Garden Design

We decided we needed a connection from the front yard to the back via a walkway of some sort of walkway and the settled gravel driveway needs paving. When designing/deciding on our plants, I let the colors flow seamlessly from garden to garden. If I decide on a theme, a color theme for instance, I stick with it and then use complimentary colors to flow into the next theme color. When designing your plantings, I use a good rule of thumb: a garden bed should be designed twice the size as its tallest plant. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Take the time to consider all your plantings for the season, especially their mature size. Whether you plant for the edge of a pond or against a fence, size does matter. Plant taller cedars or larger shrubs (like the Butterfly Bush or Joe Pye Weed) as a back drop. Plant in layers/garden levels or tiers (mounding soil works too). This also works for planting on top of your spring bulbs.


Use different plant textures when designing, like Lamb’s Ear and perennial or my-garden-in-downtown-chicagoannual Gazania. mix heights; I have smaller plants tucked in among the middle size plants. Use varying colors of just foliage plants, like the Coral Bells, Lamium or Oxalis. Plant close together, except where the plant require more space for circulation (always read the tags) consider planting more of the succulents like Sedums or Hens and Chicks. They are low maintenance and great fillers for those empty spots.
I am planting low growing or dwarf shrubs like the Korean Lilac. Again, this is just another variety to include in your gardens. If you have water feature make sure to include edge-hanger plantings. This year I planted the Quick Fire Hardy Hydrangea. Eventually this shrub will spill over the sides of the pond. I also use the Virginia Creeper Vine. This vine meanders through the stones, dipping its ends in the water. All this softens the pond’s edge. The same goes for a water feature in a container. Put in water plants that grow tall and wispy. Don’t discount container planters if you have a larger garden. Containers are not just for small gardens! I tuck planters into my garden wherever I have a bare spot. It could be a shrub that is not performing well and needs to be hidden or an area that takes a little longer in the spring to get going.

Other Elements within the flower gardens

Create focal/conversation points in your gardens like a sun dial, a specimen plant or a sculpture. Attract wildlife/birds to your garden. We are lucky or not to have the male and female Mallards swimming in our pond. Do this by providing the water or sand bird baths, feeders and bird houses. Use lighting (low voltage if you can) in your garden. We have our evergreen lit with mini LED white lights. This brings the eye to the very back of the garden/property. Our back trees are staggered back toward our garden house. Make your paths wide enough and use some color (we use the red bark mulch). Nothing is worse than narrow walkways. Makes a person hurry through your garden instead of capturing every last fragrant, beautiful bloom. I believe in leaving some green space. Whether it’s to play croquet or badminton as this gives the feeling of space. Create smaller vignettes (rooms)(if you have the space) within your garden. Then place a conversation piece or focal points within the room like a bench, bistro set, birdbath or any garden sculpture. The rooms become a pleasant place to sit and ponder life or just view your masterpiece.
A very important design tip to remember; plant in clusters, rather than in rows and within the clusters. I insert small gazing globes. The birds just love to sit and peck at their own image and I get to see the garden’s reflection. So, if you are considering a specimen tree like my favorite, the Siberian Larch, then give adequate length to the bed. This tree can grow very tall, however I clip mine. Very soft needles and great fall color.
Remember that gardens are always in transition. Most perennials don’t last forever. Most need to be replaced at some point. So plant what you like, love. But REMEMBER, design and plant for what you can handle.

Viewing the Elements

We consider the view of all garden elements from different angles. Whether it’s the island flower garden or the flower garden against the fence (My South Garden) or even the static elements, like my sun dial. The view must please the eye from different angles.
Ergo, when I look out my patio doors or bedroom window I gaze at the pond’s waterfall cascading down and see both gardens hugging the grass pathway. I’m always good for just a little tease…this pathway changes soon. Informally speaking, our flower gardens curve gently (no straight soldier lines here) and we edge with red limestone. The plants spill over and give the gardens a flowing, billowy effect.
If you throw in the rental cost for a small truck, your cost is less than half of retail. Of course this can happen only if you are in close proximity to a stone quarry.

The Biggest Challenge

No, it’s not the critters. It’s dealing with the low lying areas. I suppose we could have added dirt, then level, then roll and finally sod or seed. But that makes it just another back lawn to mow. Nothing enticing. Nothing that drags the eye or person to the garden’s very back. The answer? We decided on and designed a couple of Caribbean ponds.

Pond Peninsula Garden

Just picture turquoise blue, crystal clear water lapping up on a pebble beach shoreline dotted with ornamental grasses waving with every wind gust. What to do with all the leftover dirt from digging a pond or two? Why…design a mounded, oval shape island flower bed garden in the sun. We planted two smaller size evergreens as anchors, a few shrubs, some sun perennials, annuals, ground-covers. Because the land slopes downwards towards the neighbor’s yard and the fence (cedar) wood has not yet aged, we built the wooden wall to protect the fence from rotting and the soil from leeching. This also allowed us to put a drainage pipe between the retaining wall and the fence. It works great!

Hippity-hoppity…this space has also become somewhat of a rabbit highway. Easy and safe access to the back garden for these fuzzy bunnies and far away from the eyes of our killer dog Moses, the Pug (all nine pounds).
Now, speaking of the South Garden and remembering back to the ‘get to know you’ summer, I did design it as a sun garden. So, besides the island garden (or North Garden), I thought the South Garden would be my second sun locale. Eventually, I would divide this second sun locale with a winding pathway of bark mulch. OOPS…turns out I fooled myself. Why? Too much shade from the neighbors oak trees.
How did I miss that? The ‘dirt’ stayed wet far too long last summer causing root rot and mold on some of the annuals… yuck.
Since I didn’t have the heart to ask my neighbors to cut down ten old oak trees, I will amend the soil, transplant the sun loving perennials and plant semi shade lovers

Garden Outline Method

How did we accomplish the overall garden design and make sure that all elements fit in the landscape theme? For instance, are the pathways wide enough? Is the pond too small, too big? Our secret to getting it just right, fitting in all the elements is …. contractor spray paint. To be exact, we use Krylon Contractor Marking Paint in the color orange. No reason for that color choice other than we like it and the color stands out. Another thing, we live close to a Nature Reserve, yup, that means ducks…geese…and you guessed it…poop. Better to keep the size in check and not looking like a lake. I think it’s logical saying that whenever your garden designing/planning a project, big or small, thinking ahead makes sense. Ask yourself the question. Will I be able do the upkeep…be it ponds or gardens. We managed to scale down the size by a few feet in length…ergo it’s great using the spray. You can see before you dig. I can even mark an ‘X’ where that special Sun Dial and concrete pedestal should go or maybe a focal point tree like my favorite the Siberian Larch. By the way, if your plans are less extensive, you can also use a garden hose or a thick rope. Just don’t use heavy string. Birds consider it nesting material. Just be careful if you rent a front loader. The rain poured in torrents last spring and the loader was no match for the slippery mud slopes. We eventually realize this and gives up. A helpful hand from the rental company and a winch pulled the loader upright. We were once again in our garden design and landscaping mode.


Outline Around the Flower Beds


After we sprayed the designed outline in orange, I laid landscaping fabric along the sprayed lines. Thereafter, I shoveled pea gravel over the fabric. Once completed, we laid red limestone from the quarry on the gravel. While the limestone gives a slight formality to the design, placing them irregularly on top of each other and planting close to the edge tones down the hardness (in my opinion). After a few rainfalls, the gravel underneath becomes hard as cement and does not allow grass or weeds to grow through the laid limestone. It also is easier to trim around the beds without having to worry about slicing off plant heads or foliage.

Dealing with Critters

Lastly, and with trepidation, we welcomed abundance wildlife such as rabbits, deer, squirrels, various bird species and my least favorite…the dreaded Red Tailed Hawk. I have difficulty with the ‘so called’ cycle of life when it comes to Hawks and their eating habits. Their harrowing squawk leaves me wondering if my tiny white Pug dog looks like an appetizing rabbit from way up high.
As we proceed with our flower garden, cherished plants will thrive and a winding path will lead to a babbling stream and peacefully flow into a glistening, serene pond creating a calm spot for reflection.

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