Enhancing Aesthetic Appeal: Design Tips

My most favorite talk overall during the Native Plant Symposium a month ago was the talk by Rana Creek. But my most favorite inspiring talk was by Judith of Larner Seeds, while my most favorite useful talk was by Carol Bornstein, one of the authors of California Native Plants for the Garden and now an independent consultant. I'll draw heavily on her handout for this post, and hope you'll feel inspired to buy her excellent book (the Sunset Guide for native plant lovers, a reference you just cannot do without).

Carol started by telling us that she did not believe native plants were necessarily low maintenance, but that by making good design choices, we can have a sustainable and appealing garden. Sustainable landscapes consume minimal resources and create minimal waste:
  • Thrive without excess irrigation, fertilizers, pesticides
  • Produce minimal greenwest
  • Retain greenwaste on site through composting and mulching
  • Are mainained with ahnd tools or energy-efficient power tools
  • Use locally based hardscape materials
  • Incorporate integrated pest management methods
  • Do not include invasive species

Carol then invited each of us to ask ourselves what we wanted from our garden, and how our background, our childhood, our dreams, might influence what will make a garden that special place for us. As an example, she mentioned the tea garden that was built in the Santa Barbara botanical garden. A simple small space with rocks and native ferns but also manzanita and a few other native trees and shrubs.

Here's more advice from here:

* Design it right, from the start.
* Style is irrelevant - choose what appeals to you
* Scale and budget are critical.
* Analyze your site.
* Create a plan, trying to account for changes over time.
* Choose plants wisely.
  • Match cultural requirements within the garden (shade plants in shade, sun lovers in sun)
  • Do your really need a lawn? 
  • Aim for simplicity
  • Avoid plants that are fussy or have high maintenance needs
  • Avoid plants susceptible to animals browsing, insect pests and diseases
* Allow room for plants to fulfill their genetic destiny
  • Reduce unnecessary pruning
  • Promote healthy plants
  • Use annuals and short-lived perennials as fillers

That certainly all rang a bell with me -- whoever planted the 18 redwood trees in our neighbor's garden (9 along our shared fence line) was not thinking of their genetic destiny. They are crowded, require frequent (and very costly) trimming, and suck the water out of the ground so that area is bone dry even in the middle of the rainy season.

But I'll admit to having my own sustainability issues. Yes, I plant too closely, and I regularly fill the garden waste bin for the bi-weekly pickup, composting food scraps and leaves but tossing branches, dead plants, and redwood branches into the bin. Then again, at times I  feel a little rebellious about all the many constraints. Sometimes, I want to be a little irresponsible. I want to go a little crazy. I want to plant the wrong plant, watch it get too big, and rip it back out.

Of course, I pay the price, and you'll see how you can avoid that when you read the next post, Garden Maintenance, about the second part of Carol's talk.


Anonymous said…
I wanted to design my garden from the start, all drawn out on graph paper which I love to use, but in the end have done it up like most gardeners do, by evolution. Things just develop.
I have allocated an area for a salvia garden backed up with a large ceanothus, but still a lot of the garden is planted however I can do at the time.

I battle the invasives a bit and would never knowingly plant any. I want to keep the garden as natural looking as possible to fit into the surrounding area.

So nice to experience some of what you heard from my idols! Thank you.
I probably should have attended that talk. Honestly, this is the first gardening I've done in years that didn't start with at least a pencil and paper sketch. Not really sure, as a result, how it will all turn out. There's so much area here, so much variability in light, is slope, in soil quality and depth. I sort of threw up my hands and opted to simply let the land and soil dictate what I should plant. I am trying to focus at least on the conditions each native plant wants, and that determines where they go. I'll make mistakes, and I'm sure they'll contribute to compost along the way. The Ceanothus and Salvia for example will be upslope, where it's driest. The Cornus and Calycanthus though can be further down as they take having wetter feet, and more shade. Otherwise, it's tall in back, short and front, and it'll be as big a surprise to me as anyone else how it will all look in 10 years :P
Elephant's Eye said…
The Ungardener drew up a detailed plan of the garden, which is fun to look back at now. There is a vague thread still showing, but mostly it happened around the tree that were here. And I am having to learn to like different plants. The ones that are still alive now ;~)