Turning an untamed jungle into a habitable outdoor space may take years, especially when you do the work yourself. But if you have a vision of orderliness and a simple color scheme, you can slowly fashion out of chaos a calm and inviting personal retreat.
Such is the achievement of George Hernandez and his wife. Designed by the two of them, with Mr. Hernandez providing most of the labor, their backyard Shangri-La was seven years in the making. Judging by the before and after pictures, to call the transformation remarkable would be a gross understatement.
“The hardscape makes the landscape.” This is a statement beloved by landscape architects but it also speaks to the practical side of landscape or garden design. Hardscape makes up the bones or structural elements of any outdoor space. Hardscape includes walkways, steps, decks, patios, walls, fountains, and pools. Softscape simply refers to the plants brought in after the hardscape is in place. In this context, softscape could be said to “accessorize” the hardscape.
Ben Brown, who installs landscapes in Portland, Oregon, utilizes a culinary metaphor, equating hardscape with cake and softscape with frosting (at rossnwwatergardens.com).
“What is more important,” Brown asks, “the cake or the frosting? I love a good cream cheese frosting as much as the next guy – don’t get me wrong. But we all know it takes a ‘special’ appetite to prefer straight frosting. Cake is the reason frosting exists. The best cake you ever ate was great, not because of the frosting, but because of the cake.
“When it comes to landscaping, too many people focus on the frosting. I love it, you love it- but a ‘landscape’ that is nothing but plants is just a big spoonful of frosting.
“Hardscape is the cake. . . When hardscape is well planned you get to enjoy a proper landscape. A landscape that works. A garden that is walkable. Property that is usable.”
No matter how many exotic plants fill up your garden, if they are difficult to reach due to lack of adjacent pathways, where they would be readily accessible for maintenance purposes, your horticultural enterprise may be in jeopardy. Speaking of access, I should also mention here that it is equally important to install hose bibs or faucets throughout your garden so that the option of hand watering with a hose is always available. Sprinkler systems are unreliable and, when it comes to newly planted specimens, hose soaking those garden introductions daily for the first two weeks after planting is highly recommended.
Regarding hardscape material for patios or pathways, natural stone is the preferred, if most expensive, choice. Natural stone engenders feelings of permanence and groundedness, imparting a tranquil mood when it covers the earth around you. Hernandez used natural stone as outdoor flooring in an expansive sitting area and, when you look at his tasteful table and chairs, you can imagine sitting down with an iced tea and finding respite there at the end of a long day.
Hernandez has used decorative gravel as a ground cover in other parts of his landscape. Gravel is a less expensive alternative to natural stone although it will need to be topped off from time to time as it does gradually sink into the soil below. A caveat regarding gravel concerns the presence of litter producing trees overhead. There is no more frustrating task than having to remove tree litter from gravel since the gravel is invariably raked out and depleted in the process.
So if you have trees overhead and are seeking an inexpensive ground cover below, consider laying down bricks on sand or pavers, a wide assortment of which are available in a variety of shapes and colors. Keep interlocking pavers in mind, too.
The lavender-violet-purple color spectrum is prominent in Hernandez’ landscape scheme. His lavender bench is a stroke of design genius, especially as it contrasts with the light to dark gray tones revealed in his natural stone and gravels. He has selected a number of plants whose flowers contain permutations of the lavender color found in his bench, including purplish ivy geraniums, trailing lantana, verbena, and wisteria.
Tip of the Week: In response to a column from March where Jeralynn Langton wondered what might be eating the tops of her donkey tail (Sedum morganianum) plants, I received the following email from Jeff Tyler, who gardens in Whittier:
“When I was in high school a ‘few’ years ago, my mom had a donkey tail plant in a pot suspended by a wire hanger from a beam under our covered porch (open on the sides) . One day she noticed the leaves were missing from the top and part way down the stems (donkey-tail pattern baldness?). Some days later she happened to see a bird (mockingbird, I think) sitting in the pot and picking off the leaves it could reach. Not sure what the bird did with them, unless he/she was eating them later. My mom had the plant for a number of years, and the top always looked picked over.”
A cursory Internet search reveals that the phenomenon of birds feasting on succulents is not unusual. The only way to remedy this problem is by covering your succulents with wire mesh.
Sarah, proprietress of thesucculentproject.wordpress.com, had her dad construct an attractive mesh cage for her succulents where they will now be forever safe from avian predations.