Read Part 5 of “Pink House Chronicles – The Garden” here.
Ah, the “H” question. In garden design, this is about all those practical considerations for bringing the ideas into physical reality.
How will the new garden be built? By the homeowner, by contractors, some of both? If the owners want to build it, what are their skills and how can they best be employed in creating this space. Doni and her gate project are a great example of this. Knowing her interest in metalwork tells us how we’re going to build her front gate. We’ll probably use this material (and maybe more of her work) to address other issues elsewhere in the garden as well. Repetition of materials brings unity and flow to any space.
How will it be maintained? This is a very important consideration, so be realistic when you ask yourself this question. Lawn and garden services are available to help, but the skill level of the people doing this kind of work is quite variable. Many homeowners may expect they’re hiring a gardener, and what they get instead is a rotation of people skilled primarily in the use of various garden machines, which they use with great relish on everything in sight, including the Japanese maple tree (gasp!). If you can find a good service provider, try to choose plants that match your present (or if you want to learn more, your future) garden knowledge. That way you can at least be an informed consumer.
Some people find that weeding and pruning are calming and relaxing. (Really! And I am one of those. It’s very satisfying to be able to “make right” one small corner of the world.) Others have too much going on in their lives, or no skills, or are not physically able to take care of a garden, but would nevertheless enjoy its beauty. For them, we need to choose low-maintenance plants, such as shrubs, trees, and well-behaved ground covers. Perennials and annuals take more attention, as do many vines, so minimize their use if reduced maintenance is one of your goals.
The easiest garden to maintain is one with a lot of hardscape elements. Think about it – concrete, stone, and brick require no watering, weeding, feeding or pruning. So, Doni’s well-paved site is, at this point, relatively low-maintenance, which is good, since this is something we’ve already established as a goal in her design program – she’s a busy lady. Our challenge will be to balance the built materials with the vitality and beauty of new plants.
Lawns can be high- or low-maintenance, depending on what you consider to be of value. If your free time is valuable, one advantage of a lawn is that it’s easy to delegate its care to others, leaving you time to do other things.
For those sensitive to natural resource conservation, lawns seem to have become the whipping boy for modern civilization’s (mis)management of the environment. But when properly installed and organically maintained, they are remarkably easy to care for. If you need to, it is possible to cover some square footage with a cool, refreshing ground surface that reduces ambient air temperatures and sequesters carbon. See how to create a greensward that doesn’t make you feel guilty about the ecosystem with Paul Tukey’s highly recommended book, The Organic Lawn Care Manual: A Natural, Low-Maintenance System for a Beautiful, Safe Lawn.
As for the Pink House, we will have zero lawn areas. While most of her neighbors have grass in their front yards, Doni and I have decided that the small amount of ground not covered by pavement can be better utilized with more interesting plants.
Then there’s the crashing-back-to-reality question – How will you pay for it? Budget always matters. In Doni’s case, we are trying to save costs (and who isn’t?) by creatively re-purposing materials wherever we can, shopping for bargains (she is VERY good at this!) and realizing it can’t all be done at once. That’s one of the big advantages of having a plan – you can build the garden as time and resources permit. It might take years! So what? Like we furnish our homes in one fell swoop? Not likely. Take your time and enjoy the process!
Look for our last question — “Why?” — in an upcoming installment of PHC – The Garden.
Karen McGrath is a professional garden designer working out of Redding in the foothills of north central California. Her mission is to bring people outside, which she accomplishes by designing custom-fitted, outdoor spaces for their homes. She also volunteers her time and expertise at the McConnell Arboretum and Botanical Gardens in Redding CA. Reach Karen via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at (530) 222-4277. Check out her website at karenmcgrathdesign.com.
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