Ornamental gardens have always been an important part of our American culture. Since the time of the first settlers, the character of the home landscape has gone through many changes from the dooryard garden of herbs and flowers to the intricate fussy details of the Victorian era and finally to the garden as an extension of the indoor living environment into outdoor space.
Now urban living with its high density housing and minimal outdoor space is creating another kind of change in garden style. This change brings a greater emphasis on intensive use of limited space. This kind of gardening can be the most exciting and the most enjoyable.
Not only has the landscape changed but people too have changed as a result of this life style. Today there is less concern with traditional garden designs of heavy flower and shrub massing. Instead the design must have dramatic visual appeal. One way to achieve this visual appeal is to use natural or manmade landscape elements to complement your plants.
Before discussing the various elements available for creating a landscape, let us first consider our basic goal-to create space for people and for people’s activities. Each time trees, shrubs, fences, walls are placed on the land, space has been created. The size and visual quality of this space determines its success. Therefore, as you plan your landscape, think of it as if you are creating a room outdoors. This room, like a room in your house, must have a floor, walls, and a ceiling.
The floor is the stage upon which all of your activities are organized. This ground surface might be paved, covered with gravel or other loose aggregate, planted to ground cover or grass, Which of these elements to select depends upon the intended use of the area.
Walls of the room are created by vertical elements (trees, shrubs, fences, walls). Not only do they define the space but they also provide an enclosure for privacy that is essential for outdoor living. Human nature is such that many people are not comfortable pursuing outdoor activities if they feel they can be seen or watched by others. To effectively provide a privacy screen, the material used should be above eye level.
Even in situations where privacy is not a primary concern, enclosure elements are still important to give organization to the space. In this case height is not important. In fact the effect of enclosure can be achieved through using elements only 12 to 24 inches high. This is an implied enclosure rather than the complete enclosure you would have with the privacy screen.
The final unit of your outdoor room is the ceiling. Unlike the rooms of your home it does not have to be total and complete. The ceiling may be the canopy effect of the spreading branches of a tree combined with the sky, or it may be an overhead structure over the patio or terrace. The structure may have a solid roof for complete weather protection or be partially open or louvered for filtered light and shade. Most important, there should be a partial overhead definition combined with the sky. In either case the ceiling effect should be sensed rather than seen. Therefore the design should be simple, not eye-catching or detailed.
For patios and limited space gardens, there are two primary types of space:
Visual space-a landscape scene viewed from within or a landscape picture associated with a primary window. Visual space is created mainly through the use of plant material and it is not intended to accommodate outdoor living activities.
Usable living space–designed for family use in entertaining, relaxation, or play. It, too, should be designed to be visually pleasing. However, it is composed of any of the landscape elements-natural or manmade-to, assure that the design serves the family’s interests.
Although not a part of this discussion, it should be understood that elements of both these types of space may be combined into a landscape composition. To successfully accomplish this, a larger area is required.
Both types of space are formed by using fences, walls, planting screens, trees, shrubs, flowers, ground covers, hard surfaced paving, loose aggregate surfacing, water features, portable or fixed planters, lighting, sculpture, and natural boulders. Not all of these elements can be used in any one design. Instead you should select those that will most effectively create the type of space and design you want.
Fences, walls, and planting screens not only define space but also provide privacy and screening where needed. For a landscape with limited space, fences and walls have greater value because they require a minimum of ground space to provide a 6-foot screen. To achieve the same effect with plants would require 4 to 6 feet of ground space to accommodate the mature spread of the plants.
Fences are easy to construct and they provide an immediate effect not possible with plants which often require 3 to 5 years to grow to the desired height. But don’t feel compelled to surround your entire garden area with a fence.
This is monotonous and poor design. Instead, you should identify critical areas where screening or privacy are needed and then use sections or panels of the enclosure unit. These units can easily be tied together through the skillful use of flowering trees and shrubs.
You should avoid painting fences. The first stroke of a paint brush commits you to a high maintenance program that can be avoided by staining the fence instead. It’s best to select neutral colors of stain that blend well with foliage colors. In this way the fence will blend with the rest of the elements and not dominate the scene.
Trees and shrubs are the bulk of the natural materials used in the landscape. Having a permanent woody structure and being vertical elements, they too create space. For this reason they must be selected on the basis of the function they will serve in this three-dimensional composition and not just because the plant is pretty.
Trees may be divided into two groups -the large shade tree and the smaller flowering types. In situations of limited size, it is unlikely that more than one large shade tree can be introduced into the design. At this point you must decide if a shade tree or an overhead structure is going to do the best job of providing shade and the ceiling to the space. You can choose from a great variety of trees. They vary in height, soil tolerance, hardiness, and rate of growth. Your county extension agent or nurseryman can assist you in making a selection suitable for your soil and climate.
Flowering trees are generally smaller, ranging from 8 feet to 35 feet. Many varieties in this group have not only showy flowers but also interesting fruit. They may be used by themselves or as part of a shrub border. Because of their smaller size, flowering trees are often planted in containers or planters. They are valuable for patios, terraces, and Other small areas. Also, when combined with a fence or wall, the crown of the flowering tree added to the height of the fence adds considerably to the vertical screening in any areas where there are elevated views into your property.
Because of the wide variety of tree flower colors, be certain to select colors that will be harmonious both with other flowers blooming at the same time and with surrounding building colors.
Since shrubs bloom for only a short time, it is important to consider foliage, fruit, branching habits, and suitability for a specific location as well as their flowers. Because shrubs are smaller than trees, you can see them in much greater detail-bence the importance of other plant qualities besides flowers. In small gardens, avoid using too many different kinds. Your design will have a strong unity and be visually more appealing if you limit the number of varieties.
One type of plant that has particular value for the small-scaled landscape is called a specimen, which is a plant that is unique in form, color, or texture, or any combination of these three elements. When used by itself, either in a planter or in the ground, it becomes a dramatic unit with great dominance and visual appeal. Only one specimen plant should be used in a composition. Using two or more is distracting and it diminishes the dramatic effect.
Flowers are not a permanent landscape element. Since they dieback to the ground during dormant seasons, they do not offer year-round structure or form to the landscape. Therefore, flowers should be considered as an accessory or embellishment. Flowers are classified as annuals and perennials. Annuals must be replanted each year whereas perennials, although they dieback to the ground each winter, do live for many seasons without replanting. In small areas, the annuals offer the most spectacular color and showiness. To be most effective they should have a background against which to be viewed.
Keep flower plantings simple. Plant flowers in masses and do not use too many different kinds or too many different colors. As a rule of thumb, small flower planting areas should include only one flower variety and all one color. When selecting your flowers, remember that most types require full sunlight. If yours is a shady situation, there are several types from which to choose. Consult your nurseryman or garden center.
Until now, consideration has been given only to the vertical landscape elements, but it is also important to consider what you will put on the floor of your landscape. In this case, the criteria for selection are based upon the intended use of the area. If the area must support heavy traffic or is an activity center such as a patio or terrace then a permanent, hard-surfaced material should be used. You may choose from concrete, brick, slate, flagstone, or wood.
Walks should be at least 4 feet wide so two people can walk side by side. The terrace or patio area should be at least 400 square feet. This will provide sufficient room for garden furniture and still leave space to move around.
Design of the terrace or patio should be carefully studied to develop a strong pattern. There are many possible shapes besides the typical square or rectangle. YOU may wish to consider a broad arc combined with straight (diagonal, horizontal, or vertical) lines or a straightline design set on a 45′ angle from the building. Rectangular and square areas can be made more interesting by using 2 by 4 wood divider strips to develop a modular pattern of 4- or 5-foot squares across the surface. Lawn or loose aggregates work well in areas with little or no traffic. If you use a loose aggregate for paths or walks, select a rounded rock of 1/4- to 3/4-inch screen size. Do not use pea gravel. It sticks to shoes and makes footing difficult. Loose aggregates such as gravel can also be used as a mulch in planting areas.
Ground cover plants do not tolerate any foot traffic, hence their use is restricted to planting bed areas. This group of plants offers a wide choice in texture and in height-from 6 inches to 18 inches. Some thrive very well in deep shade while others tolerate a hot, dry location. Be sure to select the right one for your situation, Ornamental ground covers are discussed elsewhere in this book.
In patio gardens and landscapes for limited space, special features such as water, planters, night lighting, and sculpture can enhance space whether it is visual space designed for window viewing or actually usable space.
Because the areas being discussed are assumed to be small in scale, the use of water must be controlled and obviously man designed. To try to introduce a babbling brook or a natural waterfall would be inappropriate and out of place. Your water design should have classic simplicity without superfluous decoration. The basic pattern may be straight lined or curved. In the latter case plan the design to be a “stylized” use of natural curves and not an attempt to copy nature.
The sound of water is very pleasant and has a psychological cooling effect. Sound may be achieved through the use of jets, bubblers, or sprays. If the area is breezy, the bubbler is better than the jets or sprays. Fine sprays can be carried some distance in a high breeze. Sound can also be introduced by having water fall from a higher basin into a lower one.
Water is also very effective for its reflective quality. To make the best use of reflection in water, paint the basin black. This will enhance the mirror-like qualities. Do not use jets or bubblers.
A great variety of planters is available for home use. Once filled with soil, a large planter is difficult to move. So study carefully where you need your planter for maximum effects, move it there, then fill it with soil.
Planters are available in concrete, fiber glass, and asbestos-concrete. Select them on the basis of their design and the soil volume in relation to the size plant you intend to use. If you have in mind a large shrub or small tree, a large volume of soil will be needed. Also keep in mind that it is important to select plants that are in good proportion and scale relationship with the planter. For example, a large, tall planter with only petunias in it lacks a good proportion and good scale relationship. It looks out of place.
In areas where cold winters may damage any permanent plantings, it’s a good idea to line the inside of the planter with styrofoam sheets. This will reduce the effects of freezing and thawing.
Night lighting is no longer a costly or difficult project. New plastic insulated cable may be buried directly in the soil without using conduit. Conduit is required only where it comes out of the ground to attach to your fixture.
You can choose from a number of different light fixtures. Each is designed to achieve different effects. Consult your local power company or a local lighting store to determine which would be most appropriate.
Outdoor lighting can be used for three different purposes: to floodlight large areas; to spotlight specific features; and to illuminate areas softly by underlighting (directing the light upward into the plant or tree) to emPhasize structure, form, and foliage. For small areas the last function fits best. However, there may be other features, sculpture, for example, that You may wish to spotlight.
Sculpture, murals or mosaics, and even boulders can enhance your design. These elements should be selected for form, color, texture, and interesting detail. Seldom can you ever use more than one of these elements effectively. To use more could clutter your design and result in visual confusion.
Selecting sculpture is a very personal thing. By including such an element you are creating an atmosphere expressing your tastes. For best results, you should carefully consider the scale of the piece. Small units usually need a plain, but complementary, base to elevate them to a level where the eye can appreciate the design. Usually sculpture is best set against a foliage or structural backdrop to show it to best advantage.
If you use large boulders, select specimens with unusual form, texture, and color. Place them carefully to show off their interesting qualities, This type of natural material can be most handsome. Boulders should look as if they logically belong where they are, not like they just fell out of the sky.
Successful landscape planning involves three considerations. First, consider your needs and determine how you plan to use the landscape. Second, carefully study your site for orientation, climatic factors, topography, and existing features. And finally, develop a scale drawing of the area you are going to develop.
Your family is the most important consideration in planning your landscape. Make a list of your family’s needs. This will tell you which of the two types of spaces mentioned earlier will be most appropriate-a landscape scene or usable living space.
A list of family interests may help you to organize your thinking. Do you wish to extend your living activities into the outdoor area? Are there family hobbies which could be furthered by this development? Do you enjoy gardening or would you prefer a low maintenance design? How frequently do you entertain? Are the groups large or small? How often does your family cook out? Do family members enjoy sitting and relaxing outdoors? Do you wish to attract birds? Is there a need for space to store equipment?
A list, such as this, of your wants and needs will be most helpful in fashioning your final plan. It is the first and most important step to beginning your landscape, whatever the size.
Next, you need to carefully analyze your site because the character of the land, the climate, and the surrounding properties will determine the basic design and what landscape elements you should use.
Your design will be influenced by the property and its orientation to wind and sun. You should consider plantings or vertical structures that will give protection from the summer sun and also allow warmth from the winter sun, wind barriers to reduce the wind, and slopes to carry rain and melted snow from the house and the garden structures.
Identify sunny and shaded areas. You can then select plants that survive in either type of exposure. Find the average low winter temperature. Then you will know whether a plant will grow in your area. Hardiness is the word used to express a plant’s tolerance to temperatures and climates. Your Cooperative Extension agent can tell you what plants are hardy in your climatic zone.
In your analysis, note the best natural resources of the site. Are there very good trees or interesting changes in grade? Carefully study good as well as bad views. Keep attractive views open. Screen out unattractive and objectionable views either by structures or by proper plantings. At the same time consider screening for privacy from your neighbors. One consideration is the height of surrounding land and buildings. You can screen by fencing and by skillful placement of shrubs and trees.
Finally, you will need to know the relative acidity or alkalinity, texture, humus content, and drainage of the soil. Soils that are extremely acid or alkaline restrict plant growth. A very heavy clay soil will drain poorly and keep needed air from the plant roots.
For easy maintenance, it is best to choose plants that will tolerate your particular soil condition.
With your list of family needs and your. analysis of the site done, you are now ready to draw to scale a plan of the area. In a scaled drawing a fraction of an inch equals I foot. For example, 1/8 inch on paper is used to represent 1 foot on the ground; this is called a one-eighth inch scale.
To obtain the measurements for your scaled drawing you will have to make your outdoor measurements with a steel tape. First draw a rough sketch of the area and of the shape of the house on a sheet of paper. Allow enough space to jot down the measurements as you make them. Locate the position of the building in relation to the property boundaries and measure tree, walk, drive, sewer line, water line locations. Note also the location of power and telephone service, whether it’s overhead or underground.
After locating all important features (don’t forget windows and doors), you are ready to transfer this information to your base plan. A scale of 1/8 or 1/4 inch equal to one foot will allow you to use a standard ruler. If you wish you may draw this to scale on graph paper. You can buy graph paper with various grid scales (1/16, 1/8, 1/4) at most stationery and book stores.
You are now ready to start developing your design. The scale drawing will help you to visualize the space relationships and work out design patterns. It is amazing how mistakes and ideas will develop and show up on a plan. The more accurate you are, the more effective your plan will be. By fastening a sheet of tracing paper over your basic plan, you can try out various arrangements.
The first step in sketching out your design is to establish a basic ground pattern. There are no rules for developing a pattern. This is a personal thing. A rough guide is that lines near the building should follow the same regular pattern but as the pattern moves from the building it can become looser, more flowing and more informal.
Remember it is the shapes developed between the lines which are important -not the lines themselves.
Your final scale design will take the guesswork out of the project. And it will suggest to you additional landscape elements to combine with those previously selected. With this approach you have the blueprint for an organized, well designed landscape whether you complete it in planned stages or all at once.