February 27, 2009
All I Want From My Yard Is . . .
A mantra of good design is to consider function before form. In landscape design, this means thinking about how you want to use your yard before starting to draw up a plan and picking the plants. Think 'Outdoor Rooms' not 'Plant Museum.'
I do a decent job of this with other people's yards, but I'm not so good in my own yard. I began accumulating lists of Must Have Plants years before buying a home. Thank goodness none of my friends presented me with a list of 200 Must Have Plants when asking for my help in planning their landscape - but that's what I've done to myself. Actually, I can probably reconcile the problem by listing 'Display Must Have Plants' as one of my landscape's chief functions.
I have several friends who have asked for my help with their landscapes, but first they need to think about how they want to use their yards. So to give them an example, I'm going to list some of the functions I want from my landscape. A few 'Before' photos of the yard are included so you know what I'm working with. It will be years - decades? - before the 'After' photos are ready. Randi, Marcia and Abby B. - this is for you!
1. Display my Must Have Plants. My landscape design needs to have room to grow english roses, delphiniums, hostas, heucheras, daylilies, hellebores, iris, anemones . . . my goodness, the list is long! That means I need plenty of bed space in both sun and shade. Those beds need good soil and an efficient irrigation system (the current lawn-focused sprinkler system won't be effective when I start planting bushes and taller perennials).
2. Provide a temporary place for me to observe plants until I gather enough specific information about color, bloom times and growth habits to organize them into the final plan. I'm calling this place the 'Plant Evaluation & Propagation Area' (PEPA) to distinguish it from the haphazard mish-mosh it currently resembles. Yeah, I know plenty about 'Stella d'Oro' daylilies, but what about 'Millie Schlumpf' and 'Lavender Stardust' daylilies? Will my 'Worth the Wait' siberian iris bloom at the same time as my 'LD Braithwaite' english rose? I want to know my plants well before assigning them a permanent spot.
3. Provide play opportunities for my kids. We have three of them, and outdoor play preserves my sanity in the summer. They'd like a play structure with swings, room to run around, and digging areas.
4. Include convenient, comfortable places for grilling, eating, sitting, reading, talking, and entertaining variously-sized groups of guests. Much of this will happen on the patio (which will be redone eventually), but a few carefully placed benches will also be needed.
5. Feature photogenic backdrops for portraits. Wouldn't it be great to have lovely family pictures taken right in our own backyard? That might require large shrubs, a bench, rocks, an archway, or other photo-friendly additions.
6. Offer cut flowers and foliage. I love making nosegays and other arrangements for my home and to give away. When considering a new plant, I usually ask myself if the leaves or flowers would be useful in arrangements. I don't have enough space for a dedicated cut-flower garden, though, so cut flowers will just have to come from the regular flower beds.
7. Screen unattractive views, provide privacy and create attractive views from both inside and outside the house. From various points in our backyard, we can see over 50 other houses. 50!! I don't want to see all those houses when I'm out in my backyard (or have all of them watching me), which is why we planted a small forest of 14 trees around the border of the backyard. Our lot is also graced with the neighborhood's bank of mailboxes, which I would like to surround with plantings that curtail my view of it from the house and front porch.
8. Minimize non-fun maintenance. I enjoy puttering around in the garden doing things like deadheading, pruning, transplanting and dividing. I don't enjoy pulling grass or weeds out of the flowerbeds, or taking care of the lawn (especially as I have an allergy attack after mowing - what a great excuse to pass off this job to dear hubby). This means I need to include sturdy barriers between lawn and beds. I'm trying to think of a good way to keep the neighbor's grass from coming under the fence when we turn the edges of our yard into beds, but haven't come up with a great one yet. Dig a trench and pour concrete? Buried boards? Any ideas?
9. Create an attractive setting for our home that fits into the neighborhood, aka curb appeal. The front yard design is mostly about just looking nice. The challenge with our home is to draw the eye away from our unfortunately prominent garage.
10. Offer a setting for a wedding reception. In a couple of decades, I'd love it if one or all of our kids decided to hold a garden reception in our backyard. This idea requires some traffic-flow planning.
11. Grow veggies and fruit. I'm not sure that I want to devote a large rectangle of ground to the veggie garden, so I'm thinking of ways to mix the produce in with the flowers. Not quite decided about that.
12. Allow flexibility for when I change my mind. That's a when, not an if. It's a blessing that our budget won't allow all the landscaping at once, since I'll have plenty of time to make changes, and more changes, as I think of new ideas.
The first three photos were taken when we bought our home in 2007, and this last one shows its current state as viewed from the master bedroom window.
So what do you want from your yard? Randi, Marci and Abby B. - make your lists. Everyone else, please leave a comment to help me add to my list. Surely I've forgotten something.
Labels: landscape design