In the Garden:
Middle South
November, 2010
Regional Report

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Make the most of your landscape by selecting at least some plants with a second season of interest, such as these coral bark maples.

Making a Better Garden

It's been six weeks since my husband and I pulled up stakes and moved from the suburbs to what we hope is our "forever home" near downtown. Lucky for us, we're ahead of the game where the garden is concerned. Our new home, built nearly six decades ago, is graced with a engaging landscape of mature trees and many healthy shrubs and perennials.

With time, however, I'll make the garden my own, taking cues from what's at hand to blend my own aesthetic. Though boxes sit unpacked, I've already put pen to paper to sketch a few design ideas and to jot down the names of plants.

I don't intend to act quickly, though. After an initial round of clearing autumn debris, pruning and mulching, most of the first year will be spent watching and waiting. I'll map the sun and the shadows through the seasons, consider the drainage and test the soil.

Plus, who knows what botanical delights will reveal themselves in the months ahead? In spring, daffodils and other bulbs might crowd the garden beds.

In the mean time, I'll do some research. I have less sunlight in this garden than previous ones, the terrain is more sloped, and the rear property line abuts a small river. Winter is a convenient time to scour books and search Web sites. Hopefully, with a little preparation, I'll be able to make the most of these opportunities.

Overall, however, I feel well prepared for the challenge ahead. I know what I like, I know how to make things grow, and I've developed a list of tips to keep gardeners, including myself, on the right track.

In short, here's what I think makes a better garden:

Plan Makes Perfect
I know it sounds illogical, but the first step in making a great garden is putting down the shovel and going in the house. Once there, look out the windows and plan (or plan to modify) a supporting hardscape that is beautiful from inside the home, as well as out. Consider these elements: an enclosure to define the space, an entrance to mark the beginning, a path to direct the foot, a focal point to draw the eye, an arbor to add height, a container to put fragrant plants at nose level, and a place to sit and enjoy. In other words, create a garden that is not just plants, but a pleasing arrangement of structural elements plus plants to grow in, around, over and among them.

Color Coordination Rocks
Remember Steve Martin's "wild and crazy guy" on Saturday Night Live? Unless you aspire to landscape schizophrenia, use color selectively, not with abandon. The easiest combinations include analogous schemes, combining colors next to each other on the color wheel; complementary schemes, combining colors across from each other on the color wheel; and monochromatic schemes, utilizing the tints and shades of a single color.

Contrast is the Key
Choosing plants for the garden is similar to choosing furniture for a room. Look for varying shapes (columnar, round, low to the ground), textures (small to large leaves), patterns (variegated foliage, unusual leaf shapes), and reflectivity (waxy to fuzzy leaves, shiny to rough bark).

Easy Does It
Who says a fabulous garden is necessarily filled with fussy plants? Disease-resistant shrub roses substituted for hybrid teas equal no spraying and minimal pruning. A blooming shrub in place of a clump of perennials means no dividing and transplanting. You get the idea.

Get More for Less
Whenever possible, select plants with more than a single season of interest. If Lance Armstrong were a gardener, he might say, "It's not about the flower." Think bark, berries, branching structure, form and foliage texture and color.

Garden For Yourself
When all is said and done, do you really care what the neighbors think? Don't slavishly follow anyone else's rules (including these), never rate a designer's opinion higher than your own, and forget about impressing the local garden club.

As long as your garden satisfies you, it doesn't get any better.


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