Gardening 101


R Birch

Successful garden designs create landscapes which are practical, beautiful and compatible with a site’s natural conditions. Gardens should be designed to meet the needs of the people who will use and maintain them. More importantly, however, a garden should enhance the quality of life of the people who visit it. The following covers some of the basic issues involved when planning a garden.

Choosing the appropriate tree for your garden requires an understanding of your local environment and your specific needs. Suppose the lower portion of the grounds is a bit wet much of the year, then the spot is ideal for a willow. An open field may be the ideal location for tulip tree or beech tree, both of which requires a lot of space. A sunny patio may benefit from dappled shade provided by a honey locust. Determine your needs and landscape conditions before searching for the right tree.

Look for plants with interesting, year-round qualities. All plants are available in types which bloom or provide some sort of interest in early, mid, or late season. For instance, forsythia blooms early in the spring while the red twig dogwood and the red berries of the holly provide color all winter.

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Consider using plants with unique shapes and colorful bark. These qualities are wonderful during the fall and winter.

Certain shrubs are great for hedges while others are perfect as a lone specimen or planted in the shrub border. For instance, Californian privet is an excellent hedge shrub while the Korean spice viburnum can demand attention on its own. Spireas and rhododendrons are both suited to the mixed border planting. Take into account trees and shrubs which are native to your area, they’re low maintenance and are usually quite hardy.

Gardens may be formal or informal. Formal gardens will often utilize crisp straight lines, symmetrical planting and hardscapes containing bluestone, granite or brick. An informal garden may consist of curving lines, plantings which mimic the natural landscape and paths and patios built from fieldstone.

Garden paths may be constructed out of a wide range materials, including gravel, mulch, grass or any type of paving stone. Grass paths are great around the flower beds. However, in a small gardens they would become worn very quickly. A gravel path is easily installed and very inexpensive. Mulch in suitable in the woodland garden while paving stone is effective in any garden settings. Limit the types of material throughout the garden; too many can be a distraction.

Gardens tie together architecture and the landscape creating harmonious whole. In fact, courtyards or patios can be seen as an outdoor room and the transition between the house and landscape. Vines growing on an arbor or trellis help unify the garden and house. Wisteria, honeysuckle, a climbing rose, clematis and trumpet vine are all are all vigorous growers and are effective on garden structures.

Flower gardens are wonderful bordering a walk or near a patio. In general they should be located where they’ll be seen. Formal or informal, flower gardens should be easily accessible for maintenance purposes. Spring flowering bulbs, planted in the flower garden or beneath a large shade tree, are a welcome sight after a long winter.

Proper planning is essential to a successful garden. Draw out your design ideas before getting out the shovels. Know your local environment as well; it will help when choosing what plants will work best.

Tim Birch is the publisher of


, a garden resource site for the gardening enthusiast.

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