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Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer

The seasoned gardener

published in The Union in Grass Valley CA

Designing a inviting garden
Large or small, outdoor spaces may be planned

by Carolyn Singer
December 17, 2011

Old gardens often need revitalizing. It may be as simple as adding drifts of bulbs for spring beauty, or a sitting place with a groundcover that pleases, rambling under the bench. Or the original definition of spaces may benefit from the thoughtful removal of a shrub or even a tree.

mock orange'Crimson Velvet' barberry The garden that has been planned carefully from the beginning, with attention paid to the placement of trees and shrubs, matures into a garden that still works, decades after the designer has evaluated the site.

As the process of defining a landscape develops, imagine the garden from two primary viewpoints: being within the garden, and looking into the garden. Looking into the garden most often occurs as we view it from windows.

What are those elements that create an inviting garden when it is young, and work together even more powerfully as the garden ages?

The first important consideration is the circulation pattern within the space to be landscaped. Paths define access from one point to another. A curved path may be planted in a way that creates mystery, an invitation to see what lies beyond. Shrubs located on the inside of a curve may actually hide buildings or areas that are unsightly.

In one Lake of the Pines garden (photos above) I visited, the same fragrant mock orange framed a view of the lake on one side, and a gate to a utility area on another side. Thus one side opened and enhanced the water scene, while the opposite side of the same plant accented a wood gate and obscured the view of compost and garbage bins beyond.

Cedar Ridge CA gardenPaths may be used to create a point of entry into a garden "room", a small garden within a larger landscape. Rocks and old bricks give a feeling of age to a set of small steps, suggesting a slower approach to the garden, inviting the visitor to pay attention to detail. To pause in the garden is the goal of creating within limited space. Cracks between steps offer an Nevada City CA gardenopportunity for Santa Barbara daisy to self-sow. Or small bulbs such as Galanthus, Crocus or Scilla may be planted purposefully.

Trees define the spaces, and consideration must be given to expected mature height and spread. A majestic old tree is the heart of the garden, its limbs inviting children to climb or swing, the garden visitors to linger in the shade. If a landscape is large enough to include more than one tree, choose and place each one carefully, drawing its eventual spread to scale on a large sheet of paper. Landscape flags or stakes may be used to envision placement. It's far easier to erase a sketch or pull a flag than dig up a planted tree.

Evergreen trees such as cedars and firs need careful placement too. The best specimens are those that are not in competition for light. Their foliage will be more dense when they are in the perfect exposure as they age. Partial shade may be acceptable but dense shade will result in evergreen trees that are spindly and even diseased. Most compromised evergreens will lose lower limbs, which add to fire risk (a "fire ladder") as they die back.

Shrubs have more impact in the garden as they mature. Plan the sun-loving shrubs for areas that will not be shaded as your trees gain height. Expect areas that will become shade gardens as the nearby trees mature. Depending on the tree, it may take just a few years for shade to change the exposure, or it could be several years before redefinition must be given, adding shade-loving plants.

Once the circulation pattern and framework of the garden have been decided, the designer can begin to play with the details that define an inviting garden: seasonal changes, fragrance, color, light, and movement. It won't be long before the gardener and visitors will linger to appreciate the results.

©2011 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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