Learning How to Landscape :: Like Building But with Plants
Some of you follow my tweets @BuildingMoxie. And I know some of you know that I took the week leading up to Memorial Day to check- in (foursquare that is) with a number local supply houses.
What was doing? Was I getting my ducks in a row for a long overdue grass planting session (finally completed here – Seeding a New Lawn), essentially bringing the Pennington Seed Seed4Yourself program full circle? Nope! (Not just yet.)
While I was playing errand boy for a few small things on my wife’s (Mrs. Moxie’s) flip project, I was also out, well, pounding the pavers. Ha! That is – I was out gathering ideas, information and pricing on a handful of large, it’s-time-to-really-dial-this-yard-in, items.
My yard todo, you see, looked something like this:
- A new Patio and Walks (Hope to Post Soon)
- Pond Redo
- Timber stairs (to edge out the kids’ playset area)
- Plant things
- Add Ground Cover (Vinca Minor – herein)
- General Seeding and Lawn Repairs
- Mulch &
- Much Much More.
Now, I certainly would not consider myself an experienced landscaper. With the exteriors of my own houses, I’ve done light fence and walk work. Oh and okay, maybe a little lawn work, but nothing like what I am about to undertake.
What I mean — when I worked with the builder, I was responsible for “grade” and of course for stabilizing it. Any plant/planting or hardscape work performed by someone else.
Learning How to Landscape (Selecting a Ground Cover)
So, equipped with a little knowledge (gleaned from a library book) and some pics of my yard, I ultimately found my way to local garden center – Poor Boys. When I walked in, a look of fear on my face (or maybe it was – absolute cluelessness), I was greeted as if they knew I was coming. I mean – maybe it was that they had dealt with my type before, but in a matter of minutes (working from the suggestions of specialist Michele Betley), I had a pretty clear path.
Now, one my favorite features of our yard also happens to be one of it’s biggest . . . shortcomings. Big trees = dense shade. And I mean dense as in – it is all but impossible to do anything let alone grow anything in certain areas of our yard. Or so it has sometimes felt. But what I came away with was plan of attack on at least two areas in particular.
A large maple, and maybe you have seen one of my two unsuccessful attempts at growing grass under it, would instead receive a ground cover called Vinca Minor.
Building a Garden in a Trouble Spot for Grass
A back corner of the yard, pretty much bare of any growth, would receive a garden-encased planting. This area fortunately gets some sun. On Michele’s recommendations, I recently planted it with a pair of Skyrocket Junipers, a smaller juniper, a pair of Gold Mops, a Butterfly Bush, and a lovely flowering Little Henry Sweetspire. (Update: For disclosure – the Skyrockets did not do well in this location.)
Once my wife and I decided on the shape of the bed (I liked an irregular shaped triangle that fit only the bare spot), I built the bed up slightly using top soil while integrating a soil conditioner. I did this mainly to get the bed off of our cedar fence. Adding a flat vinyl edging, I also lined the back edge of it with flat stone. (I did this almost more to protect the fencing, which you may see has already suffered some damage.)
I thought about incorporating drainage, but did not, feeling that the natural pitch of the yard and a high stone border would work well to shed any water aside. Trimming the bed as I did with field stone actually accounted for the largest majority of work. I have a rich abundance of this stone. Many were retrieved over the years from the various beds that scattered around the once overgrown yard.
While the Little Henry got the bulk of the attention, the pair of junipers I named after the girls. Eva (pictured) on the left and Evyn (my oldest) on the right. This of course engaged the girls, and they had fun helping plant their namesakes.
The hope is with this back corner, and yes I know I should have worked in a powerwashing of the fence (the misses overruled) the addition of a few lively colored annuals to this bed with actually help draw the eye to the once void area of the yard, essentially making the yard feel a tad bit bigger.
And anyway, this is where I’m at and I still lots to do. But as I go, I can’t help but feel that it is a little bit like building, but with plants.
Much like a wall in a home can provide partition, and in some cases, it can be bearing. It always includes such things as plumbing or electrical, and it is contained by drywall or some other finishing material. It is then papered or painted and then usually things are mounted to it.
I realize — this is the way I want my landscape to come together, almost structurally. And a good build only occurs when and if you can successfully bring all of this various elements together as a whole.
Thanks for reading. Next: Patching the Grass after Adding a Stone Border Edge. For more on lawn care and/or to read more about creating a beautiful landscape, please see our category – Landscaping. Thanks. ~jb
9 thoughts on “Learning How to Landscape :: Like Building But with Plants”
Landscaping, plants, shade ….now you are talking about something I know about! Funny about the vinca minor. That is one of the main ground covers in my front yard that I have in lieu of grass. You will love it. Once is gets established, super low maintenance, easy to control its spreading, low water needs & you can walk on it. Did they show you the variegated version?
Most important tip – lots of organic matter. Loosens the soil so you have happy plants & retains waterings.
The Tile Fairy also has a big green thumb!! HA!!
you know, I have 2 compost bins and I don’t have either set up properly. I’ll try but I doubt I will make time for it this summer.
Did not see the variegated version… as I matter of trying to work efficiently, I grabbed what they had off the shelf. I initially chose a 12 inch spacing despite what the recs read, do you have any thoughts on this? This area under a large maple (with dainty leaves) gets like zero sun… I have my fingers crossed and a thumb sticking up. ~jb
The variegated version is a lighter green with cream edges. It can brighten a dark space. I have both planted together and they look nice. I’ll take some photos and send.
Was the recommended spacing smaller? Spacing larger will just take longer for it to all grow together. If you have nice loose dirt around your plants, the runner roots will be able to attach themselves more easily and spread faster
Another ground cover you might consider is lamium http://www.perennials.com/plants/lamium-maculatum-pink-pewter.html
If you aren’t used to ground covers ~a tip: be sure to not let fallen leaves in the fall/winter smother them out.
I make a lot of compost but don’t have bins. Just make a pile of your leaves, grass clippings, etc. and it will decompose on its own. An occasional sprinkle of water during the summer to keep it moist -but not soggy -will help it along. Don’t add weeds as the seeds will sprout when you use your compost. Turning the pile can be a hassle. I don’t turn mine. I just push the un-decomposed materials back off the top and pull out the beautiful compost from underneath. I sift my compost through a 1/2″ hardware cloth in a 2′ wood frame and throw any dirt clumps back onto the compost pile.
That Lamium is gorgeous. It rec. a six inch spacing. On one hand I don’t want to spend a ton of money, but more importantly, I don’t want it to wildly overgrow. On the other hand I want it to fill in fast… so I’m torn.
Appreciate the tips on working the compost. Cheers Cyra and thanks for moving this discussion forward.
The vinca won’t wildly overgrow for a couple of years. Easily trimmed back if that is your concern. If you want it to fill in fast, stagger the rows 6″. Can draw a pic if needed ~think subway tile. Plants at the vertical grout line.
Lamium comes in several colors and different leaf marking. Super easy to grow. Vinca will take it over so don’t plant together.
Relating to like building ~your building is only as good as the foundation. Good dirt is the key. But take care of adding too many inches on top of your maple’s roots as your tree won’t like that. A couple is fine. Your vinca will spread if it has a happy place to go.
Happy to add to the discussion. Where the heck is everybody else? I can go on about gardening almost as much as I can talk tile!!
you must be confusing us with a site that gets like This Old House traffic. And anyway, case in point — didn’t think to stagger it, but that’s a lovely idea!
Down with good soil, and I am trying to be mindful of the maple… It’s been beat up over the years, has a rope swing in it and it is old. cheers. jb
You and I are both trying this at our home…you’re just doing it better, clearly! Thank you for the inspiration and tips!
hiya Michelle thanks for popping in and of course anything I (with the help of other more knowledgeable commenters) can do to help. all the best! and enjoy the summer!