Down to Earth comes to Lakeside this month to help transform a backyard tribute to concrete into a tropical lagoon.
We arrived right after the hardscape transformation, so it’s our job to fill in the blanks with beautiful tropical specimens to complement the renovated pool.
Tom starts with a little irrigation lesson on manifolds and then jumps into the basics of landscape design, as he decides just how to place our plants throughout the garden. Then it’s off to a 30-year-old tropical garden to show how many of our plantings will look given time and care. After seeing garden after garden of tiny new plantings on our show, come and see what a few years can do to your landscape.
See the list of plants Tom used in this show.
Garden Design Guidelines
1. Pick a garden theme. The first category is the one we’re working with today, and that’s tropical; think bold foliage and colors, plants like bananas, palms and fragrant gingers. Next we’ve got Desert gardens, open, peaceful with a quiet beauty, think Mexican Bird of Paradise, Ocotillos, and Palo Verde trees.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the English garden, filled with an abundance of color in the form of fluffy annuals and perennials, plants like foxgloves and delphiniums; very attractive but also the highest maintenance and water use. Another lush garden style is Woodsy, characterized by filtered sunlight and lots of leafy plants like ferns and shade loving flowers such as camellias.
Finally, we’ve got probably the best choice for San Diego, the Mediterranean landscape, composed of drought-tolerant plants from around the world, and we’re not just talking olives and lavenders here, there’s so much more to choose from, plants such as melaleucas, leptospermums, and rosemary to name a few.
2. Divide your garden into vignettes. While your garden should be able to be appreciated as a whole, you should divide it up into areas that can be taken in as their own space. Vignettes are simply sections of the garden that can be enjoyed visually as their own area. Splitting a garden into bite size pieces like this really helps simplify design placement
For example, here’s how we’ve divided up this month’s garden: our first two vignettes are the planting beds that lie on either side of the waterfall. Further down, a narrowing of the bed acts as a division for our third vignette. Then there’s another bed in the shade alongside the covered patio for our fourth. Finally, thanks to the new concrete design, a row of beds now exist up against the house and form our final vignette.
3. For each vignette, pick a focal point plant, then a set of back-ups. Following this plan avoids two common pitfalls in landscape design. The first is to design an area with one of this plant, one of that plant, etc. This just leads to a confusing landscape, since the eye doesn’t know where to focus. The other mistake is to plant an entire area with a mass planting of a single variety. This is boring. Instead, pick a tree or large shrub that you’d like to act as your focal point
This should be a favorite plant of yours that you’d really like to pop out in your garden. You’ll only plant one of these per vignette. Then back this plant up with multiple plantings of one or two other plant choices, also trees or shrubs. These back-ups can also be used to tie individual vignettes together. For example, if you use a small group of Bird of Paradise plants to back up a palm in one vignette, include a couple in another vignette to tie the landscape together.
4. Fill out your vignettes with a variety of texture and color. After installing your structure plants in the focal point and back-up roles, find filler plants (perennials, annuals, and small shrubs) to create interest. For texture, make sure you have each one of these traits exhibited somewhere in your vignette: small-leafed, broad-leafed, and spiky plants. As for color, you should also look for contrast in your selections. Contrast makes your plants pop.
5. Finally, keep in mind when your plants bloom. Seasonality is an important consideration to achieve an interesting year-round landscape. If you buy plants based on their spring color, you’ll have a very drab winter. Make sure to buy a few plants that bloom in each season, or some that bloom year-round.
Of course, these are guidelines. Each situation is a little different, but applying the basic concepts outlined here will keep you from some of the common landscape design mistakes. After all, with all the money you’re going to spend on plants, you’ll want to arrange them so they can be appreciated.