August 2017 – Turning Problems Into Opportunities – Part II

It’s August and summer is almost over.  I cannot believe how fast time goes by.  I have come to believe that it is the moments, the snapshots of life that happen more frequently that we need to capture either with camera, memory or hopefully both. We need to take a moment to slow down. If not, five years will go by with little to show for it.

In landscaping, I look for memories. So much of our lives are wrapped up with the people we work with that I remember different challenges via our clients, and such was this landscape for Steve and Leann. We have done very few landscapes that require plants from all three light zones, full sun, filtered light or morning light, and shade. So, their landscape became a unique yard for us.

When landscaping, even if it’s a large area, you seek to carry the same feel or look throughout the yard. You can have your special accent areas or sitting areas but overall the landscape carries a similar feel and theme throughout. The way I do that is by repeating a few key plants throughout the landscape. This method is very easy to do when the landscape is full sun, and it is not too difficult even when it is full sun and filter light or morning light. However, it becomes a bit of a challenge when all three light zones are involved. It really narrows the playing field, so this was the first challenge.

The second challenge dealt with the planter areas themselves. Between the house and the pool was an awkward planter, somewhat narrow and long and divided by a flagstone pathway. Yet it was a very important planter in that it was the transition between the home and the pool. The homeowners said they did use the flagstone pathway but we could recreate it elsewhere, which we did (not seen in the pictures). This was great because it gave us a united piece that was big enough to really do
something nice. 

In considering small trees for this area (we needed a little height) I settled on a very attractive tree that would be perfect for morning light, a Cercis Forest Pansy. It has a very open canopy, an interesting rounded leaf, and in early spring it has purplish blooms (as seen) and it can be kept to size. The color of the leaf is a light plum, which adds additional color to the yard. So that was a good first start, however we needed one more small tree.

An accent tree that had color in early spring would be perfect; viewing it from the kitchen window would be so enjoyable. For this I decided upon a Serpentine Weeping Cherry. They are very hard to find but I had a wholesale source that carried them. With its beautiful white blooms in early spring to its interesting serpentine shape, it was the perfect small tree. I was happy with these two selections, easily fulfilling what I intended them to do. Once we had the height in this planter the rest was easy.

Two more areas remained. The area between the pool and the fence, and the space between the patio cover and the pear trees/fence line (pears trees have since been removed). Personally, the fence behind the pool was annoying. You have this nice pool and then this aging fence behind it. It’s like the “Beauty and the Beast,” (watching too many movies with my grandchildren).

Fortunately, there was enough space between the pool and fence that allowed me to do a three-tier landscape. Normally I have about four feet but here I could do a three-tier landscape with small trees against the fence, medium height plants in the middle, and perennials along the pool edge. The two trees that are deciduous in the picture (flowering cherries) are just weeks away from their spectacular blooms. Therefore, given what I could create I was very grateful for the space. With limited space, it makes it challenging to transform a pool from just a pool to an oasis. The proper amount of water and landscape is what gives us that oasis feel.

The patio and fence area would be the most challenging. In dealing with shade, the plant sees or registers light different than the way we do. The floriculture industry deals with this all the time and can make plants bloom in winter when in nature they bloom in spring. When forcing a plant to bloom as such, there is a science to it. If it is apoinsettia for example, normal bloom time is early spring. It requires so many “foot candles” of light to make it bloom. An instrument called a spectrometer is what is used to measure the amount of light needed. So, without a spectrometer, especially since we are not forcing a bloom, I rely on years of experience to know how far I can push a plant.

There are three zones of light when dealing with a shady area. There is the outer perimeter where reflective light can come in from surrounding areas. The next light difference is mid-point where the shade is even, no or little reflective light comes in. Then there’s the “twilight zone” where we start transitioning from shade to darkness. It is a hard zone to plant in especially since it is mostly under tree canopies, extended overhangs or north side of buildings. Therefore, when planning for a true shade garden these different light zones need to be considered.

I have spent my whole life developing an eye for the different intensities of light, yet even with my experience the new plant varieties challenge my knowledge and at times I remain with the question, when is too much shade too much shade? And when factoring in how the sun changes throughout the year, it is a challenge. There are plants that are tough as nails, they seem to survive in anything.  However, these are the run of the mill plants that are popular for that reason. Yet to have a custom landscape that is truly unique and beautiful, the knowledge of light and plant tolerances is very important. Light and plant growth and their unique characteristics have been my whole life’s study.

Gardeners – I am sure the garden is getting tired, however with some TLC we can probably get another 2 to 3 weeks from our crops unless the bugs have gotten the better of them. We need to give the ground a couple weeks to just sit, adding more organic fertilizer with mycorrhizae allowing the colonies to strengthen until the next round.

Until next time – Good Gardening, Arthur