By Arthur Navarrette of Executive Care Landscape
Welcome to our March story. If you have not read February’s story, please do (it is on my website under publications), it reviews landscaping points, my experience, new products and a “punch list” of important garden duties to do in the next month (try to finish them before all the pruning begins). If you follow the list you will ensure that your landscape gets off to a good start. Also, I want to thank all of you that I met at the Home and Garden show. It was a pleasure to meet you, and the positive comments about the monthly stories were very encouraging. It makes getting up at four in the morning to write them worth it.
Our topic for this month is design elements, such as sitting walls, pots, flagstone fire pit areas, pathways, ornate garden boxes, etc. I mentioned in last month’s edition that we were going to discuss new products, but that will be for an upcoming publication. As the weather warms I know many of us will be thinking about improving our yards, so I felt this would be a better topic to cover in March. Design elements are as varied as one’s imagination, so how do you determine what design elements would complement the landscape and what ones would distract? Imagine that you were trying to select colors for the interior of your home but were colorblind. It definitely would be a challenge. Determining the paint, curtains, carpet, flooring etc., and being sure they all coordinate would be tough. Many yards that I visit I see that they have no cohesive theme or plant style that unites the yard. I can see the struggle the client is having with coordinating everything. The fact that I have been called tells me that the client sees it but needs help. So let me help by giving some guidance and examples. In landscaping there is the “big picture,” the overall design, which supports the theme. This determines the size of the lawn, the style and the amount of hardscape, and the design of the planter beds, principles we touched on in February’s edition. Once these have been determined, the design elements can be considered. Sometimes we need the “big picture” to be completed before we can see the necessary design elements. Having these major aspects on paper, or completed, makes it easier to determine what design elements would enhance the overall yard. Remember, the one question we always ask ourselves from start to finish is what is the theme? The theme is the “common thread” through everything, it is what ties the big picture to the design elements, that are the “little scenes” created within the big scene that makes your yard unique and different.
Now to make this practical I have taken two pictures of my back- yard, each picture represents something I did after the fact. The land- scape was complete, but there were other elements of landscaping that I wanted for the yard. For many people enhancements to the yard revolve around their families. For example, the kids have matured and no longer play on the swing set, or they’re grown and have moved out. So you look at your yard with a different set of “eyes” and find that there is something that you would enjoy. It can be something as simple as a water feature to a complete redesign of the old landscape.
Let’s start with picture number 1. Can you identify the three distinct elements of the hardscape? The first is the stamped concrete in the lower part of the picture, the next is the flagstone patio, which then leads to the third element, a flagstone pathway. A concern I hear from clients is the need for more hardscape, but the client does not necessarily want more cement. It is difficult for them to picture something different from cement that would complement the yard (and the cement) while giving them more space. My answer is flag- stone or pavers, each having their own strong points that adapt to various needs. I myself have chosen flag- stone because it softens my patio, and because I love the look of natural stone. If drainage or run-off from a hill (e.g. Cameron Park, El Dorado, Auburn, etc.) were a concern, permeable pavers would be better. So ask yourself, does the flagstone complement the cement? Yes it does, and it adds another “design element” to our hardscape. Next, does the pathway coming off the flagstone patio add an element of interest to the over- all picture, as opposed to just having bark (which is what I had)? So within the hardscape we have identified three distinct elements, yet all are complementary to each other, as well as functional. The stamped concrete, the flagstone patio, and the flagstone pathway inlayed with gravel as an accent all work together and function as design elements. Also, there’s a drain under the pathway so the gravel is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also facilitates drainage. Please try not to use a salt, broomed or exposed aggregate finish for your cement needs, unless absolutely necessary. For a couple dollars more a square foot, you can have an attractive stamped and stained patio. While it does require a yearly sealant to maintain its attractiveness, it’s worth that little effort.
It is such a large part of the yard that a plain patio at best is neutral in its appeal. However, if I had to choose between a new landscape or patio, I would choose a new landscape. I often take the emphasis off a plain patio by landscaping, moving the attention from the concrete onto the softscape. We can always stain a plain patio, taking away that “ugly grey” look. Remember cement contractors love their “mud,” and in their minds more cement is always better.
Now my favorite part, the marriage of plants to hardscape, or how I like to say it, the marriage of the hardscape to the plants (plants rule)! In picture #2 what are the design elements? Yes, the pool is an element; water has a tranquil feel, but what else? We have the boulders, the waterfall, the small retaining wall, a dark red pot, which is great for bulbs and seasonal color (I currently have annuals in mine) and of course the plants. What is the theme? It is a blend between Northern California, with the Chinese Fringe Flower, which will be in crazy bloom in a few weeks (there is a picture of them in my September story) and tropical. So what was added to this “completed” landscape and why? Well let’s identify the problem first. Where the small wall is now was a sloping planter bed with bark that kept falling unto the pool ledge and often into the pool, especially when my dog decided to have a “bark out” with the neighbor’s dog along the fence. So we installed the wall, which looked good, and stopped the problem, but the wall blended too well with the pool’s coping creating a lot of sameness. So I added plants a couple times to break up the “sameness,” but the result was never quite right. There was nothing I could plant there that would not be dwarfed by the large Chinese Fringe Flowers. So I tried a pot, which has turned out nicely, especially in the summer when I can plant taller annuals (dwarf mixed Zinnias will be my choice this year) to complement the mature landscape. So the two design elements that were added after the pool was installed were the wall and the pot. Two very simple and inexpensive items that solved my problem and gave me added interest in my yard.
So thank you as always in spending your time with us, I trust we were helpful, and as always, good gardening.
For more information on designing your perfect landscape contact Arthur Navarrette at Executive Care Landscape (916) 765-9040. Executive Care is a local full service maintenance and landscape company providing a wide array of services to the community.