Small to Medium Landscapes with Big Impact/ Part II


Welcome to October’s edition. Fall is now here and it is my favorite time of year.  Life has settled to the steady rhythm of school and from grammar school on up, school does give a pattern to life. For me personally our girls are in their early 30s and our grandkids are still under 3 years of age so our “rhythm” is set by these children and work. However, I know well the rhythm (routine) that school gives to everyday life.


In a like manner nature too has a rhythm or seasons as we call them. As the cooler nights settle in, initiating the beginning of the dormancy cycle, the moisture in the leaves begins to make its way into the roots of the trees. Without adequate moisture the chlorophyll in the leaf breaks down, which among other things is responsible for the green in the leaf.  As this process continues it leaves higher concentrations of sugars, auxins and other hormones in the leaf. This highly concentrated mix of phytochemicals reacts to the cooler nights by causing the leaf to change color, giving us our reds, oranges and yellows. It is a fascinating process, much more complex than how I am stating it.  Yet for an overall big picture of the process, this is fairly accurate.

For our featured yard this month we are highlighting the second in a series of progressively smaller yards. If you recall, the intended goal is to show that creativity is able to turn any size yard into something that is very attractive and functional (must be both). Through the summer we were featuring and discussing large landscapes, so I wanted to scale down and swing the pendulum as it were to the other side. Come spring 2016 we will go back to medium-large yards.

This month’s yard belongs to a husband who is passionate about fishing; however he has a wife who is passionate about a nicely landscaped yard. So as with all our clients, it is a real privilege to be able to help. There was really no problem to solve with this yard, only a couple concerns. The house is located on a cul-de-sac lot bordering a sidewalk shared with the neighborhood behind them where there is a fair amount of school traffic coming and going. And as it is with kids, they do not just walk on the sidewalk they walk in the yards as well. So we needed to create a border that when matured would give a distinct hedge/border that would keep the kids subconsciously on the “straight and narrow.”

Next because the sidewalk and the adjacent planter was city easement the city had planted pear trees, too many in my opinion, and their roots were now a problem. In calling the city on behalf of our client they agreed to remove the trees, which was very commendable of the city. However we still had the roots to deal with; but knowing that the trees were going to be removed, it took away the concern of damaging them.

Once we discussed these solutions with Nancy, the owner, the only other requirement was for a nice yard. She did request a dry stream bed, which I enjoy doing, though not all clients want this feature.  When done correctly I consider them to be a focal enhancement for a yard. I also find dry stream beds to be a great place to add a leech line and return rain water from off the roof via the downspouts into the ground, but at times the stream bed concept does not work.  Because of the limited size of the yard I didn’t feel we had enough length to adequately distribute the water underground prior to the stream bed ending at the sidewalk. I was concerned we would receive continued run off onto the sidewalk. So instead we ran a leech line about 15″ deep, 3 ½ ft. out and parallel to the block wall. I liked this idea because the yard has a natural slope towards the sidewalk and as the trees and plants mature the deeper rooters will be able to take advantage of this water source.

Designing the stream bed is always fun and a bit challenging. It cannot be too wide or too narrow; it needs to fit the yard. It cannot be too curvy or conversely, too straight. Also, it cannot look like cobble laid on the ground, there must be some depth to it.  In other words there are no patterns to follow; each one needs to be individually designed according to the yard. Marker paint is a designer’s blessing because I can repaint the design as many times as necessary, erasing the paint line with the sole of my shoe until the right design comes together.

From here we have topsoil blend that we use to create mounds, which also has a right and wrong way. Too many mounds, too tall or too flat do not complement a yard. Creating and giving the yard dimension via proper soil mounding makes everything else you do afterwards that much more interesting, not to mention the benefit to the plants. In 25 years of landscaping I have yet to landscape on a flat surface.

After the mounding is complete the boulders are next. They vary in size and shape, and even type; however regardless of the type selected they create interest and give a natural presence to a yard.  Placing them so they look natural and not contrived is super important. Some clients, as with the dry stream bed, prefer not to have boulders, so for them there are alternatives such as yard art or a flagstone pathway leading to a sitting bench or table. It could even include a small flagstone patio, etc. Options are only limited to one’s imagination.

Following this, (my favorite part) are the plants. The variety, colors and varied leaf textures in combination with the hardscape brings the landscape together and the bark completes the job. Thank goodness the local nurseries have improved their selection of semi-drought tolerant plants, making it easier to create more distinct landscapes.

Gardeners -If you planted close to Sept. 1st you are having a taste of your garden by now. Be it fresh lettuce or tasty spinach, or beginning to harvest some radishes, it is very enjoyable eating your own produce. If you have yet to plant you still can but I would suggest having a cold frame ready in case we have an early freeze in November. This would be true no matter when you planted, but especially for a late start. Until next time – Good Gardening.

Personal note: Through the course of the spring and summer season I am always concerned that we are not getting to everyone. I am very grateful for being busy and for the clients that are able to be patient and wait for us.  However, for those of you that we have dropped the ball on; my sincerest apologies. I am continually training my men to help me so everyone can be seen in a timely manner. It is a slow, but sure process and I thank you for understanding.