Designing by Theme, Part IX

The holidays are long past and spring is now just around the corner. If you are an observer of nature, spring is beautiful for many reasons, and especially in the blooming of plants and leafing out of the trees. A very frequent comment I hear at this time of year is, “Just a week ago, the trees had no leaves; now they’re full again.” The truth is that the “rebirth process” is slow but deliberate. Yet if we are not paying attention to it, it seems quite sudden. Amidst our busy days, nature is happening all around us.

I want to thank those who I met at the Home and Garden Show. It is always rewarding to meet faithful readers of our articles.There are many ways to approach landscaping, but we believe that there is only one way to do it right. It takes time to meet with clients, determine themes, create the design and estimate cost before a shovel ever hits the ground. It is an encouragement to me to know that our readers have come to understand the how and why of our process.

This brings me to our landscape for these next two months. The home is in Folsom, and we landscaped both the front and back in the fall of 2011. The clients’ main objective was to bring artistry to an otherwise very plain front yard. They also wanted to maintain at least some lawn because they enjoy its softening effect. How much and where was up to me, as were many of the other design decisions. As long-time readers of our articles, these clients were confident that our design would be both artistic and functional.

The clients’ confidence gave me pretty much a blank slate. However, the layout of the property posed certain design challenges.The front yard is long and narrow while the house is quite tall, creating difficult proportions to balance. Deciding how I would handle this challenge took some thought, but the solution is based on what is called a trompe l’oeil (visual deception). In essence, the human eye registers something as narrow if it is allowed to travel down a specific visual path. If that visual path is interrupted, causing the eye to focus on distinct design elements along the visual path, then the narrowness of the space is not as noticeable. So without changing a thing in width or depth, we can change the way the eye perceives it.

If width and depth can be visually manipulated then, to some extent, height can be as well. By building a raised bed for the lawn, we bring more height to the landscape and create a place for the eye to focus as it travels up the height of the home, making it seem as though the house is not so tall in relation to the yard. By also moving the lawn closer to the house, the home is further softened.

Once I made the decision to raise the lawn, then I started to think about how else I could use the stackable block. In design, you want to use some design elements more than once in order to create a sense of unity and flow. By creating small walls towards the front of the yard, we were able to raise the planter beds and, again, interrupt the eye as it looks up at the house. As an added bonus, these walls create a clear entrance to the space. Much like a garden gate, this created entrance gives a visual and emotional transition from the road to the home. Adding small trees on either side makes the effect even more pronounced.

Our problem then of a narrow yard, being made the more pronounced by a high roof line, though challenging, was solvable. And these concerns will be minimized year after year as the landscape continues to mature. Next month we will discuss theme, plant and tree selection, and highlight specific areas with photos. Hang onto this issue, and January’s if possible, so you’ll be able to see the yard in its entirety.

With respect to yard maintenance, all fruit trees and roses should now be pruned and fruit trees treated with dormant spray. It also is a good time to check the stability of tree stakes, looking especially at the ties to ensure that they are not cutting into the tree. Generally speaking, if the diameter of the trunk has reached 3.5”, the stakes and ties are no longer necessary. Until next time – Good Gardening.