What Were They Thinking? – Landscape Foibles

I’ve walked this street with my mom for years now, and each time I do, I can’t help but stop by this one garden and wonder, ‘what were they thinking?’ But after remembering the many mistakes I made while I was learning (and still do on occasion), I realized the better question to ask is, ‘What Didn’t They Consider?’

Now it’s easy to judge the mistakes in hindsight and so much more difficult to do it the right way.  And even the ‘right way,’ is quite subjective.  But there are certainly basic steps that can be taken to increase the likelihood of creating a healthy beautiful garden.  So, let’s indulge and use this landscape as an example of some things to consider as you create your garden:

1.  Water Requirements.  This one kills me.  In this 3′ x 8′ strip they planted both a papyrus, which can survive in a pond, and a bougainvillea which is much happier with moderate watering.  In fact, I planted one in Santa Monica that never got watered after it’s first year.

Over the years, nurseries have gotten much better about indicating watering needs, so it just takes a little bit of research to make sure that you put plants together with similar watering needs.

2.  Size of plants.  I must confess this is an area that I’m still working on, as I always want to tuck in just one more plant.  But in this situation, they didn’t even begin to consider that the plants would grow at all.  And though you can’t see it, in addition to the papyrus and the bougainvillea, they also planted roses and fountain grasses here.

So, the lesson here is check to see how big it grows.  If the label reads ‘to 6 feet,’ assume it’s going to get close to 6 feet.

3.  Form of the plant.  We see this mistake everywhere, and it is just painful to look at.  When we think about it, each plant has inherent qualities and a natural form that it will grow into.  Yet, over and over again we see plants topped, butchered, or shaped into some ridiculous geometric shape.  In this garden, they became so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of plant material that all they could do was hack it back to make room for the walkway.

Before planting, have some idea of the general shape the plant will take: Is it fountain like? Shrub-like? A tree? A vine? Groundcover?  And if you considered item #2, you won’t have to do nearly as much pruning.  But, under no circumstances are you to shape that poor plant into a ball!

There you have it.  This week’s ‘What Were They Thinking?’  So before you head out to the nursery the next time, take a few minutes to research the plants you are considering and then imagine what they will look like all grown up.  Enjoy.

About Marianne Simon

It was in 1999 that Marianne Simon left her cushy job with MGM to start her own landscape business, but, her love of nature goes way back. In fact, while most kids were making mud pies, Marianne was eating them. Since then, her choice of dining venues has changed, but not her affinity to the earth. She founded her Landscape Company, Poetic Plantings, with the vision of creating gardens that would nurture the spirit and nourish the earth. She received her certificate in Landscape Architecture from UCLA Extension and is a G3 (Green Gardens Group) Certified Sustainable Landscape Professional. She is also a proud member of Santa Monica's Sustainable Landscape Program, as well as having been nominated for Santa Monica's Sustainable Quality Award. These days her focus is educating and consulting for homeowners and professionals on watershed wise landscape practices. She also works with G3 creating curriculum, leading workshops, and developing workforce development programs.
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