This is the time of year when all things seem possible. Take a few moments to really look at your garden. Look at the view from inside the windows and from the driveway as you enter. Then imagine all it could be with some simple changes.
The elements of garden design, like arrangement of paths, planting beds and open spaces, shape your garden. Have you ever noticed how your eye is drawn along a path through the garden? The plantings along the sides serve to frame, but it's the style of the path itself that enhances your experience in the garden.
The materials you choose for a path determine how fast or slow your walk will be. A casual path of gravel or bark chips lends itself to slow meandering around bends in the path. Flagstone pavers set in sand with spaces left between for low growing ground covers are good choices for both major access walks and smaller paths. Be sure to space the stones no further than a comfortable stride apart. Other materials that make good paths are brick, cobbles and pressure-treated lumber.
A curved line or offset sections of paving slows movement inviting you to notice the surroundings. Curves should look as if they are supposed to be there. Place a large plant, rock or sculptural feature at a turning point so that you must walk around the object. Remember, a lightly curved path makes a nice entrance walk or a stroll through the garden, but stick with straight lines for a path to take out the trash or get fire wood.
Walkways should be designed for comfort and accessibility. A walk that leads to your front door should be 4 to 5 feet wide, enough to accommodate two people walking in opposite directions at the same time. Smaller paths, 24 inches wide, are OK for one person to stroll through the garden further out from exits and entrances.
If your garden is small, a tapering path edged with curving flower beds will seem to converge on the horizon, giving the illusion of depth and distance. Plantings of grasses in the beds will create a sense of movement.
You can separate plants and people by designing seating along the walkways. A good spot to place seating is at a fork in the path, or where two types of paving meet another. Any object you can comfortably sit on is a possibility. Besides wood or ornamental iron benches, rocks, tree stumps, seat walls and planters can also double as seating.
The best gardens include focal points other than plants and trees. The art you place in your garden reflects your style as much as the art you have in your home. A ceramic pot placed as a focal point can add drama to your space. A metal sculpture or wall hanging can do the same. The great thing about making a garden is that you don't have to do it all at once. And gardens are easy to alter as your ideas change. A garden is never done.
Creating interest outside a window depends not only on plant choices, but also simple design solutions. Keep the garden simple and restful. Editing some of the plants will make the garden lower maintenance, too. Plants that have overgrown the space need constant pruning. Move them to a better spot.
Limit the number of elements in the garden. Rather than trying to include everything in the garden try for a unified look with the fewest number of things. Make each one count. Place objects to define a space. This doesn't mean creating separate garden rooms necessarily, but more like a set of boulders to signify distinct parts of the garden.
Another tip that makes an area more restful visually is to limit your plant palette. Plants that you can see through make a space seem larger. Some plants like Japanese maple, nandina and dogwood are naturally airy, while other plants like camellia can be pruned for openness. Low growing, mounding ground covers help unify the garden. Plant soothing greenery for year-round appeal with seasonal color from perennials and shrubs.
With a little planning your landscaping can express your own style.
- Jan Nelson, a landscape designer and California certified nursery professional, will answer questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.jannelsonlandscapedesign.com to view past columns and pictures.