Saturday, July 11, 2015

Rethinking Your Landscaping: Developing a New Design

This week I completed the landscaping redesign for the front of our house. Sometimes the changes we make in a garden is a response to our impulsive nature: purchase some little gem because it looks so adorable. And sometimes our changes involve the transplanting flowers or shrubs because they have outgrown their space or would simply look better somewhere else. And sometimes it is time for an overhaul.

Since retiring from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden, I still have a yearning to get my fingernails dirty. Now they are.

Whether you are designing a new prayer garden or tackling a redesign of your landscape, the principles should be the same: develop a vision of the big things based on your overall objectives. Initially, do not be very concerned with the little plants, "Where will I plant my special peonies?" for the time will come where that will become more obvious. Instead, focus on what must go and what cannot change. And look for those features that will make the big impact on the new plot that complement your objectives.

Here is how our house looked in August of 2013.

Click photo to enlarge

What Must Go
I had been so consumed with my full time secular work, the responsibilities of the Gethsemane Prayer Garden and my writing/publishing assignments that I had largely neglected the look of our house. Kind of like the gobbler's shoes.

Our biggest problem was the seven steps that led to the front door: they were deteriorating and someone could get hurt. My wife could no longer negotiate these concrete stairs. I feared someone stumbling at night.

The house is over forty years old and the concrete walkway from the driveway to those steps had started to heave from the severe winters and was too narrow because of overgrown yews.

The third problem was the overgrown burning bushes that covered the front door and bay window. There were three beauties that turned luscious red in the fall but their size made the house seem uninviting. The visitor had difficulty feeling comfortable with what may be behind those shrubs.

What Cannot Change
There are four trees that had to remain – everything else was negotiable. The two birch trees were planted there to provide nighttime protection from our neighbor's spotlights. I was hoping for more visual protection from those birches when I planted them twelve years ago, but they certainly were not going away now. And my wife has made it very clear that the two maples, seen on the far left and far right of the photo, were to remain. End of discussion.

The Big Impact
I pondered how to treat the sidewalk and stairs for several weeks. I used rope to lay out the two sides of the walkway but each time I tried, the vision of the existing plants got in the way.

Click photo to enlarge

Finally I called a contractor. He removed the steps and stairs, and he transplanted the yews and burning bushes with his excavator. If the shrubs lived, great; if not, oh well.

Landscaping is not like carpentry. With landscaping, you can design part without having a complete vision of the final product. With carpentry, you don't want to relocate a downstairs wall because your plumbing just does not otherwise work – you must thoroughly plan ahead. I consider it an honor and privilege to own a shovel.

At that point, I received the vision of a raised walkway that is embedded in the ground. When given a choice between an obtuse wooden walkway that can rot away and one that is placed in the ground, I will always choose the later. Now my wife, who walks with short steps because of her limitations, can get to the front door without climbing any steps.

In the next article, I will discuss design objectives when rethinking your landscaping.