Proper design can keep your garden pretty with less work
Design is a major factor in controlling landscape maintenance costs, which is key when one considers the longevity of a garden.
The design process covers all aspects of the implementation and, in essence, considers the site in its totality and not in isolation.
What are the items that are to be part of that totality? How might they impact the cost negatively? Can they create a labour-saving garden whilst maintaining character? Hard landscaping should live in harmony with the soft landscaping as each transitions seamlessly throughout the garden.
The use and placement of plants will do much to reduce weed growth when balanced correctly ie the correct distance apart to allow each to fulfil its potential without interfering with its neighbour’s potential in attaining its function. Whether the garden is pocket-sized or an acre-plus, the selection should be backed by plant knowledge regarding growth habit and association, its needs for sun/shade or protection from wind and salt spray etc. Consider the plant mix potential using trees, shrubs, ground covers, cacti and succulents, vines, herbaceous and bulbous types.
Larger trees should be used only on large properties; if a tree has the potential to attain a canopy of 40ft in width, it should be planted a minimum of 30ft from a building. Also, check areas for underground utilities – pipes and tanks and cesspits – simply to avoid unnecessary future root damage. It is not advisable to plant a tree or shrub which has heavy top growth top on a steep slope, where it could be prone to uplifting in strong winds.
If using small trees as part of the design concept it is important to consider neighbouring plant types and their association with each other. Trees create shade and this needs to be considered when selecting the underplantings.
The finished plan should have a tiered effect of plant types with the ground covers, herbaceous, bulbous etc being used as a ‘carpet cover’ to arrest weed growth. Bare soil is an invitation for a weed to establish and multiply; with a good coverage of plants this is reduced to almost zero. Even after pruning and with bare soil visible, a weekly run through with a Dutch hoe will knock down germinating growth.
Accepting that shrubs are spaced a goodly distance apart, then pruning is usually only required, at most, three times per year under normal circumstances. Labour is therefore much reduced. Placement of hedges to avoid constant clipping to keep in bounds is such that they are best planted a minimum of 3ft in from the boundary.
Creating a lawn with a thick sward will assist in suppressing potential monocot and dicot lawn weeds which, once established can become a constant problem.
Hard landscaping can be very labour-intensive and as such should be viewed carefully within the parameters of the finished product. A major pet peeve is the use of square stepping stones on patios or as a path surrounded with grass strips; it is not an easy task to keep them ‘squared’ and formal in appearance. Every 2ft square paver means 8ft of edging – very labour intensive. They can also become very weed-ridden if grass fails to fill in.
Parking bays should accommodate an easy turning for cars, especially if adjacent to a lawn. The same applies to footpaths which should be 5ft wide to accommodate two persons walking side by side. If too narrow and cutting through a lawn, wear and tear will form.
Trellises should be designed to take weight if vines are to be grown on them, as too should a trellis with the latter installed on blocks of wood attached to the building. This allows the trellis to be removed when painting the property.
Do not allow weeds to become established in dry stack walls as they can create havoc to the point of making the wall unstable to the point of collapse.
Malcolm Griffiths is a trained horticulturalist and fellow of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture in the UK. He is also past president of the Bermuda Horticultural Society, Bermuda Orchid Society and the Bermuda Botanical Society