Landscape Design Focus: Low Maintenance

Busy, busy, busy.  We're all looking for ways to make out lives fulfilling while, at the same time, juggling work and family responsibilities, exercise, travel, and social activities.  How can a homeowner — even one who enjoys a bit of puttering around outdoors — create a landscape that is beautiful, eco-friendly, and engaging?

Here are 5 key ideas for designing low maintenance landscapes:

Reduce your lawn area to a size that can be mowed in 20 minutes or less.  Mowing a lawn that size is a quick bit of exercise rather than a weekend-draining chore. Other maintenance chores like watering, fertilizing and weeding — and the related expenses — will also be reduced. Once you've determined the size and shape of your 20 minute lawn, edge it with roll top steel set into the ground with only the top 1/2" protruding above the soil (the reason to use edging is to keep the grass roots out of the planting bed, not keep the mulch in it). Dedicate the rest of your yard to planting beds, native lawn to leave "rough", or hardscapes like paths, patios, decks, etc.

My back lawn takes 10 minutes to mow, the front about 8.
The anti-lawn.  Fescue grass in it's natural state.

Focus on woody plants.  Fill your planting beds with trees and shrubs, both evergreen and deciduous. These plants will give you structure and texture year-round, and require almost zero maintenance when the "right plant, right place" principal is followed.  Select from regional favorites with a good track record for hardiness. Choose an assortment to include colorful foliage, flowers, interesting bark, and small berry-like fruits. Avoid fast growing, weak wooded, messy species or those that can become invasive via root suckers or seedlings.   To lighten things up and add movement to the garden include ornamental grasses.  Most need a quick chop down to the ground once a year, and that's it.  If you want to include perennial flowers, keep them grouped together in areas of high visibility — near an entryway or patio, for example. Keep annuals and veggies in containers, exclusively. Here are some of my favorite, go-to plants.
A good assortment of shrubs, trees and a few perennials provide low care, multi-season interest to this sunny, corner property.
Different scale, different design style, same low maintenance concept.
Use weed barrier fabric and an inorganic mulch.  The monotony and glare of an entire landscape swathed in rock is not a pretty sight; it can also create a heat sink by absorbing the sun's warmth and radiating it long into the night (not what you want in the middle of summer, for sure!).  So I give this recommendation with the caveat that the landscape plantings are designed to cover at least 90% of it once they mature.  Keep these rock beds clean with a monthly rake/blow/vacuum to keep them free of debris and weed seeds.  The alternative, which can be very effective once established, is to plant perennial groundcovers to serve as a living mulch.
A clever design makes the most of an awkward space.  The unobtrusive texture of small scale pea gravel keeps the focus on the plants.
Buffalo grass as a groundcover / living mulch.   It's watered once a month in the summer and mowed once a year in early spring.
Use an automated irrigation system.  An investment, yes. But a truly effective way to save water and reduce hands-on time in the yard. Update your system to include a programmable clock for different types of sprinklers/plants/hydrozones (water delivery systems like pop-up spray heads for turf and low volume drip for shrubs), soil moisture sensors, and a rain shut off valve. Monitor your system on a regular basis to make sure that everything is running smoothly.

Use low maintenance hardscape materials.  Look for products that will age gracefully without the need to paint, spray, or power-wash.  Everything from fences, decks, and trellises to pathways, patios, and furnishings can be selected with low care as a priority. Natural stone, cedar, redwood,  and steel are just a few options.
This stylish metal gate by artist Dennis West will continue to age beautifully.
No maintenance necessary — this cedar trellis will age to a soft gray.  
Whether you're starting to build a new landscape from scratch or just tweaking an established garden, I hope these ideas will help stimulate your landscape plans for the coming season.  Thanks for visiting!

Comments Off

Landscape Design Focus: Modern

Last summer, when I attended the annual Wheat Ridge Garden Tour, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to explore a beautifully designed and built modernist landscape.  The site is challenging; a sloping corner lot with a "built-over/walk-out" garage.  The 1950's era home features classic mid-mod geometry and deep roof overhangs.   In a nod to our region, pink flagstone was used as a decorative accent on the facade.

The homeowners worked with Los Angeles based landscape architect, Charles Elliott, and Kevin Bound of the local landscape design-build firm, Artscapes, to get a simple, elegant, low maintenance design and high quality installation.

Slopes were terraced with flagstone retaining walls and filled with colorful plantings, making access to both the front entry and the backyard most welcoming:

The backyard features multiple play areas for the family's young children.
A concrete "sport court" (in the foreground), a play structure with soft landing (upper right), and just enough level lawn area means lots of play space for everyone.
Distinctive dining and lounging areas are joined by a "soft" patio.
A platform deck floats over the sloping grade and minimizes damage to tree roots.
Use a bunch grass (like turf-type tall fescue) for this type of planting rather than a sod forming grass (like Kentucky bluegrass) for lower maintenance (less trimming).
The original flagstone patio features vintage furniture, too!
The use of the cast concrete squares throughout the landscape is a nice unifying element — and a much more economical choice than cut flagstone.  They serve as a practical surface for stepping stones, and a decorative accent in larger areas of gravel mulch.

The limited plant palette and row plantings enhance the geometry of the house and make for lower maintenance, too.
Purple-blue is the key color for the entry garden, filled with xeric lavender, bluemist spirea, grasses, and mugo pine.
For those of you considering a minimalist, modern style, remember these key concepts:
  • proper scale
  • very limited palette of hardscape materials, harmonious to home
  • geometric shapes for planting beds and hard surface areas
  • limited palette of plant material
Thanks to the Mead family for sharing their beautiful, distinctive landscape with us!

Comments Off

Garden Designers' Roundtable: Romance

Valentine's Day has come and gone, but why limit romance to just one day of the year?  Today, members of the Garden Designers' Roundtable are talking about romance and the garden, a place near and dear to all of our hearts. For garden lovers — and lovers of gardens — there's no better place to connect with your special someone. Step outside and shut the door on the "business of life" inside your home or office. The garden has a different sensibility and a slower rhythm.  It can awaken and appeal to all of your senses and bring your life back to a calm, centered place.  Then, let the romance begin . . .

Here's my simple, no fail recipe for adding romance to the garden:

1.  Buy a bench.

  • Not just any bench, one that's comfortable to sit on for more than 2 seconds. Look for one with a shaped seat and back support.  Cushions are another option, especially if you're craving some extended together-time.
  • Find a bench that's compatible with your existing design style and other furnishings. It needn't be completely matchy-matchy, but you want an accent piece, not a sore thumb.
  • Get a bench that's just big enough for two people to sit on comfortably (remember, three's a crowd).

classic teak comfort (in my own garden)
stay as along as you like
beautiful for a brief tete' a tete'

2.  Put it in the garden.

  • Ideally, the location for your bench should not be on the porch, or deck, or patio that's adjacent to the house and two steps from the door, but away.
  • Choose a spot that, when seated on the bench, you get a whole new perspective on the world.

rustic Adirondack style

custom mountain cool

Design by Lise Mahnke
3. Make it your special place.

  • Create a greater sense of intimacy by lowering the overhead plane. The boughs of a tree, an arbor or umbrella will filter the light and protect you from the elements.
  • A hardscape backdrop or screen of  lush plantings will enhance the feeling of enclosure and privacy.
  • Add a focal point that resonates with both of you, like a sculpture, water feature, or collected ephemera.
  • Fragrance? You bet.  It needn't be a sticky sweet floral (unless you like it!) — herbs like rosemary and sage are wonderful, too.

shady hideaway

Design by Patty Brittingham

Denver Botanic Gardens
4.  Use it.

  • When seated in the garden, side-by-side with your special someone, it's easier to touch; to hold hands or rest a head on a shoulder.
  • When seated in the garden, side-by-side with your special someone, it's easier to talk; to say the things that are in your heart.
  • When seated in the garden, side-by-side with your special someone, it's easier to communicate.  Isn't that what romance is all about?

Denver Botanic Gardens

Read more about the Garden Designers' Roundtable and romance in the garden, here, or click through to today's participants, below:

Comments Off

Design Trend 2013

· Posted in , , ,

I'm a bit behind the curve in writing about garden trends for 2013.  Probably because I'm not a trendy kinda person.  I'm more about quality classics; things worth investing in that I can enjoy for the long haul. So I just have two words for you today regarding "trends" because I think this idea is a culmination of current gardening passions, low-stress lifestyles, and low-water realities: edible natives.

Forget about boiled aspen bark and cattail roots. I'm talking about easily accessible berries, nuts, and foliage that you can toss in with your breakfast cereal or dinner salad, cook up into a sweet pie or jam, or decoct into a refreshing beverage. These are plants that are available at better nurseries / garden centers along Colorado's Front Range and are already being used in gardens and landscapes of all sizes.  My list focuses on woody plants — those that form the structure of the garden and are your greatest investment.

Gambel oak, Quercus gambelii (nuts ground into a flour or meal)
Pinyon pine, Pinus edulis

Berries, best sweetened and cooked
Boulder raspberry, Rubus deliciosus
Golden currant, Ribes aureum

Chokecherry, Prunus virginiana

Sand cherry, Prunus bessei

'Pawnee Buttes' dwarf form of Prunus besseyi
Buffaloberry, Shepherdia argentea

Berries, sweetened for a lemonade-like beverage
Three-leaf sumac, Rhus triloba

Smooth sumac, Rhus glabra

Berries, fresh or dried
Serviceberry, Amelanchier utahensis is the native variety, A. canadensis is available commercially

Are there more choices? You bet. Native grape (Vitus riparia) hawthorns, thimbleberry and elderberry, not to mention all the perennials and herbs (often considered weeds) like horehound (Marrubium vulgare), mint, and chicory. These plants aren't as readily available for purchase, but might be fun to plan a foraging trip around.

Designing a landscape with edible natives means understanding the growing conditions necessary to keep the plants healthy, and combining them in ways to best show off their growth habits, foliage textures and  colors.
Have you been growing edible native plants in your yard?  I'd love to hear about it!

Comments Off
garden share bristol. Powered by Blogger.