Lose the Lawn

One the best gardening strategies to prepare for future droughts—and achieve additional benefits—is to replace your lawn with any of several landscape designs.

Lawns, and especially front yard lawns, began as a mark of affluence, because mowing a lawn was once a labor-intensive (and therefore costly) session with a scythe. A skilled scythe-wielding worker can be impressively efficient, but for most workers, including the homeowner with an up-to-date lawnmower, mowing a lawn is a tedious and repetitious task. The homeowner’s reward for a well-maintained lawn can include pride of ownership.

A lawn does more than display the homeowner’s wealth. It also serves as the base for widely accepted front-yard designs, the principal one of which has been called the Contractor’s Landscape. This consists of a shallow bed of reliable small shrubs next to the house, followed by turf grass to the curb. This design is quick and cheap to install, and inoffensive.

From an aesthetic viewpoint, the lawn provides a resting place for the eye as the viewer focuses on individual trees, shrubs and blossoms. The lawn is a neutral swatch of greenery, contrasting carpet-like with the relatively busy landscape.

But consider the negative aspects of the lawn.

  • Maintaining a good-looking lawn requires much more effort, water, chemical fertilizers and herbicides than alternative landscapes.
  • Two-cycle lawnmowers pollute the air about ten times as much as a car, and add noise pollution as well. Electric mowers are better, but they also impact the environment. Push mowers are best for the environment, the lawn and the homeowner.
  • Lawns are the homeowner’s version of monoculture, growing just one crop over an area. This practice might seem efficient, but to the wildlife, it’s a wasteland with very little food or water and no shelter at all.
  • Lawns might be valued for recreation, but in reality often have minimal use (except for maintenance). Other landscape designs could be more inviting and supportive of outdoor activities.

If these factors encourage you to consider losing your lawn, it’s time to look into the many possible alternatives. Begin with Sunset magazine’s “21 Inspiring Lawn-free Yards” <www.sunset.com/garden/earth-friendly/lose-the-lawn-low-water-landscaping>. This webpage offers a slideshow of attractive options to contemplate.

For more in-depth information, visit Evelyn J. Hadden’s extensive website, “Less Lawn, More Life,” or look for her book, “Beautiful No-Mow Lawns: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives’ (Timber Press, 2012).

Another fine resource on this topic is book by Carol Bornstein, David Fross and Bart O’Brien: Reimagining the California Lawn: Water-conserving Plants, Practices andDesigns (

Another helpful resource is the Lawn Reform Coalition, which is “all about reducing or replacing lawn, water-wise lawn species and eco-friendly care for all lawns.” Visit the Coalition’s website for information on all aspects of lawn alternatives.

“Lose the lawn” emphasizes the loss of a familiar element of the landscape. “Lawn alternatives” suggests a more appealing idea, one that opens our thinking about creative approaches to the landscape and new resources in the home environment.

Think of the possibilities!

Top Ten Tasks for Fall

Our gardens have had some rain—and a promise for more this season—so we can now pursue “regular” gardening and think other good thoughts!

There are no exciting new developments or flights of imagination in this week’s column. Instead, here’s a review of steps to take in the fall to ensure gardening success in the spring.

  1. Feed your soil. As plants grow, they consume the soil’s nutrients, so the gardener should restore the soil by adding partially decomposed organic material. For an inactive bed, dig in a three-to-four inch layer of compost; for an active bed, provide the same layer as a top dressing.
  2. Mulch your beds. Cover any bare soil in the garden with organic or inorganic mulch to conserve moisture and discourage weed growth. For large areas, call your local tree service for a load of coarse wood chips, which break down slowly and are typically free.
  3. Plant spring flowering bulbs. There’s still time to create a delightful display. Online sources and garden centers are running low, but look for bargains. Even second-choice bulbs produce fine spring flowers.
  4. Wait to do clean up until spring. Leave faded perennials and grasses in place for now to decorate the garden and provide habitats for beneficial insects. Cut them back when you see signs of new growth in the spring.
  5. Plant perennials. Continue adding plants to the garden any time before frost. To avoid compacting the soil, let any rain soak in well before working or walking on the soil .
  6. Sow wildflower seeds. If you have enough garden space for even a patch of wildflowers, sow a small packet of mixed wildflower seeds. If you have a larger space, sow more seeds! This project is easy, inexpensive and very satisfying for the gardener, and great for the wildlife.
  7. Make notes on planting for fall color next spring. A little planning during the quiet days of the fall could support next spring’s installation of plants that will provide fall color and seed heads for the birds. A beautiful garden in the late summer and early fall requires a bit of study to identify and locate plants that will fit well into the landscape and put on a pleasing show.
  8. Control slugs and snails. The fall presents time for defensive action against the brown snail (Cantareus asperses), a significant pest in many gardens. Snails can reproduce on a year-round schedule, so the fall is a good opportunity for control only because other tasks are less pressing, and we want to give the new spring growth a chance to flourish. A reliable approach is picking snails by hand and dropping them into water with a tablespoon of rubbing alcohol. Other methods: lure them into shallow pools of cheap beer, or send your pet duck after them.
  9. Compost your tree leaves. Leaves that fall from your trees are not trash, but “gardener’s gold,” an excellent and free source of pre-compost. You might feel the need to rake your leaves into a pile (not everyone does), so the next steps will define your gardening priorities. One option is to wrestle them into trash bags, which is not a simple step on the way to the landfill. The preferred option is to shred the leaves to speed decomposition and add them to your compost pile. To shred the leaves, use a bagging lawn mower or a purchased or rented leaf shredder.
  10. Collect seeds. Watch for seed heads to form on your favored plants, cut the flowering stems at the base, drop them into a paper grocery sack that you have carefully saved, and let them dry for a week. They are then ready to sow in the garden, with or without the stems. If desired, separate the seeds from the chaff for storage or sharing.

You might know additional tasks that would ready your garden for winter, but these ten steps would be good preparation for a glorious spring season. Gardening is about the future.

Small Gardening

The gardening world has been buzzing about small gardens. Interest in this topic might reflect a trend toward a preference for smaller properties or a growing desire among gardeners to limit the time and energy they commit to gardening.

A small garden could be the entirety of a small property or an area within a large property. A large property might include several small gardens (sometimes called “rooms”) or one small garden plus undeveloped space, or something between those extremes.

In either case, the goal for small gardening should be quality gardening.

“We would do well to follow a common rule for our daily lives—do less, and do it better.” — Dale E. Turner

(I don’t recognize the person who said that, but I agree with the sentiment.)

When developing a small garden, all the usual criteria for plant selection and cultivation apply: ensure that the soil is fertile, friable and well drained, and choose plants that are appropriate for the garden’s climate, sun exposure and prevailing winds.

Basic landscaping design ideas are important in a smaller garden.

  • Repeat a limited number of plant varieties, and just two or three flower colors. A random collection of plants and a rainbow of blossoms can be confusing, in a design sense, while repetition provides a coherent an ultimately more pleasing effect. Carefully planned combinations of foliage colors also can work well, especially when planting succulents, which are available in many interesting colors.
  • Place the taller plants in back. This is my favorite — and simplest —landscaping design concept. Following it requires care in plant selection. The first level of research is to read the label, which should indicate the plant’s mature height and width. If necessary, use the plant’s botanical name to look it up on the Internet, or in Sunset’s Western Garden Book, or another plant reference book.

If a plant grows beyond your expectations, move it to a more appropriate location. If it’s too big to move, it may be time for “shovel pruning.” Replace that overgrown treasure with a better choice.

  • Use curves and different elevations to add interest. If your small garden space is basically an uninteresting flat rectangle, consider introducing a curved path around a naturalistic mound.

In addition, three broad guidelines come to mind.

First, specify a theme beyond “small size.” The garden might focus on a genus (rose, iris, clematis, etc.), a category of plants (succulents, white blossoms, herbs), a plant community (California natives, South African bulbs, aquatic plants) or any other theme of interest. A theme provides coherence to the garden and a systematic approach to plant selection.

Second, provide a story line for visitors. The garden planner could guide a visitor’s attention by establishing a focal point: a well-placed, exceptional plant, a piece of garden art, or a water feature, etc. After that initial impression, the gardener or discrete signs might encourage a visitor to examine a series of specimen plants. A rose garden, for example, might showcase several hybrid teas or species roses for comparison.

Finally, plan the maintenance of the small garden for close inspection. No garden looks good when unkempt, but a neglected small garden can be particularly unsatisfying to both the gardener and the visitor. While fallen leaves, a forgotten watering hose and a few weeds can be tolerated in a large, sprawling garden, a small garden should be raked and pruned and tidied regularly. By virtue of being small, it should also be manageable.

The small garden is to a large garden as a sonnet is to free verse.

A small garden can yield big enjoyment!

Low Maintenance Gardening

There are two ways to achieve a low-maintenance landscape.

In the Anti-gardening Approach, the garden owner covers the soil with an inorganic material. Concrete has been widely used for this purpose; permeable concrete, which allows water to seep through into the ground, is gaining popularity. Other possibilities include asphalt concrete (“blacktop”), brick, flagstones, and other materials that provide a firm surface. Pebbles or lava rock over landscape fabric might be used for a loose surface.

But to enjoy a display of living plants, it is necessary to engage in actual gardening.

The Low-maintenance Approach describes a living garden that requires less time for repetitive tasks like watering, mowing, edging, weeding, replacing failed plants, etc. Here are four important steps toward low-maintenance gardening.

  1. Know your garden’s soil

Soil chemistry. An important measure of soil chemistry is pH, which indicates the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “Soil pH influences the solubility of nutrients. It also affects the activity of microorganisms responsible for breaking down organic matter and most chemical transformations in the soil. Soil pH thus affects the availability of several plant nutrients.”

Soil pH is measured on a range from 0 to 14. The highest acidity earns the lowest rating. In the Monterey Bay area, most soils test around 6.5 to 7, a neutral rating that is best for most plants. Some plants, e.g., rhododendrons, prefer a slightly acidic soil and would need special fertilizers and soil amendments to thrive. Changing soil chemistry even a little can be difficult, so a low-maintenance plan for neutral soil simply would not include “acid-loving” plants.

A laboratory test could reveal a garden’s other soil chemistry issues, like a lack of important nutrients, but in this area the soil chemistry usually will be within a neutral range and not a problem.

Soil Composition. The inorganic part of an ideal garden soil, or loam, would be about 40% sand, 40% silt and 20% clay. This composition balances water drainage and water retention, and supports the development of plant roots.

In addition, this ideal soil will have organic material, i.e., decomposed animal and vegetable matter, amounting to 3 to 5% of the total volume.

If your soil has a higher percentage of any of the inorganic components, try digging in generous amounts of organic material, i.e., your choice of compost. Avoid adding sand or clay! If adding compost doesn’t help, consider building raised beds or creating mounds and importing topsoil.

Some plants will thrive in relatively poor soils. Coastal plants, for example, often will do well in sandy soils, so a low-maintenance response to less-than-ideal garden soil would be to select plants that are adapted to the soil that is native to the garden.

  1. Know your garden’s climate and microclimates.

A typical garden could have shady areas and sunny areas, low areas that are often soggy, and spots that seem to catch whatever winds might be blowing. The gardener should become familiar with each of the garden’s planting beds. These microclimates will vary predictably with the time of the day and the time of the year, and contribute greatly to plant development. The gardener cannot modify these conditions, so the low-maintenance strategy is to select plants that are adapted to the conditions that exist in a given planting bed. This is the essence of the “right plant in the right place.”

  1. Know your area’s seasonal rainfall and temperature patterns.

Gardeners who have lived through the Monterey Bay area’s seasonal changes in temperature and rainfall might note variations from normal patterns (like this year’s rain deficit), but still need to coordinate their gardening plans with those cycles.

The early spring, when plants produce fresh green growth and colorful blossoms might motivate trips to the local garden center to collect new annuals and perennials and a surge of planting activity. While spring can be a delightful time in the garden, low-maintenance gardening has two other seasons of greater importance.

The summer months are important because central California has a “summer-dry” climate, which has also been called a Mediterranean climate. During the summer, plants that are adapted to this climate will become dormant and survive the dry spell naturally, but plants from many other climatic areas will need supplementary irrigation. The low-maintenance approach for this area is to favor plants from summer-dry climates.

The most readily available and ecologically appropriate plants in this category are those that are native to coastal California, but many more good choices are plants from other summer-dry climates: the Mediterranean basin, South Africa, the southwestern coast of Australia and the central coast of Chile.

An alternative collection of, for example, tropical plants would necessitate a high-maintenance approach to gardening. Some gardeners might be willing to take on additional work to enjoy exotic plants.

The rainy months are the second season of importance to the low-maintenance gardener. In the Monterey Bay area, this season normally runs from mid-October to mid-April. The low-maintenance strategy is to install new plants just before the onset of the rainy season so that Nature will keep them irrigated as they establish roots and prepare for above ground growth when the temperatures rise.

  1. Know your plants

Good familiarity with the planting bed’s soil and microclimate, and the garden’s annual precipitation and temperature cycles helps the gardener to select and install plants that will succeed in a specific location with minimum of effort.

There are more strategies in low-maintenance gardening, of course. Effective control of weeds, for example, can reduce significantly the gardening workload. The four strategies in this column can help you to make good progress in that direction.

Enjoy your garden!

Sidebar

Most local garden centers and nurseries offer a selection of California native plants. For a helpful list, visit the Water Awareness website.

On the web, visit Native Again Landscape and scroll down to the link for California Native Plant Nurseries.

The California Native Plant Society is a great resource for gardeners. Clink on “Local Chapters” for links to the Monterey and Santa Cruz chapters.

Garden Plants on the Move (Moving Trees & Shrubs)

Autumn in the garden is a good time to prepare for relocating shrubs or trees that would look or grow better in a different location.

If the thought of moving a shrub or tree troubles you, recognize that even good plants need not be permanent. Here are some reasons for moving a healthy shrub or tree.

  • The tree or shrub has grown so large it’s crowding a walkway or other plants.
  • Other nearby plants have grown so large that they are shading a plant that needs sun.
  • Other nearby plants are now gone, exposing a plant that needs shade.
  • The tree or shrub is needed elsewhere in the landscape.
  • The gardener wishes to install a new feature, and the tree or shrub is in the way.
  • The gardener has wishes to establish a thematic plant bed where an off-theme tree or shrub is growing.

When preparing to relocate a plant, first decide on where it will go. Examine the new location to ensure that it is the right place for this particular plant. Confirm that the soil is suitable, the drainage is good, and the exposure it right for the plant. Finally, make certain that the new spot could accommodate the plant when it is fully grown. Then, dig a hole twice the width of the intended root ball.

Ideally, prune the roots to protect against transplant shock. This involves digging a trench around the plant, outside the intended root ball, refilling the trench and watering to settle the soil. Root-prune in March for plants to be moved in October, and in October for plants to be moved in March.

Then, plan how to move the plant, taking its size into consideration.

Small Shrubs and Trees

For a shrub less than three feet tall, or a tree with a trunk is less than one inch wide, you could move it bareroot, i.e., without digging up a root ball. To move such a smaller plant bareroot, dig a trench around it, cutting the longer roots, wash the soil off the lateral roots, and use a flat shovel to remove the soil under the plant. Keep the roots moist until you are ready to transplant.

Not-so-small Shrubs and Trees

If you are preparing to move a plant that is between three and five feet high, decide how large a root ball to provide. For industry standards for transplanting different plants of various sizes, visit the website, americanhort.org and search for “root ball.” For example, moving a five-foot tree or shrub requires an eighteen-inch wide root ball. A root ball of that size could weigh 250 pounds, so plan for the appropriate equipment and helpers.

Larger Shrubs and Trees

Most gardeners will hire a tree service to move a tree or shrub that is larger than five feet high. If you prefer to do such work yourself, I will say “best wishes,” and predict that you will have professionals do your next transplant.

Really Large Trees

Even very large trees—up to forty-five feet high—can be moved successfully, if not cheaply. The widely available tree spade uses an array of large shovels to dig a conical divot to pluck a plant from the ground, and deposit it in a matching hole. For video clips of tree spades in various sizes, browse to YouTube.com and search for “tree spade.” To see an interesting DIY device, search YouTube for “Tree Toad 24 inch Tree Transplanter.”

Tree Spade

A mechanized tree spade makes transplanting large bushes and small or medium trees a much easier proposition. Photo: Dutchman Industries

 

A newer technology for moving larger plants is the “air tool,” which uses compressed air to blow soil away from a tree’s roots. This bareroot method avoids pruning or breaking the roots, so the plant experiences little trauma and quickly resumes its usual growth cycle. To see a brief video demo of the air tool, visit growingwisdom.com, click on “Trees & Shrubs” and scroll to the link, “How to Move Large Trees Using an Air Tool.”

After moving a tree or shrub, transplanting herbaceous perennials is easy!

Planning Garden Stairways

My garden includes a slight slope with a few stairs, made with 8” x 8” x 48” wooden highway ties. Earlier, garden stairs might have been made with railroad ties, which were often soaked in creosote as a preservative. Today, highway ties are pressure-treated with chemical preservatives, many of which are too toxic to be used near edible plants.

Happily, my short flight of aging stairs was not treated with a preservative, but consequently it is deteriorating and needs replacement. Wood is suitable for stairs that do contact soil, but in this case I will avoid rot by using flagstones or other natural stone. There are manufactured stone-like materials that also are available for such a project.

When planning garden stairs, first determine your preferred dimensions for the risers and treads. A six-inch riser with a fifteen-inch tread is a recommended combination, but other combinations also can work well. A steep flight of stairs might have seven-inch risers and eleven-inch treads, while a gentle flight might have four-inch risers and twenty eight-inch treads. See on gardening.com for the range of other good combinations.

Then, use a straight board and a carpenter’s level to measure the change in level from the bottom to the top of the slope. For a longer slope, use a garden hose, taking advantage of the fact that water seeks it own level. Hold the hose in a U-shape, with one end near the top of the slope and the other end near the bottom. Fill the hose with water, and adjust it so water is at the opening of each end. When this condition has been met, the two ends will be at the same elevation, and the distance of the lower end to the ground, minus the distance of the upper end to the ground equals the change in level. See ongardening.com for an illustration of this method.

Divide the change in level by your preferred height for the riser to determine the number of steps needed for that particular slope.

Then, measure the horizontal distance from the bottom of the slope to the top. Your preferred dimension for the tread times the number of stairs should equal that distance. If it does not, modify the riser and tread dimensions (using one of the good combinations) or include a curve in the flight of stairs or reshape the slope.

The width of the stairs is the next design issue to be addressed. The narrowest width could be two feet, which might be sufficient for a utility stairway. A one-person stairway should be four feet wide, which is generally considered the minimum for a garden path. A two-person stairway should be five feet wide.

Wider stairways, in scale with the landscape, can provide a visually striking appearance. This stairway at Les Quatre Vents, an estate near Quebec, is designed for grand entrances. (Click to enlarge)

Grand Staircase

Staircase at Les Quatre Vents, near Quebec, Canada

Continue reading

Gardening on Slopes

Last week, we explored ways to accomplish elevation changes to add visual interest to a flat garden. When we begin with a very different topography, one with significant ups and downs, a surplus of visual interest could challenge the gardener.

A gentle slope could present minimal problems. It could in fact enhance drainage and sight lines, so that the viewer could see more of the landscape at once. A property that slopes away from the residence would be preferred, however, to one that slopes toward the residence and could directs rainwater to places where is unwanted.

A significantly sloping garden site could raise problems in two areas: navigation and water erosion. Both problems could be addressed with a single strategy, in some cases, but we will first consider them separately.

Water erosion in a garden will lead eventually to the loss of plants, topsoil and desirable organic material, so it must be controlled. There are two strategies for controlling erosion in landscaping: slowing the flow of water to promote percolation and growing plants to hold the soil in place (and also to help slow the flow of water).

The primary method for slowing the flow of water is to install baffles. For a gentle slope, baffles could be landscape timbers or stones. Steeper slopes could require a series of terraces. Terraces could be created by digging steps into the slope, and reinforcing the risers with wood, stone, bricks or concrete. The materials could be more or less natural in appearance: for example, a wooden reinforcement could be logs or milled lumber, a concrete wall could be poured in place or made with concrete blocks.

Terraces, like steps, have treads and risers, but these elements can differ greatly in their dimensions. For steps, treads should be no less than eleven inches, and risers should be no greater than six inches. For terraces, however, treads should be much deeper, enough for both a planting bed and an access path for maintenance. Terrace risers can be of any height needed to control erosion. Note that a permit could be required for a riser high enough that the local building code defines as a wall (four feet, often).

Terraces could slow the flow of water without vegetation, but they would be more effective when the addition of plants. For a moderately steep slope, a combination of terraces and steps could be a substantial challenge for both engineering and garden design. This example shows the combination of terraces and steps. Notice, also, that a grassed pathway provides access to the upper planting bed. 37b26aa74349cf431f12649af9a74864 Some slopes are simply too steep for terracing. In such situations, the slope should be planted to hold the soil in place. When starting with bare soil, as with new construction, temporary installation of landscape netting, coir logs or biodegradable wattles could help the plants to establish their roots.

The next image illustrates the temporary use of biodegradable wattles to minimize water erosion while new plants establish their roots. It is not clear from this distant view if seeds or seedlings have yet been installed, but that action generally would follow the placement of wattles.

Management of large, steep slopes like this one should include soil testing and engineering study to ensure that the planned actions will be effective and the slope will have been stabilized.

theHill

Gardening on a slope involves some challenges, but the end result can be elevating!

Renovating the Garden — Ups and Downs

Our mini-series on garden renovation continues with working with both even and uneven topography.

Most gardeners in urban areas have a flat garden area, in which the elevation does not vary significantly. The advantages of a flat garden are primarily matters of ease of use: climbing is not needed and rolling equipment moves without extraordinary effort.

The disadvantages of a flat garden, on the other hand, are both aesthetic and horticultural. Changes of level invite creative landscaping concepts, with opportunities to lead the viewer’s eye to focal points, to conceal and reveal garden vignettes, or to shape a walking path through the garden.

Changes of level also invite different plant varieties. A small rise in elevation can improve drainage dramatically and warm the soil faster, thereby support healthy growth of many plants.

The quickest way to achieve a small elevation change in a flat garden is to build a raised bed, which is usually a rectangular area for a vegetable garden, but could be formed as circles or spirals. Such raised beds provide horticultural benefits, but lack the natural look that most prefer for an ornamental garden. (The idea of mixing ornamentals and edibles, which dates back to the kitchen gardens of colonial days, is a topic for another day.)

The preferred approach to create elevation changes in a flat garden is to install a Mediterranean mound, which provides a growing environment well suited for California natives and other plants from Mediterranean climates. This is simply a mound of soil about eighteen inches high and as wide and long as would fit in your landscape plan. Here’s an example from the website, www.the-organic-gardener.com/.

flower-mounds-meadows

Establishing a Mediterranean mound in your garden provides opportunities for size and placement, with the overall design in mind. The usual goal is to simulate a natural setting.

The garden renovator could create a Mediterranean mound by moving soil from high spots, or by creating a low spot (which could be fine site for a bog garden). Other situations will require trucking in topsoil from a landscape supply center. Such a bold approach could yield long-term rewards.

For information on creating and planting Mediterranean Mounds visit the website of Sierra Azul Nursery www.sierraazul.com/mounds.html. You also can see several mounds in the nursery’s demonstration garden in Watsonville.

More extensive approaches to creating elevation changes for a flat garden could require earth-moving equipment, a city permit (especially if your property is in an archeologically sensitive zone) and civil engineering to ensure drainage.

Here is an example of ambitious “land-sculpting” on an estate in England.

Landform_Ueda_(3)_720_tcm4-666168

Consider both benefits and costs.

Next: uneven topography.

Renovating the Garden —Good and Bad Views

Renovating the Garden – Good and Bad Views

Tom Karwin

In recent columns on garden renovation, we have focused on planning, removing unwanted plants and hardscape, and analyzing the garden’s soil. This column takes a closer look at objectives for the landscape.

Earlier, we wrote, “Envision how you will use the landscape: outdoors living, with parties, barbeques, etc.; recreation for children or adults; growing fruits and vegetables; or simply enjoying horticultural displays. Write it down.”

The intended uses are basic in landscape planning, but more specific objectives might be relevant to a given property. Here are two examples.

Block an Undesired View

Many homes are close to other homes, public buildings or commercial establishments, and garden renovators might wish to block the view of adjacent structures or activities. Blocking a view has creating privacy as its corollary.

This objective can be accomplished by installing one or more shrubs or trees to interrupt a sightline between a favored spot on the landscape and the undesired view, or between a spot where privacy is wanted and a place where an off-site viewer might be.

This strategic act will succeed most quickly if the renovator installs large plants, but that can be very expensive. The garden renovator should be patient enough to install plants of affordable size, and savvy enough to select shrubs or trees that are fast-growing but otherwise garden-worthy.

Resist any inclination to install a shrubbery wall to block the view to and from the public sidewalk and street. This landscaping device announces, “A recluse lives here.” Adjustable window coverings are better alternatives.

Frame a Desired View

The viewshed of some homes might include a field or forest or mountain or ocean or some other scene that pleases the eye. It might be the natural environment or a built structure. In such happy situations, the first landscaping objective should be retain or reveal the view. This might require removing poorly placed trees or shrubs, and not installing plants that would grow to obscure the view.

The second objective should be to develop landscaping that draws attention to the viewshed and to its best features. This might involve framing the view from a selected observation area, which might be inside the residence or on a deck or patio. Just as a picture frame separates a picture from it surroundings, carefully positioned trees can highlight a desired viewshed.

In time, an undesired view could become unobjectionable, and new construction could block a desired view. Whatever happens, your view shed rights stop at the property line, so manage your landscaping accordingly.

More

Trees that are fast-growing but otherwise garden-worthy.

Proving once again that the Internet provides access to a vast store of information, Clink this link to the website Fast-growing Trees. There are three pages of trees that are fast-growing and suitable for USDA Hardiness Zone 9, which includes the Monterey Bay area.

When selecting a fast-growing tree to install in your particular garden, consider (in addition to the hardiness zone) the mature height and width of the tree, appearance, and any other factors that are important to you. Some of the trees listed on the Fast-Growing Trees website are too large for a smaller property, and some are too small to be useful as a screen of an undesired view.

Here is a link to This Old House on Fast-Growing Shade Trees.

In my own garden, several years ago I planted three seedlings of Pittosporum tenuifolium fairly close together, to screen a nearby property. The seedlings, which had sprouted in another part of the property, grew rapidly to over 30 feet, which is taller than I expected, based on the available information. This shrub (also called P. nigricans, because of its dark branches) is evergreen and trouble-free, so it has been a very successful screen.

Here are those three large shrubs in my garden. doing a good job of concealing the house beyond (click to enlarge).

 IMG_0302

Finally, here is a link to SF Gate for more information about this large shrub.

 

Renovating the Garden – More Planning

Gardening and landscaping involves planning before getting your hands in the soil.

Last week’s column, which was about renovating a garden, recommended four preparatory actions:

  1. Draw a Diagram of the Property
  2. Decide on Basic Design Concepts
  3. Establish Objectives for the Finished Landscape
  4. Set Priorities for Development

Once the gardener has completed those actions, he or she still has to additional tasks to complete. Those tasks are the focus of this week’s column.

Remove Unwanted Plants

A neglected garden probably motivated the landscape renovation project. Neglect often includes trees and woody shrubs that have outgrown their space, lack a role in the new design, or are unhealthy. In some cases, this task will require contracting with an arborist or laborers. Check local ordinances before removing trees.

All herbaceous plants that are unwanted are defined as weeds. These include garden plants and grasses as well as common weeds. Pull or dig larger plants, then remove grasses and weeds efficiently with chemical-free solarization. This method covers the target area with clear plastic so that the sun raises the temperature of the soil, killing weeds, pathogens, nematodes, and insects. For details, see the University of California’s free online publication “Soil Solarization for Gardens & Landscapes.”

Removing weed plants with a do-it-yourself approach could be time-consuming and frustrating. Consider contracted services to get the job done quickly and thoroughly.

Remove Unwanted Hardscape

If your garden includes paving, e.g., sidewalk, patio, walls or outbuildings that are not included in the new design, remove them to free your progress. Again, consider contracted services to speed the work. This would be a good time to invite a disinterested friend to comment on your garden accessory collection, and to remove items that are no longer assets.

Analyze Soil Structure

The gardener should know the structure of the garden’s soil. An ideal soil would have 45% minerals (sand, clay, silt), 5% organic material (plant and animal), 25% air and 25% water.

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Soil Textural Triangle

The Soil Texture Triangle illustrates various combinations of sand, clay and silt that might be found in a garden. The mineral content of ideal garden soil, called loam, should be about 40% sand, 40% silt and 20% clay. A simple method to analyze your garden’s soil texture, involves placing a sample of your soil in a jar with water, shaking  and then letting it settle into density layers. Here are Organic Gardening’s brief instructions for a soil texture test.  Also, check out this helpful article by the Marin Master Gardeners.

Notice that these preparations do not include buying plants! For many gardeners, the primary strategy for improving the landscape is to buy plants. That approach, without an overall plan, weakens the landscape design and wastes time and money.

Enjoy your preparation! The fun stuff (selecting and installing plants) comes next.