Designing the ideal landscape for your family
When you decide to landscape your property a lot of components, need to be taken into consideration. Mass and balance, texture and scale, sequence and repetition, blooming times, seasonal colour, the architecture of the plant itself — all these features and more need to be examined at the planning stage to achieve the desired result. Other items that should be included in the equation include maintenance considerations, future needs and your own personality. The yard should reflect your family’s lifestyle, not the style of the designer or landscape contractor.
Whether starting from scratch or renovating an existing site, planning is your most important step. Where does the deck go? The barbeque? The hot tub? The kids’ play area? How big a play area is needed? How big a deck? What kind of trees? How big will they get? The list of variables is a long one.
Plan your space to accommodate your priorities. What is your most essential requirement? A pool? A deck? The kids’ play area? Set aside the area your family will need to carry on that activity. Not too big, not too small. (Every family’s needs will differ, so don’t let others influence your decision.) Then proceed down your list of priorities. You will find that determining the functions you want to accommodate, and then allocating space for them, is a major part of the planning process.
Now you can start to juggle the space allotments until you find harmony between one area and another, in the same way as activities connect from one room to another in your house. (The layout is best done on a scaled drawing of your yard.)
1. A transition deck is helpful in taking you from one space to another. A different level adds an element of interest to the landscape. And your deck doesn't have to be against your house or garage, or even off the
patio doors. It might be in the middle of your property, reached by a walkway, a bridge or a few steps.
2. Plants, trees and shrubs don’t have to be put in along the property lines in cute, curving beds. It’s a popular misconception that this makes your property appear larger. On the contrary, it will draw in the perimeter. A demonstration: look at a yard with no fence and compare it to one with a fence. That fence defines the exact point where your property starts and ends, eliminating any opportunity of making the space beyond part of the garden deign.
3. There should be a reason or purpose to every aspect of your landscape. A tree should be positioned in a certain place for a particular purpose: to shade an area from the sun, to add privacy, as a focal-point specimen planting, or just to conceal a less attractive feature in the surrounding area.
4. Another concern at the planning stage is seasons, including fall and winter. Plant evergreens or dogwoods or birches to add colour and interest to even the dreariest days.
5. Allow for change. No one can predict what your future requirements will be. You redecorate the interior of your home; you buy new furniture; you change the pictures on the walls. Allow for similar changes outside. After all, your outdoor area is just another room.
6. Finally, consider health and age. If these matters are addressed now, you could save yourself time, effort and dollars in the future. A young family may have a play area for young children (for example, a sandbox and play structure). Once the children have outgrown this facility, the area could easily be converted to a shrub or flower bed or raised to become an easy to reach vegetable garden.
Your landscape is an extension of your home, so express yourself. Your house has a certain style; your furniture, décor and colour choices make a statement about you. So, too, does your landscape. Here are a few ways to make a positive as well as a personalised statement.
Style: Do you prefer a natural, more rustic look? Then stay with those elements, use natural stone, boulders, native plant materials and natural ground covers. Does an oriental flare appeal to you more? Lattice privacy screens would be a nice touch, as would a small pond of water feature where the trickling sound of the water blocks out the white noise. Perhaps a more balanced or structured geometric form is more your fancy. In choosing a style, you have taken the first steps to expressing your personality through your landscape.
Materials: To add a finished look to your landscape choose specimen plants that suit your style or theme. This selection in the choice of colours, textures, shapes
and even fragrances, will be a statement of your personal taste. You need only one or two specimens to make your own statement. You might choose the pink colour of a Nanking cherry’s bloom in the early spring or the red fire of an Amur maple in the fall or the red of the Siberian dogwood’s bark in the winter. Or the shape of a Rosy-bloom crab, with its bountiful show of flowers in May. Or even the fragrance of the feathery plumes of the Japanese tree lilac.
Accessories: Patio furniture comes in a wide variety of colours, styles, shapes, even materials, any of which could compliment your yard and provide an inviting continuity from the inner space of your house, like another room. Flower pots, statues, water fountains, bird baths, sundials, ceramics, stained glass, whatever is to your taste can be incorporated. If it feels right to you, it will likely fit in well in your yard.
Note: Don’t over do it. These should only be slight accents. Use them to add your personal signature or personal touch to your yard, like the ornaments in your living room.
Maintenance: This is the area that is most overlooked until it is too late. In most families today, everybody is busy, and no one is anxious to spend their free time weeding and trying to keep up with the yard. Proper planning, with maintenance a major consideration, can cut your upkeep time to a minimum and prevent most of the headaches that might come in the future. Initial costs of your venture might be slightly higher, but this spending will more than play for itself.
A few hints: Mowing time can be reduced if you keep the planting beds simple. Large, curved, smooth lines are pleasing to the eye and simplify mowing. Install prefabricated edging, pressure-treated wood or bricks around planting beds or along the fence or sides of the house to reduce trimming. These should be set flush with the ground, so the edge won’t have to be trimmed.
Pruning time can be significantly reduced if you choose a plant appropriate to a site, always keeping in mind the mature size of the specimen. And your plant, then, won’t be disfigured by shearing. It will retain its natural beauty.
Weeding and cultivating can be reduced if you use a weed barrier and stone mulch — though not in most flower beds. Avoid limestone, however. Its colour is too bright, and it detracts from the plants; the brighter colour also reflects the heat onto the plants. You can use natural organic mulches like shredded wood as a dressing. Of course, nothing will eliminate weeding; heck they even come up through the cement cracks.
Use quality materials at the construction stage of decks, fences, privacy screens, trellises, etc. to cut down on maintenance requirements.
Whether you are starting from scratch or renovating an existing site, you must take many things into account during the planning stage. Use quality materials at the construction stage of decks, fences, privacy screens, trellises, etc. to cut down on maintenance requirements.
Whether you are starting from scratch or renovating an existing site, you must take many things into account during the planning stage. Whether you work on your own or decide to hire a professional to help you, the investment you make in your landscape will reward you with great satisfaction and joy for a lifetime.
Keith Lemkey is a landscape architect and owner of the award-winning design/build firm Lemkey Landscape Design Ltd. in Winnipeg. lldesign.mb.ca
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