By Josh Reilly
Fall has come to the SLV. Fall, for your Uncle Skip, is a time of reflection. It is safe to say that I have fewer trips around the Sun ahead than behind. I’m not complaining. I am fortunate to have lived to see this many seasons in the garden. Winter is coming. And I am starting to look at my garden in a different way. A residential garden is like a live musical performance. You play, and the notes and rhythms vibrate in the air and then are gone. Same, alas, with your garden at home. You have no way of knowing what the next occupants will do. Let it go to weeds? Pave it and park their RV there? Tear everything out and replant with some frightful, garish display of horticultural gaucherie? Bird of Paradise, Impatiens and garden gnomes? Really? Or blithely create a dismal panorama of preventable mistakes.
The wise and patient among us counsel, “Let it go. It’s their house now.” All true and no doubt, sensible. But let’s face it. Nothing about gardening is sensible. Garden veggies taste great, but they are not cheaper to grow than to buy. Gardening is pure joy and serendipity for its own sake. And a tremendous drain on time, labor, and the family finances. A spruced-up landscape may improve curb appeal but at a reasonable cost? Best to enjoy it while you can. And try not to worry about the future.
Maybe it’s more productive to reflect on more near term, if still foundational, concerns. Tired of the same yard you’ve been looking at for 20 years? Unsatisfied with previous efforts? Fall is a great time to consider a major revamp in your garden. This is a bit nerve-wracking but also lots of fun. Wouldn’t it be grand to start over? You bet! Just wait until you tell your spouse! But seriously, what elements must you consider? What are your goals? More vegetables? More drought-tolerant natives? Less watering and maintenance? What about aesthetics? Do you want an open look? A sparse, modern look with fewer species but better visual and spatial integration? An outdoor “room” with a deck or patio, a fire pit, maybe a place to dine alfresco? Will this “room” require privacy and a distinct separation from outside views, viewers, and sounds?
Or are you a collector who is happy with a jungle containing one or two of everything? Growing up in Southern California, one of our homes was a rental with a huge yard filled with exotics from similarly warm regions around the world. The owner, a botanist and collector, had planted his collection densely, with little obvious attention to design. And as a kid it was an absolute wonderland. Kids don’t always want a big grass lawn for football practice. My Dad did, however, and we moved into a house the next year with exactly that in the front yard.
Are there rules for these things? Absolutely! I encourage you to learn them and see how fast you modify them as you move from idea to action. Start by considering three relationships: plants to people, plants to place, and plants to other plants. Balancing these will help you create a landscape that is navigable, “legible,” and inviting to observers. Does the design draw the visitor in or is it cluttered and hard to “read?” Where will your chosen plants thrive? Will they do well in your USDA or Sunset climate zone? Do your plants “agree” with each other in form, space, and over time? What’s your backdrop? Against our newly installed corrugated metal fence, our shrubs stand out in bold relief and definition.
A lot more questions than answers here. But that leaves the fun part to you. Contact me here at the SLV Post if I can help.
Josh Reilly, aka Uncle Skip, writes about seasonal gardening from his home in beautiful Ben Lomond, California.
Featured photo by Xandro Vandewalle