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6 Garden Design Tips from a Landscape Pro

Garden Design  Landscape Pro

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Starting a garden can feel overwhelming. And sometimes it's hard to know if you like something until you see it. By then, you've put in enough hours, hard work, and money that it's hard to change. These 6 smart design tips from landscape designer and educator Rochelle Grayer can help. Follow her simple tips and you'll be on your way to enjoying your garden instead of agonizing over it!

1. Work from the middle, not the edges inward.

It can be tempting to start designing by implementing what already exists. For example, many gardeners' first beds are borders around the property line. Instead, decide what's most important to you and design from that. Maybe you really want a vegetable garden. Or maybe a shady spot is more important to you. If so, design traffic patterns, hardscaping and views to create a thoughtful, cohesive layout, starting with wherever works best in your garden.

2. Change the way you think about creating privacy.

Most gardeners want and need privacy in their yard, and they immediately go for a high property line hedge, wall or fence. While these are good options, they may not be as effective if the area you want to cover is far from the property line. Rochelle says, "Bringing things close together and layering plants to obscure the view is a great way to achieve the privacy you want."

For example, a tree placed near the corner of a patio like the one in the photo above provides additional privacy as it is planted nearby. In addition, such an overhead canopy protects the view of second-floor neighbors. You can create privacy with tall plants in containers or screens near the area you want to hide.

3. Finally install the plants.

If you plant ahead of schedule, you'll create more jobs. Instead, pick a spot, put in hardscaping, amend the soil, and get trees and shrubs in the ground first. Then add perennials and annuals.

Of course, the gardener could have planted the hillside in the photo above before installing the patio and steps. But plants are trampled (or worse). And trying to improve the soil after the plants are in place is much more difficult than doing so with a blank slate.

4. Find a signature plant.

Instead of getting discouraged by dead or struggling plants, lean on what you know to grow a successful garden that you can enjoy. Find a plant that speaks to you and that you know to grow well, and repeat it throughout your garden. Rochelle likes to grow a variety of ornamental grasses such as fountain grass (Pennicetum spp. and hybrids), sedges (Carax spp. and hybrids) and maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis). And not all grass is green: purple fountain grass (Pennicetum advena 'Rubrum') above adds color, texture and movement wherever you place it.

5. Add more greenery.

Rochelle found that the smaller your garden, the more you need hard-working, four-season plants. Top-cut boxwoods (Buxus spp. and hybrids) may recede into the background in summer, but they take center stage in winter when deciduous plants lose their foliage. Additionally, there are wonderful dwarf varieties that fit into a small space. They are great for covering up fences or other structures and areas of the basement that might not be as nice to look at.

6. Cut the spacing recommendations in half.

A densely planted garden quickly takes on a full look and fills the garden with interesting foliage and flowers, even while you wait for the plants to mature. When you plant bulbs, annuals and perennials close together, you spend less time doing fun but necessary tasks like weeding and watering. This is because leaves shade the soil, prevent weed seed germination and reduce moisture evaporation.

So if you want a quick burst of color, group together bulbs like Siberian squill (Scilla siberica), daffodils (Narcissus spp. and hybrids) and hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis) above. Mixing fast-growing annuals with perennials, such as the cosmos (Cosmos spp. and hybrids) above, is another way to get a fuller look when the younger perennials fill out. On the other hand, you should avoid planting perennials with fast spreading habits, such as bearded irises (iris hybrids) or bee balm (Monarda spp. and hybrids) close together, because you may have to divide the plants. Soon.