Do your own landscaping, your way

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Landscaping is a science, but it's also a practical thing. Landscapers are as much artists as anythi...

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  • Do your own landscaping, your way

    Landscaping is a science, but it's also a practical thing. Landscapers are as much artists as anythingelse, and will go for beauty at the slightest excuse. If you're not a great handyman or humanearthmoving 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 afundamental principle of landscaping. These DIY gardens are excellent, and no professionallandscaper would say otherwise, because they're based on fundamental landscaping principles. In anevolving garden, you choose the materials you think will work, and progressively build them into theenvironment.

    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 beautifulbecause 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 canplant 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'thave enough topsoil.

    The weeds are in areas where your grass or other plants can't get a foothold because of tough soil orlack 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 traceelement. They're expert opportunists, as well as weed mats. A lot of dandelions means you havegood 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 Chinesegarden with artificial mountains and structures, you can literally landscape your own place onesquare metre at a time, and make it look brilliant. The trick is to avoid getting bogged down in hardlabor, and work on the results.

    For example:

  • 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. Youcan get a rage (not a range, a rage) of beautiful little plants which can self seed and create their ownlittle garden feature all by themselves. Just check out "plants for shady areas" in your region in anyencyclopedia, 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 togrow 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 thearea, 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 bigtrees 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 movethem 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 topaint for thousands of years. They're only small trees, but they're easy to manage, and they arenothing 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 andthe huge amounts of good mulch, full of tannins, that they shed each year. If you've got a few oaksaround, your composting will be a lot easier. They're also great bird and animal habitats, and cancreate a whole ecosystem all by themselves. Even one oak will be a source of constantentertainment.

    This is an article, not a Yellow Pages for Trees, so I can't babble on forever about trees, but you getthe message.

    Some landscapes are so well planned you'd never guess how much effort went into them- Almostnone. Landscapers use natural forms to enhance landscape structures. The garden settings andgazebos, 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 withsoil, and ready to plant. All of this can be done to your taste, when you feel like doing it. You don'thave to kill yourself to have a great garden.

  • Remember- What you want is the object of your DIY landscaping. The less effort and manual laborinvolved, 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.