Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part GROW series on garden design. Part one covers pro tips for imagining and designing your dream garden in the Pacific Northwest.
CONTRARY TO POPULAR THINKING, a landscape makeover doesn’t start with a trip to daycare. A successful garden design begins with defining a wish list of priorities and goals for your outdoor space, followed by an accurate site assessment and an inventory of existing plants that could be integrated into the new landscape. Only then is it time to dig deep and make those dreams come true. Or, as garden designer Laura Kleppe, owner of Gardenworkz Outdoor Living, puts it, “It’s time to dial in the vision and proceed with space, plant, and budget considerations firmly in place.”
Solving problems with plants.
A landscaper is adept at helping clients optimize their goals with creative solutions to landscape dilemmas. “Sometimes we can tackle desires head-on,” says Kleppe. “Other times, we will find a way to live with existing circumstances.”
Some common customer questions about Kleppe fields have to do with the way water does or does not move through the garden, closely followed by privacy concerns. In both cases, plants are often part of the solution.
While true drainage problems are best addressed by a professional, everyone can take advantage of seasonal rains by planting spring-blooming mayflies and bulbs, plants that complete their bloom cycle during the rainy season before going dormant when conditions dry out. .
Choosing the right plant for the right location will reduce the inputs, such as water, fertilizer, and gasoline for power tools, needed to tend to the garden. All new gardens need attention and resources, but Kleppe advises clients to think ahead and consider future use of resources once plantings have been established.
Thirsty plants, such as astilbe, gunnera, ligularia, and canna lilies, thrive where water is available during the growing season. Great if you have a damp spot in the garden; otherwise, you’ll need to supply routine watering when things dry out. On the other side of the moisture spectrum, drought-tolerant trees, shrubs, perennials, and grasses require much less supplemental water.
plant for privacy
It may seem like smoke and mirrors, but when it comes to privacy, Kleppe is a fan of creating focal points within the garden to distract from less desirable views beyond the property line. “Plant narrow evergreens, such as camellias, azara boxwood (Azara microphylla), or southern teddy bear magnolia, to shield neighbors or an ugly garage or shed wall,” he advises. Narrow side yards accommodate columnar evergreens, trellis trees, and climbing vines trained on a trellis.
Kleppe advocates leaving the mature trees in place and reframing his perspective. “The tree canopy is important to the health and well-being of our neighborhoods,” she says. “With expert pruning, removing no more than a third of the plant at a time, we can reshape the landscape and open up the views.”
money and maintenance
As well as having clear objectives and choosing the right plants, it is essential to develop a realistic work budget. “I often ask clients if this is their forever home or not,” says Kleppe. “The answer to that simple question can help you weigh priorities and determine a realistic plan.”
Kleppe tells clients to come up with a budget they feel comfortable with. “It’s more effective and produces a more satisfying result if you limit yourself to what you want to spend or can afford,” she says. In addition to plant purchases, remember to consider all aspects of a successful installation, such as soil improvement, watering, and hard surfaces.
If you have a vision for your landscape but can’t afford to achieve it all at once, a designer can help you develop a landscape master plan that can be approached in phases. This approach will not only keep you on track to achieve the garden of your dreams; it can also help you avoid costly missteps.
An experienced designer who is aware of the latest horticultural technologies and trends will help you set realistic expectations of what you can achieve with your budget. Investing in a beautiful landscape results in personal delight and, according to real estate professionals, could increase the value of your property.
Lorene Edwards Forkner
is the author of the recently published “Color In and Out of the Garden,” Abrams Books, 2022. Follow us at ahandmadegarden.com.