Archive for ‘Landscaping’

June 14, 2012

Front Lawn: Community Builder or Barrier?

The other day I was reading something, somewhere about lawns.¬† Ha! Do you like where this is going? ūüôā¬† Anyway, they mentioned that lawns, as much as we tend to them, aren’t very welcoming but instead are a barrier between us and our neighbors.¬† At first I completely disregarded this comment.¬† A barrier?!?¬† Come on!¬† Then after letting it sit for a while I started to think about it.¬† Hmm… Then I started making some observations and realized that I think they might be right.

As I’ve walked down the street and driven through neighborhoods I’ve been paying close attention to how people are using their lawns and what I found was that people don’t.¬† I’ve seen kids playing in them, whether it’s a game of catch or tag or simply sitting and chatting, but other than a select few, I rarely see adults in the lawn.¬† (Unless they’re mowing.)

I also started paying close attention to my own behavior and realized that I treat lawns like a glass wall.¬† If I’m walking down the block and see a neighbor out in their yard I’ll wave or say, “Hi”¬† but rarely will I walk across the lawn to talk to them.¬† I’ve found that I’ll even yell to them from the street (we don’t have public sidewalks in our neighborhood) before I’ll walk across their lawn.¬† And if I do think about walking over to them, before I step foot in the lawn I’ll search for a walkway, sidewalk or driveway to take instead.¬† And I’m not alone.¬† As I’ve been observing all of this, I realized that many other people are doing the same thing.¬† I’m lucky enough to live in a very friendly, close-knit neighborhood yet even in our neighborhood I’ve found almost all of the conversations on our block take place, not in our yards, but in the street.¬† And it’s not just in our neighborhood, I’ve seen it in other neighborhoods as well (except that in neighborhoods with public sidewalks the conversations take place on the sidewalk instead of the street).

Why do we do this?¬† Honestly I don’t know, but I don’t think these are conscious decisions. I do, however, think these are subconscious decisions.¬† For some reason lawns are not the welcoming green space we often refer to them as.¬† Instead, lawns have become almost untouchable, uninviting.

So that brings me to question why we have lawns.¬† I know I’ve told myself that its green space or play space or a space to relax, but what I’ve found is that I treat it more like a green moat, a space not to touch, not to cross, I look for a bridge to get me to the other side, ¬†especially if the lawn is manicured.¬† Stepping on a manicured lawn is like walking on freshly vacuumed carpet, I don’t want to be the first to leave a foot print.

So what is it?¬† What is it about lawns that have become so untouchable?¬† And how to we change that?¬† Or should we change that?¬† Maybe untouchable is fine, but in this age of community building, untouchable lawns don’t seem to build much community, do they?¬† Some say fences in front yards build barriers, but I’m starting to wonder if it actually has the opposite effect.¬† Maybe fences are friendly because they have a gate, an opening, a place we know we can go and should go.¬† Plus, fences build curiosity, kind of like a secret garden: we can’t see it all, so our mind naturally wonders, “What’s on the other side?”¬† With wide open lawns, on the other hand, we could enter anywhere, but we don’t.¬† Instead we hesitate.¬† I find myself wondering whether I should walk on the lawn.¬† “Maybe there’s a preferred route?¬† Maybe the homeowner doesn’t want me on their lawn.”

Ever since I’ve had this “untouchable lawn revelation” if you will, I’ve started thinking about ways to make lawns more appealing and have come to this conclusion: maybe less lawn is more friendly.¬† Maybe, if there were perimeter gardens or flowerbeds or shrubs close to the street, with an inviting opening, a virtual gate, or even a structure, the lawn would be more welcoming and less threatening.¬† I also think if the lawn had a more defined purpose such as a pathway between flower beds or inside a “room” such as a perimeter of plantings under Adirondack chairs it would feel more like a rug or carpet in a room; something to come in, take your shoes off and get comfy on. Or maybe it’s a play area, an obvious play area with defined borders, maybe then it would be more welcoming.

So as my own space continues to evolve I’ll be thinking about the purpose of my lawn.¬† With each space I create I will ask, “How will it be used?”¬† Because if I can answer that question, if I can give my lawn a purpose, and design the space around it, I think I’ll be more likely to use my lawn myself and hopefully the glass wall will come down and others will want to use it too.


May 29, 2012

Location, Location, Location

At first glance, you may think you’ve crossed wires and are reading a post from a realtor.¬† Not so, but when it comes to planting, regardless of what kind of plant it is, location is just as crucial as buying a house (okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but you get the point).

What do I mean by location, location, location?  When it comes to plants there are three basic factors to consider that help determine the best location for your new plant(s).

The first consideration for location is the sun factor.  Most plants are pretty particular about how much they like.  Give them what they need.  Put sun plants in sunny locations and shade plants in shady locations.  Plant tomatoes in sun.  Hostas in shade.  (I still scorn the first person to use Hostas as landscape plants in Southern and Western exposed foundation plantings.  Those poor Hostas!  What did they ever do to you?!)

The second consideration for location is the soil factor. While some plants can handle a range of conditions, others can’t.¬† Don’t put water-loving plants in sandy soil and plants that like “free draining” soil in clay.¬† For example, Willows love water.¬† If you plant them in sand you will either be watering constantly (not exactly a very environmentally friendly thing to do) or they be stressed (kind of cruel), but they will chase water wherever it might be, including underground water lines and water mains. Unless you like calling Roto-Rooter, skip the Willow if you have sandy soil and plant something that likes good drainage in its place.

The third consideration for location is the exposure factor.¬† When it comes to exposure this is where it’s handy to know a plant’s origin.¬† Let’s take Birch trees for example.¬† When I was growing up many homes had one single Birch tree right smack dab in the middle of the yard.¬† People love them, myself included.¬† The white peeling papery bark, the airy, wispy canopy and the unique branching habit.¬† Beautiful.¬† But, unlike taking a walk through the woods where you might see a limitless number of Birch among other hardwoods, many Birch trees in front yards have had issues.¬† Lost limbs, storm damage and overall just stressed.¬† Why?¬† Because Birch trees in their native habitat are understory trees, meaning they receive protection from the canopy of larger trees.¬† If they were to plant themselves in their ideal location, it would not be in the middle of a lawn with blazing hot sun and no protection from strong winds, storms or winter cold.¬† But we love the beauty of Birch trees, so we plant them there anyway.¬† Unfortunately, the stress eventually catches up to them and they just can’t survive.¬† Bummer for the trees.¬† Bummer for us.

You get the picture, right?¬† Location, location, location.¬† Put plants where they like to be and they’ll thrive, put them in less than desirable conditions and they’ll struggle.

So knowing all of this location stuff, why on earth do you think I would I build my raised vegetable beds in shade?¬† No, I did.¬† Seriously!¬† This past weekend I finally had a little window of time and ventured out to get my garden planted and started looking at my plan and siting and realized… there’s no sun on my garden.¬† Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration.¬† There is one corner of one bed that gets about an hour of morning sun and a corner of the other bed that gets about 25 minutes just before the sun sets.¬† Holy cow was I ticked when I realized this.¬† How did this happen?!?¬† What was I thinking?¬† Seriously!¬† So ticked.

Okay, in my own defense I must explain. You know how it’s hard to see change in people we live with?¬† Kids grow-up so fast, adults ahh.. um… age, but we it’s not until someone points it out who hasn’t been around us every day that we realize how much we’ve changed.¬† Well, the same goes for my garden.¬† You see, I have a little problem with plants.¬† If its alive, I want to keep it.¬† If it’s on its last leg, I want to revive it.¬† If it’s a volunteer, well it must like it there, who am I to remove it?¬† Add to that the novelty of growing at least one of just about anything that comes my way and lo and behold the raised garden is in the shade.¬†¬† You see, about 5 or 6 years ago¬† I got a couple of ash and elm volunteers on my fence line and left them.¬† They weren’t doing any harm at the time so why remove them?¬† Besides, they provided a little screening too.¬† Fast forward to today and I can’t even reach the lowest branches to limb them up, which is what I originally thought when I discovered the shade.¬† But after a closer look, I realized these trees are probably 30 feet high and have a combined canopy of about 60 feet shading my entire garden.

So now what?¬† No, seriously.¬† That’s what I’m asking myself.¬†¬† Per my previous paragraph, I have a problem with plants (and trees and shrubs) so it makes it really hard for me to remove them.¬† On one hand, these are healthy trees.¬† On the other hand, they were volunteers.¬† On one hand,they screen the power pole.¬† On the other hand, they’re growing through the power lines that connect to the power pole.¬† And did I mention they shade my garden.¬† And while I’ve been gradually converting my landscaping to edible landscaping and this would definitely speed up the process, I’m just not ready to bail on my raised beds.¬† Oh, and did I mention how ticked I am that I will now have to pay someone hundreds to cut them down whereas if I’d had the foresight I could have used my own saw to take care of them a couple of years ago?¬† Yeah, ticked.

So, learn from my mistakes.¬† Location is of utmost importance.¬† Before you plant, or let a volunteer continue to grow, think about the future.¬† Sure it’s just a little guy now, but what’s it going to be when it grows up?¬† Will provide shade?¬† In the right place?¬† How big will it get?¬† Will it get too big for the space? Is it an understory tree? Does it need protection?¬† Will it get it?¬† How high are those power lines?¬† Will it get big enough to touch them?

The same goes for edibles.¬† Some like rich soil, some not so much.¬† Some are finicky about water, others could care less.¬† And when siting your plants, make sure you’re not planting your tallest plants on the South end of your garden.¬† You don’t want them shading everything else out.¬† Well, unless you do.¬† In other words if you’re trying to create cool and shade in an otherwise hot environment, but that’s another conversation.

So needless to say, the raised beds didn’t get planted this weekend… and more edible landscaping did.¬† But there’s a lot more I wanted to do and a lot more plants to go in the ground, so I’ll keep you posted on what ends up where and how they do.¬† 2012 may turn out to be one giant experiment!


April 17, 2012

M is for Monticello

If you live in the Twin Cities, or once resided somewhere in Minnesota, you may think this post is referring to Monticello, MN.¬† For those of you who were hoping that is the case, my apologies.¬† For the rest of you, I’ll continue on.

As a gardener, designer, what have you, every time I begin a project, whether it be at home or a project for a client, I’ll seek inspiration.¬† Sometimes it’s a plant, or a tree.¬† Sometimes it’s a detail on their home.¬† Sometimes it’s a place they’ve traveled.¬† Sometimes it’s nature.¬† There are many, many things that can be my source of inspiration, but when I’m looking for some inspiration for myself, I often turn back to a place I visited a number of years ago, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.¬† Now, some of you may recall I did a post about Monticello, or rather part of a post about Monticello in my History, gardening and experiments post about a year ago, but Monticello made such an impact on me I figured it was worth visiting again.

What’s so special about that place?¬† Well, what’s not to love? Ive you’ve ever been to the East Coast, or “down South” for that matter, I’m sure you’ve visited at least one or two plantations.¬† And while many of them are similar, at least to me, Monticello was different.¬† Sure, they have the huge estate, the enormous tree lined drive and massive spans of lawn, but at Monticello there’s something more.¬† Gardens.¬† Amazing gardens.

Now, I’m going to stop for a moment.¬† I don’t want to go any further without acknowledging what took place back in the time Thomas Jefferson was at Monticello.¬† That was a time of slavery.¬† I also don’t want to ignore the fact that Jefferson had slaves, because he did. Many of them.¬† And this plantation, like all the other plantations at that time would not have existed had it not been for the slaves who took care of them.¬† So while I wish slavery had never existed, I’m also very grateful for the slaves Thomas Jefferson had, because had it not been for them, the gardens I fell in love with would also not have existed.¬† So to the slaves, and the descendents of the slaves, I thank you.

So what about Monticello is so amazing?¬† Let’s see, where to begin? Let me start by saying this is a gardener’s paradise.¬† Whether you like annuals, perennials, fruit trees or veggies, it’s there.¬† And do you like heirlooms?¬† They have heirlooms, not only veggie heirlooms, but how about roses dating back to the 1400s?¬† They even have the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants!

What else?¬† Okay, Thomas Jefferson was a gardener himself.¬† And what I mean by that, is that he tried, experimented, tried again.¬† He planned the estate with curving pathways and flower gardens.¬† He created micro-climates by installing terraces on the South side of the hill to plant a veggie garden, and orchards with apples and apricots, peaches and pears, pomegranates, cherries, plums, nectarines, even almonds and olive trees.¬† And there’s Mulberry Row.¬† Many people pull mulberries thinking of them as “weed trees”.¬† Not Jefferson.¬† He planted them intentionally.¬† You’ve never seen Mulberry Trees look so stately.¬† And why not? The berries are wonderful! (Add that to your edible landscape.)¬† And the vineyards, yes he had two.¬† Okay, okay.¬† I know I get excited, but this all happened in the 1700s!¬† And what’s equally cool is that many of his plans, meaning, yes, sketches of the grounds, still exist.

Now, granted, the original plants are not there, but they began restoring the gardens in the 1980s to bring them back to what was once there.  Not to mention, heirloom seeds and plants are not only used on site, but also available for purchase if you have the inkling to do so.

There are so many things about Monticello that I love.  Oh, and not just outside either, of course Jefferson had amazing tropicals growing indoors as well.  If you want to take a peak, catch a little history and get a little inspiration, the folks at Monticello have done an amazing job on their website and have also created the Monticello Explorer, which lets you take a little tour from your desktop so you can catch a glimpse of this amazing estate.  There are plenty of photo galleries of the house, gardens and plantation as well.  And, like I mentioned before, they even have an online store where you can get plants, seeds or a replica artifact or two.

So as much as I would love to hop a plane and fly out and stay for the summer, instead I’ll be taking a virtual journey to Monticello today.¬† I’d love for you to join me!

And I almost forgot to mention, next week is Historic Garden Week (April 21 – 28) so if anyone would like to take me on a surprise trip, I’ll go!



April 5, 2012

E is for Edible

E is for Edible, Landscaping that is.

When you look out your window, what do you see?

How about when you look from the street?

Is it green all in lawn with a plant skirt by the house?

Or does it do more and call you to come out?

As you walk from your car is there something to snack on?

Are there veggies and herbs and good things to munch?

Could you eat in your landscape?  Could you have lunch?

People traditionally think veggies with beds.  But what if it were different? Would you want this instead?

Rosalind Creasy is an Edible Landscaping guru.

If I’ve sparked a “What if?” “It’s possible.” Or “Maybe.”

Please head to her site, or her blog or her books.  And see what, is possible, take a fresh look.