Garden Diary - January 2018

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Garden Renovation
by Bobbie Schwartz

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

How does your garden grow? Visitors may admire it but you only see what's not been accomplished or insist on assuring them they should have been here last week or next month to really see it looking worthwhile. That's because gardeners tend to focus on plants. You see an attractive one at a nursery and buy it on impulse, then wander around, pot in hand, trying to find a suitable place to plant it. There are seasonal pressures such bulbs in fall or summer annuals. Also, it can be difficult to envision changes because once the garden has taken form we see it as it is and mentally erasing several years growth of trees and shrubs and flower beds. A garden needs structure. Even before plants, a garden needs layout. Where does a path need to go, to take you from here to there. How shall a patio relate to the house.

This is where "Garden Renovation" by Bobbie Schwartz is quite helpful,
offering options, possibilities, and suggestions.

Where, then, to begin. Unless you are starting with a blank slate, begin by Choosing Change. What are the reasons, have you defined your goals, and oh yes -do you have a budget. Change can come from a variety of reasons - a recent move to a new home with horrid landscape, children grown, age related constraints. Have Bambi and his relatives moved into the neighborhood. Or is it simply that have your tastes have changed.

There are essentials for every landscape: the environment. Start with what plants require - soil, water / drainage, light / shade. Summer heat / winter cold / microclimates. Suggestions for coping with animal pests from the neighbor's cat to wildlife from deer down the scale to voles and moles. And weeds.

Plants are - relatively speaking - easy to move. Trees maybe not so much but perennials, bulbs, many shrubs may actually benefit when you change your mind about where they are to grow. (Perhaps why plants in my garden say "Oh, oh, here comes the lady with the shovel again!") It's an entirely different issue when it comes to hardscaping, the paths and patios, walls and walkways that are best well considered before installation. From familiar fences, driveways, edging, and decks to fire pits, hot tubs, and swimming pools Working with Hardscape Elements discusses such should-be-obvious concepts as safety along with design elements for hardscape elements, a diversity of materials, and harmonizing the hardscaping with the architectural design of the house.

You've thought this through. The geography of the site was considered, the architecture of house and hardscaping bought to a harmonious match, and now - now it is time for Assessing and Choosing New Plants. If there were overgrown shrubs that blocked the windows and turned sunny days to black forest gloom - they were removed. If, like the author there were two magnificent, mature, magnolias - they stayed. Now, to fill in the empty places . . . shall you choose native trees or exotics, and how do we define native, anyhow. What do the trees and shrubs (the larger elements in your plant palette) add to you garden landscape - lovely flowers in Spring or gorgeous color in autumn. Whatever you choose, be careful to avoid invasives.

The larger scale, living furniture of the garden are in place. Now the perennials will add to the decor. I find it interesting that the author notes that if you were not a gardener before you came to this garden you are unlikely to know the perennials that might already be there so ask someone from a local garden club, botanical garden, or landscape designer who specializes in perennials to identify them for you. And unless a plant lover designed the garden the plants are probably readily available, reseed or otherwise spread aggressively. This brought me to a stop. For whom is this book intended? Someone who was not a gardener will likely be overwhelmed by a major landscape overhaul. A plant lover, on the other hand, might well benefit from the think first, plan and design and install the hardscape, and only then focus on the plants.

The book concludes with a few Success Stories: dry sunny front yard, a dry shady front yard, back yards, entire properties, designed by the author. Before and after illustrations show the enticing changes.

Profusely illustrated, there are inspirational options on many pages. This is far from a do-it-yourself guide, not that it is intended as such. If you are looking for ideas that you can discuss with a landscape designer then this is the book for you.

Published by Timber Press, Portland, Oregon, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-60469-612-7, Soft cover, $24.95

A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

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