A key element to enjoying your outdoors often lies in the landscape, or rather, how your landscape is designed. Whether you are looking to add pizzazz around a patio, create a focal point of interest, make your hot tub more inviting or simply bring some drama to your poolscape, the questions and simple quick fixes that follow represent common concerns when it comes to do-it-yourself landscapers.
Q.I have a small seating area on a stone terrace where we sometimes eat breakfast or just sit and read the paper. The area is pretty lackluster at the moment, and I think we would use the space more if it were not so bland. What can I do to make the area more inviting?
A. Create a striking scene. One way to accomplish this is by using a backdrop to offset the seating area. Evergreen walls of boxwood, bamboo, cypress or yew create a living background that spans the seasons while adding tactile interest. A curved row of ornamental shrubs in decorative planters also makes an engaging treatment. Tall, ornamental grasses, heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) or hydrangeas all do well in containers. Japanese aralia (Fatsia japonica) with its bold leaves can liven up a shady area.
If you want to create instant impact, a free-floating wall or lattice screen always does the trick, but do not settle for ordinary. There are many things you can do to make this type of architectural backdrop even more engaging. Get creative by cutting a porthole to frame a view to the pool or garden. Choose a lattice screen with squares instead of the more common diamond pattern, or back a screen with a translucent or contrasting fabric. Then accent it with plantings, steps and garden accessories to bring emphasis to the space.
Q.What plants can I grow in the shady area of my yard and how can I lighten up the space?
A. Plants with high impact foliage always liven up a space. Japanese aralia (Fatsia japonica), caladium, ligularia and large-leaved hostas will all grow in full shade. For dramatic foliage in partially shaded areas, consider Astilboides tabularis, rodgersia, yellow waxbells (Kirengeshoma palmata), gunnera or bear's breech (Acanthus mollis). Use contrast to illuminate by mixing in plants with bright- or light-colored variegations, like lamium or lungwort. Other options include Arum pictum, Japanese silver grass (Miscanthus sinensus), variegated box elder, Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla Variegata) and varieties of hosta, caladium and heuchera.
Q.Any design tips on how to arrange or group plants into a pleasing picture?
A.Plants contribute a dimensional aspect to your overall design through their color, texture, size and form. Using a variety of plants that contrast and complement each other, as well as their given space, always makes a more pleasing environment. For example, a bold-leaf hosta next to another large-leaf plant can easily get lost in the picture, but pair that same hosta with a wispy ornamental grass and the scene becomes much more appealing.
The key is to incorporate a careful balance of variety with unity, which can be achieved through a color theme, design style, vegetative types or a continuous thread of mass plantings. Try not to arrange plantings in a straight line, as the look can be quite monotonous. Instead, arrange them in drifts that intermingle with odd-numbered groupings. Also, a solitary marigold in a flowerbed may get lost, while planting three, five or seven marigolds as a grouping will be more attractive. And when you arrange plants, think vertically as well as horizontally so that vegetation exists at all levels of the vertical space.
Q.The side of my garage faces the pool area and is quite unsightly. I do not want to hide the wall by placing a row of evergreens in front or by growing vines to cover the entire space. Any suggestions?
A. Forget about hiding the wall. Why not transform that plain-Jane area into an attractive focal point? Have someone who is artistic paint a sunny Mediterranean scene or other landscape setting that complements the architecture of your home and overall design of your outdoor space. Give it dimensional interest by adding a wall fountain and a few live plantings on the outskirts, such as plants with colored foliage to inspire a certain mood. Bold bursts of red can be found in canna 'Tropicana', smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria) or a small Japanese maple. Paint the area with foliage in cool blues and silvers, such as rockrose (Cistus), honey bush (Melianthus major), Russian sage (Perovskia), lavender, santolina and artemisia. Add a golden touch with elderberry, scotch heather, 'Bowles Golden' sedge (Carex elata 'Aurea') and golden-leaved varieties of hosta, arborvitae and spiraea.
Another way to bring emphasis to the area is to create the illusion of a front entry courtyard by mounting a decorative door and faux window on the wall. Choose something extraordinary that brings substance to the space. Include a few hanging baskets or wall-mounted containers filled with colorful mixed plantings on the wall. Accent with several decorative pottery pieces that house topiary or sculptural plantings for a formal feel, mixed container plantings staggered at various heights for an informal feel, or arrange a grouping of colorful planters featuring flora with big bold leaves, exotic foliage and colorful blooms for a tropical touch.
Q.We use our hot tub mostly at night when it is too dark to enjoy the garden. We have brought emphasis to a couple of smaller trees with uplighting, which helps set the mood. Is there anything else we can do to create a situation where the garden comes more alive at night?
A.Certainly. All you need to do is think of your garden in a different dimension by featuring plants that bring out a new perspective to enjoy. For example, the moon's eerie glow brings a subtle radiance to foliage or flowers in luminous shades of white, silver, pale blue and lavender. You might select plants with white flowers, like cosmos, Shasta daisies, roses, jasmine or daylilies. Grow moonflower (Ipomea alba) on a nearby trellis so you can enjoy its showy flowers, which not only reflect the moonlight in evening, but also have blooms that exude a sweet fragrance at night. Certain flowers become much more fragrant as evening descends, including scented stock (Matthiola longipetala bicornis), angel's trumpet (Brugmansia), nicotiana, summer phlox, sweet alyssum, evening primrose (Oenothera) or sweet peas.
Article originally written by Kris Wetherbee for Pool & Spa Living magazine.