Landscaping, Garden Design, & Other Urban Myths

In a highly scientific survey taken recently from a random sampling comprised of myself, my neighbor, and four co-workers who garden, I have drawn the conclusion that the importance of Garden Design…
(please note the capital letters) is vastly over-rated.


Mind you, this is nothing short of heresy among gardening purists. Purists however, are generally perfectionists. Much though I admire that quality in a good Cobol programmer, it is a bit irrational when you’re dredging weeds and digging holes. There’s also an element of elitism amongst hearty advocates of garden design and For a Fact, anyone with a bit of dirt and a passion for seeing things sprout and blossom can make amazing things happen. Garden Design is a lot like haute couture. (or white furniture) The model looks terrific… right up to the moment you bring it into the muddy, bug infested domain of the real world.

Let’s face it, two things contribute to the way most of us actually landscape our yards: time and money. I think “dumb luck” factors in there somewhere as well.

Gardens are organic. In my philosophy of life, they’re supposed to evolve. It’s fine to amuse oneself with quiet fantasies about the perfect garden when sub-zero sleet whistles outside the windows. In fact, this is a handy tactic to keep one’s spousal equivalent from committing acts of physical violence as you mutter gloomily about the snow for the 37th time in an hour.

Jotting down wish lists to ensure domestic tranquility is one thing; blueprints for a garden are quite another. If you honestly can’t face disturbing your tidy lawn without several consultations with a Landscape Designer and getting an officially blessed plan of attack, by all means do the needful. Just make sure their whimsical flourishes are easy to maintain and will look as good in 5 years as they do 10 days after the tulips bloom.

Personally, I have to resort to my meager store of tact and self-control when in the presence of Landscape Designers. They’re nice people by and large, and mean well. After all, everyone has to make a living. On the other hand, some have been known to indulge their clients and/or their egos at the expense of anything resembling common sense.

Professional landscapers frequently forget, or fail to mention two important items: how long it will take to turn their tidy little plans into something that actually looks like the pictures… and what can go wrong. I’ve spent time with several friends salvaging what remains from a professional job after the landscaping crew is long gone and the sunny days of summer hit all that expensive greenery.

If you’re determined to hire someone to do your landscape, you should realize several things. A plan implies control. I don’t care who you are. Your personal authority does not extend to the local squirrels, crab grass, native soil, or climate zones. Secondly, plans promote an insidious assumption that what you see on paper can be easily and swiftly translated into a thriving garden.

Please excuse me while I repair to the kitchen and laugh hysterically.

There. I feel better. Okay, okay. I’ll admit, there are a few things you should consider when faced with virgin yard and pondering ambitious or expensive activities:

  1. How much light does your yard get?
  2. How much rain do you get and does your yard retain that moisture or drain quickly?
  3. What kind of soil do you have?
  4. What plants are flourishing in the neighborhood?
  5. What kind of plants does your local garden supply store sell?

If you’re like most of us, you have some shady areas, and others with full sun. A few patches will stay moist longer than others. Previous owners may have added the necessary components to make a few square meters of soil more hospitable than the rest of the lawn.

Now you get to the hard part; the Reality Check. Is what you want in a garden compatible with the size, soil, light and moisture conditions available?

Some things can be mitigated by watering more frequently, trimming branches, adding humus, or eliminating towering hedges. On the other hand, if you have a 3 by 6 meter patch of soil, you’re not going to have much luck emulating the view of wind blown Heather from that postcard taped to your ice box.

Likewise, if you’re limited to a few hours a week to yank weeds, planting a tidy Parterre is pretty much a doomed proposition without a full time gardener. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a good gardener? There are 14 available in the Northern Hemisphere today and they all earn salaries that would make a CEO blush.

Okay, I exaggerate. But not much.

Time. Money. Yard. Take a hard look at your life, your checkbook, and your lawn and find a balance that works for you. These are the fundamentals of Garden Design. Don’t let that chirpy Landscape Designer tell you otherwise.





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