Months of monochrome landscape dormancy caused by low light and cold will soon give way to swelling buds, warming winds, muddy boots, greening grass, and ever-increasing birdsong. Oh, the anticipation! What will my garden be like this year? What to grow? What to change? What should remain?
The answers to these questions are as varied as we are. Love being elbow deep in densely planted flowerbeds 30 hours a week—weeding, watering, spreading mulch and dividing buds? Want to mow an unirrigated lawn once a week and nothing else? Most of us fall somewhere in between. The point is that late-winter to early-spring is an excellent time of year to envision the return of spring and, with it, growth in our gardens. Here are some ideas to consider.
If the answer is “yes”, how much room is there? It is good to keep in mind that deciduous shade trees need to be kept away from overhead lines and far enough away from structures (homes, garages, etc) that the branches will not be into or above them in 25 years’ time. Try to site deciduous trees toward the Southerly or Westerly sides of your home. They will provide cooling shade in high summer, when you need it, but allow the warming winter light through when you want it. Evergreen trees are best located on the North and Northwest sides of your property for screening and to keep the prevailing winter winds in check. What about East you ask? Think ornamental! Flowering trees, specimen conifers, and large beds filled with a mixture of shrubs and herbaceous perennials are great choices to take advantage of the morning sun and the afternoon protection.
A section where water pools every year (or after a heavy rain)? A steep slope where nothing ever seems to grow except weeds? A view that needs to be blocked—like a busy roadway or unpopular neighbor? Great news! There are solutions for all of these problems…and many more. Plants have evolved to fill each and every ecological niche. There is at least one that will thrive in any site.
This can be achieved with edible herbs, fruits and vegetables, but it may involve removing turf lawn and bringing in soil. You may want to use a raised bed of wood or stone. It is important to keep in mind that a) it should be readily accessible from the kitchen, b) receive at least 8 hours of direct sunlight every day, and c) be easy to water…ideally with a hose bib nearby.
Do they require more maintenance than you can (or want to) provide? Simplification is great! But, don’t go “lifeless” with pavement or gravel. There are many landscape plants renowned for their low maintenance qualities; light feeders that do not require supplemental irrigation and only minimal care. The best part is that a correct mix of these plants can still provide you with four seasons of interest—form, blooms, color, etc.—and still free you up to spend your precious time doing something other than fussing with them.