Mark Anderson, owner, Anderson’s Seed and Garden
Winter can seem to last forever in Cache Valley. During that cold, dark, and sometimes dreary period, I love to focus on the upcoming spring and what beauty and wonder nature will offer when it awakes. I know there will be days of hard work to prepare the garden or plant new flowers and plants, but just the anticipation makes winter go by quicker. Over the years, we have helped a lot of gardeners and homeowners design and build their own gardens, and have discovered a few basic guidelines that never lose their value. They may seem simple, but if you live by these landscaping rules, you will avoid headaches later.
Never plant a $100 tree in a $1 hole. This goes for vegetable, flower, trees, shrubs, or any other type of plant. How can we expect plants to thrive when we don’t prepare and improve the place they will grow? Often, I see trees and shrubs planted in holes that are barely the size of the pot in which they were purchased. The ultimate planting environment for those plants is two-to-three times the size of the pot. The soil removed from the hole should be cleaned of rocks (just the big ones; little rocks are good for drainage) and debris and amended with 25-to-30 percent of a well-composted soil enhancement (not manure). Most importantly, the new plant and its new home need supplemental microbes, microorganisms, and mycorrhizae added to the soil and root zone to build up its natural ability to gather and utilize water and nutrients.
When planting new gardens, always start with the largest plants first. For example, plant trees first, then shrubs, then perennials, and finally ground covers. This holds true for practical reasons and design principles alike. Visually, it is easier to compose the garden when you see the proportion of the largest elements after they are added to the “blank canvas.” From a practical perspective, while some gardeners would quickly understand that planting a large tree will allow space and room to work without damaging smaller plants in the process, many gardeners cannot resist the temptation to plant some smaller, easier, more colorful additions first. Resist that urge.
Masses of plants, especially smaller plants like flowers and perennials, look amazing compared to a few plants placed sparingly. Consider the beautiful tulip fields in Holland where of tulips catch the eye with amazing colors. Many gardeners plant one bulb every few feet and expect Holland-like results. Using a mass of the same plant in a garden design gives a very distinct and specific look that will make your design stand out.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Many times, we get so involved and determined about our design, our choice of plants, or a certain color scheme, that we forget that we are doing this for enjoyment. As my wife and I built our home and started to create our landscape, part of the fun was figuring it out together, realizing that we had made mistakes, fixing those mistakes, and then realizing we wanted something completely different as our family grew and our circumstances changed. We would sit down every winter and make a list of needs, wants, and wishes, and then start on the needs first. Then we would see how far we could get into the wants and wishes before the energy and money ran out. At the end of the year, we would assess our progress. It was always surprising how many needs and wants we could get done. Then we would make new plans and start all over again the next year. We never felt badly over what we didn’t do, but got excited about what we could accomplish together.
Yards and landscapes evolve over time. It’s an ongoing process, and, whether you like it or not, your landscaping job will never be finished, so enjoy the journey!