A biologist I’m not but a designer of things I am.
So when a biologist explained to me, the pencil-pushing dirt digger, that animals with a backbone are called vertebrates, I started using that word a lot. Vertebrates. Gives me gravitas. Just like using Latin names of plants to impress a client. “We’ll install a pair of 4″ caliper Acer Saccharum along the rear property line.” You pitch words like that and just watch your fee go up! And if you add, “that will give your garden a strong statement of tertiary hues in the autumn,” you better believe that new onyx and beige Lexus is damn near yours.
Back to reality. Your garden should be like a vertebrate. Give it a backbone, unlike your first husband. We, in the compost crowd, call that hardscape. Or we may just yell, “those rocks sit here and over there and the walkway goes through the arbor here, out to there and back and it’s because I said so!” Sometimes I’m that bossy, though my daughter claims as I’m a sole proprietor, “You are the boss of nobody.”
But, you get my drift. Without hardscape, (backbone!) plus non-growing garden decor features, you will have a wishy-washy mess forever. I daresay, spineless. Since my Lexus is aging, translate these fee-increasing words: “thinkus et plannus for a whileorum beforus.” Or “hire me,” if you don’t understand my Latinesque.
For successful yards, I’m into planning-that-gives-happy-visual surprises. And, OK, also I don’t know from classic formal design. Keep that quiet please.
Forget the lawn in the center (out with your accursed cricket field, Anne) and plantings on the sides. Instead, transform the entire space by weaving a pathway (hardscape) in a big, squiggly loop away from the house and then back. Use pavers, mulch or large stone-to-stone path with mulch surrounding. If you’re a glutton for maintenance, use grass, you young silly.
And simple benches (what are these called, students? Hardscape? Correct!) along the path to sit and enjoy your Eden.
Along this winding path create areas we in the biz call garden rooms. Over here are the perennials, there are the succulents, here are the bromeliads, then the herbs. Or whatever you Northerners plant for your 57 days of summer. Plant that Acer Saccharum, or a Quercus, as cover for the shade-loving specimens. (Notice I use “specimens” rather than “plants”? Very intimidating, no?) Now, divide these areas with screening shrubs so you experience each distinctive room as, but not before, you get there.
You could take the terrain you inherited as is. Better idea? Add fill for sloping hills or carve terrain down from flat areas. Or crazy you, do both! Large stone (s) set into mounds. Use one or three because even numbers tend to be boring. We designers adore odd numbers. Plant amongst the rocks. Insert a water feature – as in pond(s), 300 to 500 gallon size. (Put electric next to it for circulating pump)
Remember that bird feeders and bird baths bring moving sculptures into the garden and are so worth it! And as I said in August, pre-plan for more faucets (plumbers call them hose bibbs) conveniently around the garden. Yes, and electric lines for lighting. Another important topic for another time. But, budget for night lighting.
Now students repeat: hardscape = backbone = appeal
• Mounds of earth built up to vary the topography are known to my generation as “Sasaki mounds” after the well-known landscape architect Hideo Sasaki. Throw that term out to intimidate those Latin talkers.
• Note about “surprise” elements: cutting the phone/cable/water line is not a good surprise, so check before you dig.
• Obviously, I hope you’ll drag in the rocks and/or do the dirt sculpture before anything else!
• Let me add to the British critic who corrected me: “in the UK everyone plays cricket.” OK, maybe, but who won the Revolutionary War? Try to keep up here! Mother country indeed!
Typical hardscape elements are:
* patio or deck
* water feature – swimming pool, fountain, fish pond, bird bath
* pathways of stone, mulch, gravel, brick, concrete
* pool house or cabana
* wall, fence, gate
* arbor, pergola ($10 word), trellis
* fire pit, barbecue station, pizza oven
* metal, ceramic, mosaic outdoor art
* life-size statue of S.V. Philips