Ingredients for your own Eden: Take a bit of space, add an inviting piece of furniture, surround with a beautiful plant screen and groom well.
Just recently I got an SOS call from a client who is desperate to find help with a nightmare she is experiencing with her present maintenance company: Plants in various states of wilt or decay, with bare spots in the landscape; succulents drowned, groundcover smothering everything in its way, and most offensively, “alien” plants willy-nilly planted, presumably as substitutes, that have nothing to do with her landscape design and that she never approved.
A sorry sight: There are bare spots on this slope where the groundcover died; the succulents are the wrong ones, and other plants are missing from the original design.
She is very upset that the trust that she placed in her grounds-person was wasted and is worried that the quality of her landscape is seriously endangered. As I’m working out a plan to help her, the horror litanies from other clients come to mind: “My landscaper has hedged this shrub into a blob although I told him to leave it alone”, or “My gardener doesn’t know how to prune these perennials”, and “My slope is all washed out and plants are dying on it; should I just pave it over?” and “I don’t know why he chopped my tree”.
Obviously, these home owners don’t have a maintenance company that is well trained; their crew’s work might actually harm the long-term health and beauty of the landscape, instead of safeguarding their investment.
Spotty irrigation has caused bare spots in the lawn; shrubs under the trees have been pruned into unnatural shapes.
For these homeowners it is frustrating to realize that, after several years of ‘care’ by their gardening service the actual state of their landscape is far removed from the one they once dreamed of. What happened to original design intent? How is it possible that these landscapes are ‘monotonous’, overgrown or disfigured? Obviously, the regular mowing, weeding, trimming and blowing weren’t what was needed. What went wrong?
Perhaps it helps to consider the type of gardens that we want today: In my view, the showcase gardens (most often lawn-centered) in which we display exceptional roses, exotic palms or other specimen plants are no longer relevant, at least here in Southern California. On their way out also are the gardens designed with stately foundation plants around a lawn that highlight our social status, or that are plain buffer-zones between us and our neighbors.
The gardens of today that many people dream of are extensions of our living spaces. Here we play and entertain, relax in privacy and seek a modicum of nature. For our landscapes to become true sanctuaries to recharge in, we need to create gardens that engage our senses. These are no longer areas to be tamed and trimmed but places to work in with nature, using light, rhythm, space and texture, and where we respect and enjoy the changes that come with time.
A beautiful example of what excellence in maintenance can achieve. Photo courtesy Watersedge Landscape.
So how do we find this maintenance professional who understands this and who will respect the original intent of the design, and who will safeguard our investment? Who nurtures the landscape, rather than whipping and hedging it into shape? Who we can rely on to insure that the landscape matures and thrives as planned?
Communicate with your designer
The shrub by this front door is just too big, and its maintenance will eventually result in suppressing its growth leading decline and eventual death. This obviously was not the best design choice.
When you create your landscape plan (whether with the help of a professional designer, or with your own energy and creativity), you will have the opportunity to consider many elements that will inform the design and that ultimately will determine the amount of maintenance:
- How controlled do you like the plantings to be? More formal, or more naturalistic?
- What feel? Urban, woodsy, tropical, southwestern, California relaxed, formal Mediterranean, etc…
- How densely do you like it planted? With a dense plant cover, or more with recognizable “individualistic” plant quilt?
- Are you comfortable with the old standards, or do you prefer new exotics?
- Do you like the natural, relaxed shape of shrubs that sometimes can be picturesque with unusually angled branches, or do you prefer it tight and controlled?
- Would you be a friend of seedheads, or do they look too weedy to you? (Many perennials require regular deadheading to look good and keep blooming.) Can you stomach wispy grasses, or do you want them at all times neat and clean looking?
- What type of growth on your trees can you expect (this will tell you how soon you need to consult an arborist)?
- How will the garden look right after installation; what look can I expect at maturity and how long might it take to see a definite change towards fullness of growth?
- Which plant is supposed to be a single-stem plant; which one will need to be trained into multi-trunk specimen?
- Who is going to do the maintenance? You yourself, or a maintenance service? Are you interested in protecting your garden, or would you think that the type of work needed in your garden requires specialized training and education?
Your responses to these questions help determine the selection of plants and the amount of maintenance. It will then be important to communicate this design intent to the maintenance service.
These questions will also influence your selection of the right maintenance company that has a track record of doing quality work.
A barren slope despite of regular irrigation… Most likely the irrigation water was applied so fast that it ran off before it had time to sink into the earth… which left plants on this slope to die from thirst.
In my next post I’ll write about the other pieces of the maintenance puzzle.