Design short cut

Kicking around design ideas

We are hearing from people who want to make a change in a landscape and don't know where to start. We have these suggestions.

Design via webinar

First, we have design webinars coming up:
Simple, Successful Garden Design on May 16, and Landscape Ideas from 50 Great Garden Before-Afters on May 23.
Later in the year, Shade Gardens, Design Review, Best Foot Forward: Ideas for Entry Gardens, Designing for Scent and Touch, and Easy, Beautiful Landscape Design.

If you have subscribed to our webinars you will receive the year's schedule next week, after we adjust it for all the trial period feedback. If you are considering a subscription you can check the schedule in the Webinars, Appearances, Calendar section of GardenatoZ.org

On-site reading

Second, there are many articles about designing gardens and landscapes on this site. There is a starting list of links on the next page:

Note that some of these links take you to GardenAtoZ.com. Thanks to generous donors and volunteers, we have moved almost 400 of .com's pages to GardenAtoZ.org but we still have more than 600 to move.

The Forum community

Third, we have the Forum where ideas and images can be posted. Then we and any number of others can share and glean ideas. We would love to mix some happy, fresh design discussions with the weed I.D., insect issues and fertilizer problems we've handled there recently.

The Just-do-something approach to design

Fourth, we have this kick start approach, based on the admonition of Janet's dad, "Well don't stand around doing nothing because you don't know how. Just do something!"

Begin with a pleasing view

Start with one space, one good space. Make an improvement and let the new landscape ripple out from there.

Stand inside your home and look out from a spot you frequent. Choose something that pleases you in that view. That may be a tree, a bench, a gracefully shaped lawn area, a fluffy healthy hedge, a bed full of flowering perennials, etc.

The neighbor's shrink-wrapped boat was distracting. Some of the white is still visible even through summer foliage. We placed the eye-catching gazebo in the corner rather than centered and in line with the boat.

The neighbor's shrink-wrapped boat was distracting. Some of the white is still visible even through summer foliage. We placed the eye-catching gazebo in the corner rather than centered and in line with the boat.

Deny attention to the negative

Recognize and refuse the urge to focus on something distracting or irritating. A meeting of two different fences, the backside of a garage, a utility box, a neighbor's camper... The list goes on of things we can't change but can draw attention to by plunking a tree, bush or garden in line with it. This is not to say you won't eventually screen out that view. You will, and do it more effectively with the edges of a landscape feature, not with the first-plant spotlight.

Think "Contrast!"

In this pleasant place you have allowed your eye to alight, or in line between you the viewer and that spot, imagine something new. Imagine a high contrast item, something that stands out against its background.

Contrast comes from marked differences in color, shape or texture. A circle among squares, yellow against blue, coarse texture against fine are examples of contrast.

Upping the contrast involves classifying the background. A clipped hedge may draw a straight line. Rounded and sinuous shapes will stand out in comparison. Hydrangeas have rather large leaves so their surface appears to be made of good-sized chunks of light and dark. They are coarse in texture. Something fine in texture has a surface made of tiny parts that blend as one. It holds itself apart from a coarse background like a solid color pillow is distinct from upholstery with a large floral pattern.

Foliage color contrast, dwarf spruce and Mother lode juniper.

Foliage color contrast, dwarf spruce and Mother lode juniper.

Bigger leaves create a coarser texture.

Bigger leaves create a coarser texture.

Dream in descriptions, not plant names

No need to know plants or landscape materials at this point. It may even be detrimental to have a particular plant in mind, in that dwelling on a weeping cherry, rose or pine can close the door to a dozen possibilities. So think not of plant names but of characteristics. "Something coarse with a rounded shape and very dark green or blue-green leaves would look terrific in front of that fine texture boxwood hedge.

Think next about size and time. How tall and wide should this imagined item be? How much time can you allow it to reach that size and are you willing and able to prune it if its potential is greater than your picture and patience allow?

"Round and 8'  tall with fall color" could include arrowwood viburnum.

"Round and 8' tall with fall color" could include arrowwood viburnum.

"Spreading and 10' wide with spring color" could lead to Sargent crabapple.

"Spreading and 10' wide with spring color" could lead to Sargent crabapple.

Take your dream to an expert

Now take your imagining to a garden center, designer, reference book or database. "Something about 8' x 8', coarse in texture, with dark green leaf color, preferably evergreen, that likes half day sun." You can present this puzzle orally to a person, pick it out from plant feature charts in a book, or type it into Google images. Then look into options the source returns to you.

 

Visualize options

Choose one but don't buy it yet. Take a photo of the scene it will join. Print it out, preferably in black and white which makes textural contrast most apparent. Obtain a picture of the item you are considering. Print it out to match the background image's scale and color or gray tones. Cut out the second photo so you can move it around on the other page. Decide if you like it.

Cut that kousa dogwood! Easier to move around on paper than in the yard.

Cut that kousa dogwood! Easier to move around on paper than in the yard.

Not limited to plant material

You probably have a shrub or tree in mind and clipped out on your work surface.

I steered you into choosing plant material to build this example quickly, on common ground. Now consider non-plant and other-dimension options. Can you imagine something on the horizontal plane of the scene? A pond or patterned walkway can paint a picture on the ground with as much impact as a shrub's silhouette. Ground level can be a very effective eye-rest place, too. If it is in pleasing contrast with its surroundings it can hold attention down low, away from power lines, ugly towers, bright colored playscapes, etc.

Not the garden but the patio is the eye-hold here, with its contrasting furniture.

Not the garden but the patio is the eye-hold here, with its contrasting furniture.

Rippling time

Once you have a first item in place, whether that place is real or still imaginary, you can begin to play off of it. Perhaps a bed of groundcover around it, like a steadying base on a wine glass. Maybe new beds of dwarf evergreen, one to right and left, would frame the star like a picture frame sharpens focus on the image within.

At each step in design you can return to your sources with new descriptors. If that source is here at the Forum, great! See you there between now and our next newsletter.