The Landscape Planner vs. The Impulse Gardener

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The average gardeners design their landscaping by first stopping for lattes.

Then with coffee in hand, they wander around the garden nurseries looking for plants and trees they find striking.

Their 5-year-old child pulling the red Radio Flyer wagon behind them, they begin to load it with pretty chartreuse perennials, a shrub with purple flowers, the tree with bright red leaves and, of course, the cute little pink flowering plant their daughter refuses to put down.

Home they go, tree blowing out the side window of the Subaru. Their daughter sits beaming with the plant in her lap which she has named Melissa.

At home, the family looks around the yard, searching for empty spaces for their newly-found treasures.

The tree, of course, goes in the middle of the lawn. The chartreuse perennials tuck in under the pine tree where nothing seems to grow.

Melissa has to be planted next to the doghouse so Fluffy, the Pitbull, can keep her company.

Sound familiar?

Most of us have started our landscaping in a similar fashion, and why not? It is a fun way to spend the weekend.

In the end, willy-nilly gardening rarely produces an attractive landscape. Additionally, gardening this way usually means spending more time and money.

If you want gardening to be more than entertainment, and you prefer to make the most out of your time and money, the number one step is a "landscape plan."

The best way to start a plan is to create a list of things you want your yard to provide; curb appeal, a year round look, summer shade, patio space, water feature, fire pit, sprinkler system, plant likes and so on.

The next step in the plan should be the hardscape. Where will the patio go? What shape will the plant beds be? Do you need a path to the patio?

Take measurements of the yard and plan the hardscape out on graph paper.

If you aren't detailed enough to do a drawing, lay out the shapes of garden beds, patio location and other hardscape concepts using garden hoses.

Another technique is to use upside down spray paint to draw sample spaces on the lawn.

Once the hardscape is planned, it is time to think about the placement of trees, large shrubs, and hedges.

These plants can impact sun exposure, so they often affect the size and type of plants that can go around them.

These larger scale plants are also the ones you want to install in the yard first since they will take the most time to establish.

After the large plants come the smaller shrubs, flowers and perennials that create the look of the garden.

When designing this part of the yard, keep in mind the full-grown size of the plants you are selecting.

Include plants that will have year round interest. Select plants that are appropriate for the area they will be in: full-sun, shade, dry or wet soil.

Finally, use a simple design technique and group bedding plants in odd number combinations: 1-3-1 or 3-5-3.

When the hardscape, trees, and bedding plant designs are complete, it is time to consider the least fun, but most important part of planning a yard--the watering system.

It is tempting to think you can save money by skipping this step and water your yard by hand, but in the end this technique just costs time and money.

All it takes is one hot weekend away and you can lose several expensive plants.

If you are on city water, consider what it costs every time you forget and leave the hose-end-sprinkler on all night.

Plants also need deep watering not just surface watering, something that is best accomplished with a sprinkler system.

Recapping the landscape process: make a design plan, install the hardscape or know where it will be in the future, plant trees, large shrubs, and hedges, install the sprinkler system and finally add the bedding plants.

Be patient and take the time to plan your landscape.

But in the meantime go ahead and buy that cute pink plant for your daughter and let her put it next to Fluffy's doghouse.

Bryce Rugraff is owner of The Plant Company and Plant Company Landscaping in Walla Walla.

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