Don’t allow the hardscape to dominate the planting
In my last post I endeavored to put plants in the forefront of our gardens in order to make them softer and more welcoming: Under our southern sun pavements, structures and other built structures create glare and very deep shadows. How can we reduce the harshness of this bright white light in residential landscape design?
I think the primordial quality of a well-designed garden is its ability to let our eyes and minds rest. To that effect, I want to employ shade, light-absorbing textures, coolness, perhaps even the sound of water. I try to balance out the hard structures with drought resistant landscaping and let the plants play an equal if not greater role in the organization and feel of the design. Here are a few tricks how to employ plants to that effect:
Plants have many roles: They create the visual pleasure that changes through the seasons because of the seasonal bloom, and they offer a juxtaposition of delicate textures with the outlines of strict architecture or rugged boulders. Plants can repeat the dynamic contrast between horizontal and vertical lines already present in the architecture of a house. Leaning pine branches intersect with vertical grass blades, while vertical flower stems stand at a right angle to a boulder’s edge.
Here, the stone flower beds will start to look less heavy when the vines start to take over the arbor and the perennials and shrubs gain their mature height, cascading over the sides to soften them. While distinctly dividing the side of the house into different areas, each area becomes its own secret garden.
Soon, the three Podocarpus trees along the back wall will be tall enough to screen out the neighbor’s house and all boundaries will be obscured, thus creating total privacy in a natural setting.
This design also creates the illusion of distance, giving the front yard a larger feel. The small deciduous shrub will provide more shade and privacy as it matures, and give an excellent opportunity to use creative landscape lighting to add drama at night by revealing its beautiful branch structure.
Getting away from hardscapes is a challenge; there are sexy materials that don’t need watering or maintenance, and will last close to forever. Stone, wood, glass, metal, and even fiberglass or plastic are very versatile and lend themselves to a variety of different uses. Be it fencing or furniture, these materials can help us give places to ‘hang’ our plants, much like in a big wardrobe.
Many landscape architects and landscape designers in San Diego (and elsewhere) have been trained to use these materials as the back-bones and foundations to build around – and upon – with plants in secondary filler roles. But plants can also serve this purpose; let yourself fall in love with the texture and structure of a plant, or your favorite tree, or a color, and design around that.
Tell your designer that this is the plant you want to showcase or use. Say you want a great big hedge of something to serve as a fence. Think about using our native Toyon Heteromeles arbutifolia, or a Silverberry Eleagnus pungens. Both are tough shrubs with attractive foliage, colorful berries (Toyon) and fragrant flowers (Silverberry) that are very undemanding in soil, water or light and that can be sheered, pruned or trained into small trees or an evergreen screen. If you prefer beautiful craftsmanship, think about how a simple perfect circle carved from stone, laid in brick, or made of wood can’t help but stand out best when surrounded by the chaos and asymmetry of plants.
Right now is a great time to look for California natives, drought-tolerant succulents and waterwise perennials, shrubs and trees at your local nurseries!
I believe this is a topic that will interest many gardeners, and I’ll talk about it in greater detail and colorful examples in a presentation at the Water Conservation Garden in El Cajon on June 11, at 9:30 a.m., in a class entitled “Balancing hardscapes with plants”. Look for a detailed description in the coming weeks at the Garden’s website. I’d be happy to greet you there!