Q: Do you do landscape advice? I have a medium-size fenced back yard, and it is just bare except for grass. Where or how do I even get started, to make it into a nice looking garden?
This is such a great question! And you are not alone in being daunted by a blank canvas. But I approach this common dilemma with a fairly straightforward “recipe” learned many years ago at the hands of an old master, which works well for most folks.
First, understand that no two people will come up with the same ideas, so don’t feel like you need to copy anyone, or even get their approval.
Pot Luck Approach
Think of it like going to a buffet or pot luck dinner. Most folks go for some sort of meat, a little salad, several veggies, and a piece of bread; the choices of each are many, and the possibilities are almost endless. Make your choices to suit you. Ditto for the garden. It’s your space – you are the one who will see, use and hopefully enjoy it the most (as well as pay for, plant, and maintain it).
Keep in mind environmental issues like winter cold and summer heat, soil type, and sun or shade, which affect success with your plants; it’s always best to go with mostly plants that are proven to be well-adapted to your area. To get ideas, cruise around nearby older, established neighborhoods every two or three months to see what looks good during different seasons. Get to know a trusted garden center employee, learn his or her name, and over time you may find yourself getting better advice and service.
To get started, look out your kitchen window or patio door, all the way to the back of the yard. That’s where to place the most important piece of all: an attractive “hard” feature. It can be anything as long as it is simple and bold, to draw attention.
Think practical. A bench or group of chairs. A small arbor or gazebo. A little sitting area. A simple birdbath, oversized urn, or sculpture (fancy or home-made). A striking wall hanging. Whatever it takes to catch your eye from indoors, getting you to look and want to go outside.
Then plant a mixed group of hardy plants behind and beside it. Start with a small tree or tree-form shrub with spring or summer flowers and maybe winter berries. Add a smaller evergreen shrub with an interesting shape, and a small flowering shrub. Remember, no two people will choose the same plants. Just do it.
Throw in two or three each of three or four hardy perennials to give you something interesting coming and going through all the seasons. A simple example of a nice perennial collection that would work in most areas of the country would be daffodils for late winter, a daylily or hosta for summer, garden mums for fall, and iris or Artemisia for winter texture. This combination will frame the hard feature all year with color and texture, and maybe even attract some birds or butterflies.
Get Out There
Second bold trick is to make a path to the accented area. Straight or curved, it will visually, maybe subconsciously, lure you outside. It can be crushed brick or slate, flagstone, broken concrete, a zig-zag of painted wooden boards, or just soft mulch. It can go just there and back, or loop all the way around the garden. But make it suitable for all weather.
This does two things: Leads you outside, and divides the yard into two sides of the walk. On one side, plant grass or spread mulch – edge it neatly for a really professional look; dig up the other side and cover with bark mulch to look purposeful until you get around to start planting stuff.
Finish Off With Plants
Take your time but fill the dug and mulched side with hardy plants for your area, remembering that no two people will plant the same stuff. Mix it up with a variety of small to medium shrubs with some hardy perennials and ornamental grasses in between or in front. Every spring and fall add some flowering annuals for fast, long-lasting color.
Make sure to have something for all seasons, something for butterflies and birds, and at least a couple of culinary herbs, maybe some peppers or other pretty vegetables. Tone down part of the fence with a flowering vine.
Expect some of it to not do very well, or to even die, but keep right on planting as you get around to it or can afford to. There will be mistakes – happens to the best of us. Just keep going. And enjoy the trip.
Get more from gardening expert and certified wit Felder Rushing at www.slowgardening.net.