“Natural” might be the key when viewing landscape

The third week of August is a good time evaluate your landscape style. If mowing, blowing and trimming all summer long has you considering a condo, maybe a fresh look at your garden style can keep you happy in your home.

  • Tuesday, August 18, 2009 12:41am
  • Life

The Compleat

Home Gardner

The third week of August is a good time evaluate your landscape style. If mowing, blowing and trimming all summer long has you considering a condo, maybe a fresh look at your garden style can keep you happy in your home.

The “naturalistic” garden style is making a comeback all across the country but nowhere is it more suited to the climate than here in Western Washington. Our tall, native evergreens give plenty of shade and the needles that fall combined with the winter rains create a soil that is naturally acid – and naturally preferred by beautiful, blooming evergreens like rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias.

You can cut back on maintenance by going natural with something as simple as the shape of your lawn and beds, the types of plants you add or subtract and the type of pathway and patio materials you use.

Five Steps for a more Natural Landscape

1. Start small if you’re redesigning a traditional landscape.

Something as simple as removing sections of brown lawn where the sprinklers don’t reach and replacing with gravel and drought-resistant sedums can give your lawn shape more curves and less geometry – the start of a more naturalistic landscape.

If your lawn struggles under the shade of giant cedar or fir trees, plant native salal, sword ferns or ajuga groundcovers. Less lawn and means less mowing and less water.

2. Use plants to smother weeds

Nature abhors naked ground and so the empty space between neatly trimmed shrubs will constantly be reseeded with whatever is blowing in the wind. Create beds with tiers or levels of plant growth, with vegetation so thick that the weeds don’t stand a chance – either that or a planting bed so diverse that you can simply call all your weeds wild flowers.

I like to underplant my giant rhododendrons with shade-loving woodland plants like trilliums, brunnera, saxifrage and lamiums. Planting in the petticoat zone under the skirts of other shrubs creates a carpet of color and texture that changes with the seasons – but is surprisingly low in maintenance. Right now the low-growing campanula with blue, cup-shaped flowers has twined into my lamium ‘Golden Anniversary’ and this dynamic duo is not only colorful but tough enough to hide any underground tunnels from burrowing moles and mice. If there are any weeds in this mixture of low-growing plants, I can’t see them.

3. Choose trees and shrubs with great figures

Some plants need trimming and some are naturally well-behaved. Your garden can have the look of a well-maintained estate just by choosing trees and shrubs that are naturally tidy.

Look for evergreen shrubs with the name “columnaris” such as the Ilex ‘Sky Pencil” or narrow and upright Spartan juniper. Barberries, cedar and arborvitae also come in compact, tidy forms that will grow upward rather than outward. Contrast these with shrubs that have beautiful branching structures and require no trimming. The Doublefile Viburnum and the Shasta Viburnum are two deciduous shrubs that offer pristine white spring blooms, healthy green foliage and red fall berries. Both have beautifully spaced horizontal branches that look as if a professional gardener has been making weekly visits.

4. Put in more natural pathways

We live in one of the few places where cedar wood chips are available and inexpensive. Place cardboard or newspaper over your sad lawn or weedy path and smother it with cedar chips or cedar shavings for a natural-looking woodland path. Add a curve in the pathway around taller trees and shrubs to lead the eye out to the garden. Cedar chips last for five to seven years in my garden and not only keep down the weeds but cedar repels fleas and other insects. I never have to sweep or pressure-wash my wood chip pathways but I do rake fallen branches and debris to tidy them up once every spring. You can edge your wood chip pathways with fallen logs, timbers or rocks that you dig up from the garden.

5. Celebrate our native plants

Vine maples light up the fall garden with yellow foliage, sword fern will carpet the ground with evergreen color even in dry shade, huckleberries and Oregon grape attract birds with berries that even humans can eat and there lots of perennial plants from coral bells to iris that are also native to Western Washington. Local nurseries are now offering more native plants as interest in using less water and fertilizer increases the demand for the plants that nature intended.

If you’re lucky enough to have a wooded area in your landscape than sometimes all it takes to create a garden is to add a path through the natural vegetation. Place a bench or bird house along your new path and enjoy nature instead of clearing nature. Now you can enjoy a garden full of magic instead of maintenance.

• • •

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site, www.binettigarden.com.

Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.

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