Do your own landscaping, your way
You can do your own landscaping and get exactly what you want
Landscaping is a science, but it’s also a practical thing. Landscapers are as much artists as anything else, and will go for beauty at the slightest excuse. If you’re not a great handyman or human earthmoving machine, you can still have a dazzling landscape with a few basic tricks.
You will have noticed that all the best gardens have been evolved as much as created. That’s a fundamental principle of landscaping. These DIY gardens are excellent, and no professional landscaper would say otherwise, because they’re based on fundamental landscaping principles. In an evolving garden, you choose the materials you think will work, and progressively build them into the environment.
That, just for the record, is exactly what Nature does. A great garden is a result of natural principles, which demand good placement of plants and features. The plants, naturally, go for their best places. If you’ve got a beautiful old tree in your garden, that tree is in the right place. It’s big and beautiful because it’s exactly where it’s supposed to be.
Reading your garden map
Any piece of ground is like a map. It’ll tell you everything you need to know about what you can plant and what needs doing in landscaping terms.
The plants tell you where everything is:
- The drainage areas have water-loving plants like mints and willows.
- The dry areas have tough plants that don’t like getting wet, like geraniums. The bare areas don’t have enough topsoil.
- The weeds are in areas where your grass or other plants can’t get a foothold because of tough soil or lack of nutrients.
- The plants around rocks are a list of all the good types of plant for those areas.
If you’re besieged by dandelions, you’re in luck. Dandelions are full of copper, an important trace element. They’re expert opportunists, as well as weed mats. A lot of dandelions means you have good soil. (See my article on dandelions. There's no end to the uses of these valuable plants.)
DIY landscaping basics
Landscaping can be a lot of work, but it really doesn’t have to be. Unless you’re building a Chinese garden with artificial mountains and structures, you can literally landscape your own place one square metre at a time, and make it look brilliant. The trick is to avoid getting bogged down in hard labor, and work on the results.
You have a shady area with good soil, but only little ground covers and oxalis seem to grow there. The area doesn’t get enough light, and the soil may be a thin layer. It needs understorey plants. You can get a rage (not a range, a rage) of beautiful little plants which can self seed and create their own little garden feature all by themselves. Just check out “plants for shady areas” in your region in any encyclopedia, and you’ll find dozens of the right types. No work involved, the plants do it all.
The point is that you use the natural principles as the landscaping medium. Plants don’t even try to grow in the wrong places, so just follow the clues and you’ll find the right plants.
Trees and landscaping
Trees are fundamental structures in any landscaping design. They control the macro climate in the area, attract birds and other fauna, and also help shelter the garden.
Tree planting has a few basic rules:
- Plant only trees suited to the environment
- Don’t plant gigantic trees which will upset the balance of light and the garden ecology. (Plant big trees north and south, rather than east and west, unless you really need cover in those directions.)
- Don’t plant near mains, foundations, or other sensitive areas. (Particularly Australian eucalypts, which have gigantic root systems and drop leaves and branches all around them.)
- Keep an eye on your plantings to make sure they’re taking in that position. If not, you can move them before they get in trouble.
Choice of trees is real fun, and you can find some of the most beautiful trees very easily:
Chinese pines: These are the Chinese landscape trees which Chinese painters have been trying to paint for thousands of years. They’re only small trees, but they’re easy to manage, and they are nothing less than fantastic when they start to create their incredible shapes. They’re true conifers, and can take any environment, too.
Oaks: These beautiful, long lived trees need space, but they pay back in terms of sheer grandeur and the huge amounts of good mulch, full of tannins, that they shed each year. If you’ve got a few oaks around, your composting will be a lot easier. They’re also great bird and animal habitats, and can create a whole ecosystem all by themselves. Even one oak will be a source of constant entertainment.
This is an article, not a Yellow Pages for Trees, so I can’t babble on forever about trees, but you get the message.
Some landscapes are so well planned you’d never guess how much effort went into them- Almost none. Landscapers use natural forms to enhance landscape structures. The garden settings and gazebos, etc, are basically store bought, or fabricated and assembled onsite. The trick is to use the “no dig” principle to enhance these areas. Raised beds can be created in a few minutes, filled with soil, and ready to plant. All of this can be done to your taste, when you feel like doing it. You don’t have to kill yourself to have a great garden.
Remember- What you want is the object of your DIY landscaping. The less effort and manual labor involved, the better. Pick and choose, be fussy, and take your time. You’ll find you’ve got a happy, beautiful garden on your hands almost instantly, and you’ll be able to enjoy it.