We’ve all been home for a while now, staring out our windows at what surrounds us. If you’re like most people, your view may be less than impressive. Or at least in need of “sprucing” up. Several people have asked me, “Where do I begin?” Well, here we go, Landscape Design 101!

Best Landscape Design 101:

You need a plan. The best landscape designs are carefully planned and have a cohesive style throughout. Before you start digging, however, you need to do some thinking. What exactly you need to consider are layed out below.

Location, Location, Location

The conditions around your home should be considered first. This means both the climate where you live, along with the affect of external influences, such as large buildings or trees that cast shade. This phenomenon, called a microclimate, can be varied throughout your property. Finally, your proximity to some things, like the ocean or mountains for example, have a big effect on both plants and hardscape.

What’s it For? 

Next, the desired use of the space should be considered. You might need a play area, a place to entertain, or just a quiet spot to sit and reflect. Make sure to account for all seasons and possible changes of household members, like new baby arrivals or teens soon to leave for college.

Who’s Going to Take Care of it?

It is important to know the time and effort you’re willing to expend, or to pay someone else to do it. If your schedule and finances are limited, you might consider a low-maintenance landscape. If you are retired and have a green thumb, the opposite may be true!

Tried and True Styles

There are no rules to designing an outdoor space, but it helps to decide on a style that would best fit your home and lifestyle. There are numerous traditional garden styles which you can model your own after. Or you can choose elements from several to create your own design. This article discusses some common garden types that may work for you.

A landscape design that is well-planned will encourage you to spend a lot more time in your yard. And if you have a yard you enjoy on a regular basis, it’s like gaining a room in your home! So if you’re a DIY’er and can spend some time working on your plan, you can have a beautiful, functional space to enjoy for years.

As a child I spent summer days laying on the grass or turf in the backyard, staring up at the blue sky with not a care in the world. My biggest concern would be if a half hour after lunch had yet passed so I could continue to swim “laps” in the blow-up pool.

I remember picking dandelions and blowing them to the four corners of the globe with glee, rolling races down hills of grass, and grass-stained knees and elbows – and the itch from it – all the memories of a time as a kid who grow up playing on grass.

The Fallacy of Turf:

 

As an adult and landscape professional, my knowledge of turf expanded significantly. In the past, Marathon sod dominated and fescue lawns prevailed. The allure of an immaculate green lawn was tempting, especially for those from lawn-centric regions like California.

During a recent trip to the East Coast, I explored historic mansions with vast lawns. Acres of green stretched before me, evoking images of owners enjoying croquet and picnics while children played nearby under a watchful nanny’s gaze.

Per usual, I was taking photos to keep my designing mind – and the business it shepards – remaining fresh and new. I thought to myself, this lawn, this huge expanse of seemingly perfect green perfection, this is what people are trying to attain! This is the goal! This is what people who want a lawn envision when they look out their living room window. My thoughts turned to the care of such a large swath of green.

 
 

I wanted to learn more. Getting closer to the turf, imperfections emerged. Uneven green swaths, bare spots, and water-logged areas appeared. Despite 60 gardeners tending to the property, the grass resembled the lawn of my childhood.

Weeds thrived, including spurge, clover, and dandelions, coexisting with unknown seeded grass. Crabgrass, zoysia, and nut grass infiltrated too. Together, they formed a visually pleasing carpet from afar. However, up close, it revealed a chaotic sight.

There are few things in life that bring me as much joy as a beautiful container garden with thoughtfully arranged planting material. Hmmm, well maybe a good bottle of red wine or a vodka martini, oh, sorry, never mind.

Plant a Container Garden:

 

Start with a clean container. If you’re re-using a pot, wash it well, inside and out, use a water and bleach solution. New containers should also be wiped down. Allow them to completely air dry before planting. I like to leave them in the sun for a day or two. This washing step also gives you a chance to see if the drainage is sufficient. If its not, now is the time to add a hole or two.

Few people really think about it, but healthy containers start at the bottom, with proper drainage & drainage material.

I prefer hard cell foam balls, in 1-2” size, depending upon the overall size of the container. These balls are lightweight, and impervious to water. Some landscapers prefer gravel, as it’s less expensive. Also in windy areas gravel can be beneficial, since it provides weight, which can add stability to the base of a container. If you’re the recycling type you might like to use crushed water bottles (with the cap on), as your drainage material.

No matter what material you use, be sure you allow enough space for the proper amount of soil for your plant material.

 
 

Next I add in a layer or two of weed fabric. This acts as a barrier between the drainage material and the potting soil. I’ve heard of people using coffee filters, which would probably be fine, but maybe not cost effective. Costco for 5,000 coffee filters anyone?

 

The next layer is where I never ever scrimp and that is the potting soil layer. My two current favs are EB Stone’s “Edna’s Best” available at H&H Nursery (in Lakewood, on Lakewood) or

Dr Earth’s “Pot of Gold” at Armstrong’s (they’re all over).

Measure the interior width and depth of your container, after you have added the drainage, to calculate volume. Sorry, don’t ask me how I know how to do this, I’ve done it for so many years it’s like autopilot. Google how to measure a cylinder or a square, depending upon your container for a simple formula.

Many brands of potting soil will be marked on the bag, them how many cubic feet or how many containers, of various sizes, they will fill. Smart marketing!

Never use soil from your garden or bagged “garden soil” in a container. Potting mix is specially structured to be lighter mixture, allowing for increased air and water movement, thus keeping the soil a more balanced ecosystem for your container plants.

 

And finally, we get to the part of container planting that people notice, the Plants! There are as many ways to plant a container as there are types of plants. But the “standards” are the standards because they do work. Use the “Thrill, Fill & Spill” method in a circular or square container. And in rectangular or trough like container, use a zig zag layout.

Add some starter fertilizer to the soil just before the plant material goes in. Another pro trick, is to put all the plants in the container before you take them out of their pots. This gives you a chance to move things around while you decide on your final placement and it’s a great time to check that your potting soil level is not to low or too high.

 
 

Toss in a bit of slow-release fertilizer and finish your container’s look with decorative gravel or small bark.

Water well and regularly while the plants adjust to their new home (where’s that water meter!!).

Remember to fertilize your containers every other month. Container plantings need regular fertilization to stay looking their best. Enjoy!