavily fertilized plants that are rich in nitrogen, carbs, minerals and salts. Rather than fertilizing your plants so they become deer candy, feed your soil so your plants are healthy but not full of excess nutrients.
♦ Clean up acorns and fallen fruit from under trees. You wouldn’t leave food lying around on the floor in your house, right? Don’t do it in your garden, either.
♦ Remove invasive understory plants that provide shelter and cover for deer.
♦ Limb up the branches of trees that are not deer-resistant to a height of at least 6 feet. This will keep precious foliage, flowers and fruit out of their feeding zone.
♦ Protect young trees and shrubs, when they are especially susceptible to deer browsing. This allows the plants to get established and trains the deer not to eat them.
I invite you to check out what my fellow Roundtables have to say on the subject of Gardening With Deer:
This month on Garden Designers Roundtable, we explore the topic of Idols, those people we look to for inspiration when we’re designing gardens for our clients. As I was thinking about who to profile, I started thinking about different aspects of inspiration.
Perhaps I should profile a person whose book I turn to for inspiration and guidance time after time. Maybe a person who epitomizes a future of garden design where we stop choosing plants simply for their natural beauty and instead start to choose beautiful plants that have value for local wildlife and enhance the larger ecosystem. Or possibly someone who pushes the envelope a bit and challenges the way we view plants and how we treat them?
And then it dawned on me, I could profile one person and meet all those requirements…and more. So let me introduce you to Carolyn Summers.
Admit it, some of you are probably thinking ‘who?’ To tell you the truth, up until about 15 months ago, I’d never heard of Carolyn Summers either.
Shower Caddies and Safe Sex
I stumbled upon her book, Designing Gardens with Flora of the American East, at the UCONN bookstore when I was buying supplies for my son who was starting his freshman year there. He was looking for a shower caddy and some extra hangers and I was browsing the Co-op’s extensive book department when I picked up Carolyn’s book.
A quick look at the title and my immediate reaction was that it was probably one of those scholarly books without much real ‘meat & potatoes’. I quickly flipped through it and decided I might be wrong.
Chapters like “Safe Sex’ in the Garden, Showy Substitutes for Common Invasive Plants and Designing Traditional Gardens with Indigenous Plants peaked my interest. Enough for me to pay retail price for a book, something I haven’t done in years!
Building on a Foundation
Many native plant enthusiasts can trace their interest in native plants and the growing awareness of the role native plants play in the ecosystem back to reading Douglas Tallamy’s book, Bringing Nature Home. While Tallamy’s book was eye-opening, it didn’t offer much in the way of actionable steps for incorporating native plants into designed landscapes. And let’s face it, for many gardeners, and garden designers for that matter, native plants = wild, messy, unkempt. Not exactly a style many homeowners are looking for.
Summers’ book picks up where Tallamy’s left off and shows how easy it is to incorporate native plants into any style of designed garden. Her message is powerful but not controversial. Aware that ‘native’ can be politically charged, she instead uses the phrase ‘indigenous plants’. Indigenous plants evolved as part of the regional web of life and are useful to the majority of local insects and birds and therefore the broader ecosystem around them. Regardless of where you garden, you can embrace Summers definition of indigenous plants and find apropriate indigenous for your own garden.
She is pragmatic and understands most gardeners will never give up all their non-native plants so she promotes adding more indigenous plants, while at the same time reducing the number of exotic plants. Not only does she offer native substitutes for commonly used invasive plants, Summers also provides lists of native plants to use in various garden styles. Dreaming about your very own cottage garden? There ‘s a list of over 25 native plants that will look great in a cottage garden and will also feed the local wildlife. Or perhaps a Japanese inspired garden? There’s a list of native plants you should check out.
Activist & Educator
In addition to being a landscape architect, Carolyn is also an adjunct professor at Westchester Community College and is deeply involved in WCC’s Native Plant Center, an affiliate of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. I’ve been fortunate to see Carolyn speak at events and have also taken one of her classes.
She is a passionate advocate of indigenous plants. She was even a co-plaintiff in a lawsuit where the city of New York was sued when they wanted to cut down some indigenous plants, including Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana) growing on Staten Island to make way for a new Target. While she and her co-plaintiff lost the lawsuit, the City did pay to relocate the indigenous plants and pay for their care for a few years. Kinda of neat, huh!
Looking for more inspiring horticulture and garden design idols? I invite you to check out the links below to read post from my fellow Roundtablers, and our guest this month, Thomas Rainer of Grounded Design.
This month the Garden Designers Roundtable explores the important topic of lawn alternatives, along with our guests, the members of the Lawn Reform Coalition. Since the trend of shrinking the size of your lawn is just starting to take hold here in southwestern Connecticut, I offer a slightly tongue-in-cheek look at why it seems to be taking a bit longer than it should for some of my fellow Nutmegers to embrace the lawn alternative movement…
Here on the Connecticut gold coast, in quaint little towns like Greenwich, Darien and New Canaan, the streets are dotted with modest multi-acre estates. Most are hidden behind stone walls, fences and rows of evergreens. A quick glimpse inside often reveals a meticulously manicured lawn sweeping almost as far as the eye can see. Getting these homeowners to reduce the size of their lawns in any way, shape or form, is, quite frankly, a very difficult proposition.
You see, we’re conservative, some might even call us uptight. And we love our lawns. We certainly don’t grow food in our front yards, like some hippy-dippy southern California gardeners are doing. Really, what would the neighbors say? And a meadow garden? Like the unruly and overgrown mess on the grounds of that new progressive church? Certainly not on my property. We couldn’t possibly cut back our lawn area, after all the kids play out there at least once a week and an acre of grass per child seems to be the gold standard.
We may cling to tradition a little too tightly at times but we are open to new ways of thinking. We like to support local wildlife (after all, many of us are card-carrying members of the Audubon society) and increased biodiversity is a laudable goal. We’re concerned about the environment and increased levels of pollution and pesticides, just like regular people.
But we love our lawns. And the status quo. What’s a humble homeowner with just the ‘right’ amount of lawn to do?
I’d like to suggest an easy and painless way to start embracing the lawn alternative trend. Why not plant something other than grass in that narrow strip of land on the other side of the fence? Since no one really pays any attention to it, it offers the perfect opportunity to throw caution to the wind and do something a little crazy. In fact, some of the neighbors are already leading the way. Goodness, they must not be from around here!
From a maintenance standpoint, this grove of hosta is a better alternative than simply having more lawn area. And it’s much more attractive. But from a biodiversity standpoint, it’s really not offering much.
Adding a few ferns to the mix helps liven things up a bit. And the area still looks manicured and well-kept, important qualities when you’re keeping up with the Joneses. We’re getting there but I know we can do better.
From Baby Steps to a Leisurely Walk
So I offer a few socially acceptable, eco-friendly lawn alternatives that won’t embarrass you in front of the neighbors and also won’t bring down your property values. Not only will these lawn alternatives help support local wildlife since they are all native, they will tolerate winter road salt much better than the grass you’re trying to grow there now.
Go ahead, try one or try them all. Just take that all important first step.
I invite you to continue exploring the topic of lawn alternatives by simply clicking on the links below: