My last blog stressed the importance of analyzing your site. But before you ever put the first plant in the ground, define your goals and have a plan. Know where you’re headed and what you want to accomplish. What’s your garden style? Are you formal or informal? Do you want a well-defined, nicely manicured garden? Or are you okay with a more random, natural look? Do you want lots of flowers? A place for vegetables? Do you like showcasing specimen plants? Do you want your garden to provide privacy, places to entertain, four-season interest, or minimize maintenance?
Starting from scratch
When I moved into my house, the bulldozed, empty, front slope of red clay was my number one priority. It wasn’t very pretty or inviting to visitors walking up my sidewalk. I wanted to block my views to the street above me. I was most concerned with how the bank would look in winter. I didn’t want deciduous shrubs that offered no winter color or foliage. And given the steepness of this bank, I knew that I couldn’t always be climbing up and down it to prune shrubs or deadhead flowers. The area received full sun, so a conifer garden was a natural fit for the site and my goals. I chose conifers sporting a variety of shapes, heights, colors, and textures. I used different creeping junipers as ground covers to reduce mulch requirements and control weeds. None of these conifers require regular pruning, which minimizes maintenance. At street level, right at the top of the bank, I planted three hardwood trees. They offer privacy and block my view of the house above me. At the bottom of the slope and along the front sidewalk, I installed perennials to provide a colorful and cheerful contrast to the conifer hillside and a welcome greeting to my visitors.
I often suggest spending an entire year looking out the windows of your home before starting a landscaping project. Become acutely aware of what you see at every season of the year—both near and distant views. Envision how you’d like those views to look five or more years down the road. Then set priorities. Most of us cannot afford to create an instant landscape and it may take several years to achieve your vision. Incremental gardening lets us incorporate change and learning as we go. Spend time visiting the NC Arboretum, The Botanical Garden at Asheville, and the Biltmore Estate to see how different plants behave—their mature size, seasonal characteristics, and how they look in the landscape. And don’t forget to research the plants that interest you, but be sure the information you gather is appropriate for plants conducive to our mountain environment. The North Carolina Extension Service website at https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/ is an excellent source of research-based gardening information.
Article written by Beth Leonard, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer.