Professional Landscaping Saves Time and Money

Perhaps the best way to indicate the various uses of a landscape architect is to tell some of my experiences in redeeming a dull property. In most cases, I left the design entirely to my landscape architect, NM Weber.

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In others, we hit on a happy scheme of a joint invention. In a few instances, I tackled a major project according to my try-and-see-how-it-will-look method and made some crashing mistakes.

The property’s main asset was a wooded section at the far end, comprising a little more than a quarter of its 200′ depth. Screened from the house by a thicket of shrubs, it had served as a dumping ground for builders and yard workers.

It took a persistent eye to concentrate on the fine, high-limbed trees that rose as straight as cathedral columns from the weed-choked rubbish at their feet.

A Path Disappearing Into The Woods

I wanted to keep the woods garden somewhat apart, a little reticent, not giving everything away at once. I had two other stipulations. I insisted on generous paths six feet wide at the very least. And, whenever possible, I wanted the finest trees left exposed so that I could admire them as a whole, not just the canopy but the clean trunks and massive buttress roots as well.

I drew a gawky sketch, cramped and angular, to suggest my idea of paths that were invited without revealing. From this meager hint, Nelva developed a plan so exactly right that I adopted it on the spot. A shrub bed, roughly kidney-shaped and anchored on the two most enormous oaks, blocks the direct view but sweeps away into enticing broad paths on either side.

Well, around the first bend, you come upon a wildflower area—not a garden, but a little clearing where species bulbs grow among woodland plants as if the wind had seeded them. The giant evergreens that gave the cleared woods an established look came from the foundation planting. Gangling and distorted as they were, their very irregularity lent a convincing air of wildness.

Since I had lived on a sandy hilltop and knew nothing of gardening in damp shade, I relied on Nelva for lists of shrubs to supplement the existing varieties.

I was happily surprised at the number of shrubs and small trees that not only tolerate but thrive in what seems to me, as an upland gardener, an impossible situation. When the plants settle in and are ready to photograph, I hope to disprove my earlier notion that nothing will grow in wet woods but skunk cabbage and frogs.

Our first project for the front of the house was to build a new front walk to replace the narrow, fussy, S-curve path that came with the house_ Since masonry is permanent and expensive, I knew enough to rely wholly on Nelva’s trained eye to stake out a broad, direct approach.

The new walk is bold, firm, and emphatic. It needed an equally forceful planting to complement it. Nelva’s pattern for the enclosed shrub bed employs two radial curves linked by a straight line to create a feeling of dramatic tension.

Placing Shrubs At The Front Of The House

With the basic design well established, I felt competent to place the shrubs: camellias and English rhododendrons faced by a row of skimmias, with a Chinese dogwood for a sentry at the driveway end. The remaining shrubs were placed against the far wall in a less formal bed, its relaxed curve outlined by a single line of bricks.

To emphasize the difference between this secondary planting and the walk enclosure, I invented a double brick edging, a contoured planting box that endorses Neiva’s pattern’s formality. The brick border is filled with a clumpy miniature English ivy as fast as it yields cuttings.

Where it has closed in enough to clip it, it makes a ribbon of petit-point leaves as neat as boxwood and far easier to keep in shape.

A Place In The Sun For A Ronk Garden

Success must have gone to my head, for I set out to build a rock garden all on my own. The sunniest area on the property was the southwest-facing L formed by the living room and sunroom walls.

Since these essential windows looked down on it, the spot was ideal for the year-round interest of rock plants, especially the winter-flowering bulbs and shrubs, which are one of my keenest delights.

Perhaps I overthought the windows and not enough other architectural features that adjoined the site. These were the bulky brick steps outside the sunroom and a single row of stepping stones that wavered off to the parking area and inadequate walk for the most frequently used approach to the house.

When I built a shallow rockery along the house walls, I found that I had further weakened the composition by adding a third unrelated incident instead of achieving unity.

I Learned A Lesson In Design

I had a whole winter to study my mistake. The more I looked at it; the narrower grew the rock strip and the greater my discontent. By the time the ground thawed, I had summoned enough courage to tear the whole thing down and start again. 

This time I hung my design on the dominant factor, the sunroom steps, as any L.A. would have done in the first place.

I learned the hard way. Since I did the work myself, the mistake and corrections cost me only time and backaches. If I had hired laborers to build, tear down, and remake the rockery, I would have been out for more than a landscape architect’s bill for a plan.

The minimum fee is $10 an hour and may go higher, but it is good insurance against a novice’s faulty judgment and foresight. A more experienced gardener can save by working out his planting schemes. Writing PERENNIALS or ROSES across a bed takes less professional time than drawing a detailed planting chart. 

46061 by M Graff