GardenSmart :: EPISODES :: 2009 show46
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SHOW #46/1807
Planning, Designing And Planting A Garden

PLOT PLAN- THE BEGINNING
And, the best place to start, once you have that idea in your head, is to GET IT ON PAPER. One of the first challenges is coming up with a plan that you can work from. It's important to have a plan, something that you can sketch your ideas on. Luckily you can go to the town hall, if a property owner, get a plot plan that you can use. The plot plan Bill has is small, thus on a scale where it's difficult to operate from. One couldn't get any meaningful design on this small piece of paper. But it's easy to find a copy type machine and blow this plan up to a workable scale. Bill's has been blown up to a scale where 1 inch on paper equals 10 feet on the ground. This is a nice size for planting design. If the scale is too big it's hard to work with because you will have this giant piece of paper; if the scale is too small, it's difficult to get design detail.

Click here for more info

CONCEPT FOR THE SPACE
WITH THE PLAN THE CORRECT SIZE, DEVELOP YOUR CONCEPT OF WHAT YOU WANT FOR THAT SPACE. In this case they had a septic system installed and looked at that as an opportunity to have a lawn where they could have events for wedding receptions, to set up tents and that sort of thing. So, the concept was fairly simple, just a lawn over the leech field with pathway systems through the raised areas where they will have sweeps of perennials with muted colors and some screening.

Click here for more info

SITE ANALYSIS
The next step is most helpful, DO A SIMPLE SITE ANALYSIS OF THE AREA, it doesn't need to be sophisticated, but think about things like where is the sun coming from, is there anything I want to screen from view, how am I going to move through the space, where are the different areas and different features, or are there views to emphasize? These are simple things but will help immensely in organizing the design.

Click here for more info

PATHWAY OR HARDSCAPE ELEMENTS
Once the site analysis is complete, then come up with THE PATHWAY OR HARDSCAPE ELEMENTS because as Bruce pointed out the hardscape and how you lay out the paths and rocks and walls and other features really define the space. If you get that right, if you like the area with no plants, if you like the way the paths are laid out, you will have a great garden once the plants are added. Bruce shows his plan with the path layout, which is based on how they figure people will move through the space. If you have something like this, and it doesn't need to be fancy, you can then show something like this to a good contractor and they'll be able to take it, run with it and put it in.

Click here for more info

ADDRESS PLANT MATERIAL
Once the path system, along with other elements you might want to add, is designed on paper you can START ADDRESSING PLANT MATERIAL. What Bill likes to do before adding plants is to come up with a long list of plants that he wants to use. You don't need to use them all but he finds it easier to work off a list, rather than trying to keep thinking of things. He finds the internet great for this, he can type in something pink and perennial into an image search and come up with a long list of different plants. By doing this he may find one that he hadn't thought of and that can be added to his list. He can then start roughly sketching things in, drawing blobs, putting one blob here, one there.

Click here for more info

PLANTS NEEDED
TO GET AN IDEA OF HOW MANY PLANTS HE WILL NEED it's helpful to take one more step. He has a simple circle template that can be purchased at a craft or art supply store. If you know your scale and if you know that a particular perennial is 24 inches wide once it's mature you can measure on that scale and get the right size circle. Then start drawing them in to get the spacing right. It's quick and relatively easy and is most helpful in planning the number of plants you will need for your plan. Bill also finds it helpful to color in the circles with the appropriate color. If it is a white flower, blue, etc, color that color in.

Click here for more info

PLANT PLACEMENT
Bill likes to take a decent size area and PLACE THE NEW PLANTS ON TOP OF THE SOIL while still in their containers. Bill and Joe start doing just that. Even though Bill has a written plan, everything was drawn out as to quantities and spacing, there is no sign of the plan in the field. And that is on purpose. Bill has the plan in his head, he knows basically where he wants the plants to be, but there are always rocks or other items in the space, things change as you go. Thus in reality the plants might be moved somewhat, or he may feel that he doesn't like the way something is working so he lays out all the plants before putting them in the ground.

Click here for more info

FORM AND TEXTURE
THE PERENNIALS IN THIS BED HAVE BEAUTIFUL FLOWERS BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY THEY HAVE FORM AND TEXTURE. And they all work together. Bill believes that foliage that is soft or bold, or has a coarse texture influences how one reads the garden, more so than the colors. That's because even the best perennials are only going to bloom for part of the season, but the leaves can be present throughout all the seasons. Therefore pair a coarse textured plant with fine textured plants, they will really set each other off. For example, pairing a coarse textured plant with Hubrict's Blue Star that is fine textured works well. Pairing Poa supina 'Supina Bluegrass' with Cimicifuga ramosa 'Brunette' Black Bugbane provides both the color difference and the textural difference. It's a nice way to create contrast. If one has a garden that's all medium texture your eye will read it as a big blob and boring.

Click here for more info

COMPOST
BILL WAITS UNTIL THEY START POKING OUT OF THE GROUND SO YOU KNOW WHERE THEY ARE AND DON'T STEP ON THEIR HEAD, to come in and put down an inch or so, at the most, of fresh mulch. It will keep that big layer on there, keeps the weeds out and makes it look fresh and clean for spring. At that time they also sprinkle a little granular fertilizer around the plants.

For more information about amending beds, adding mulch and nutrients:

Click here for more info

TAKE-AWAY
One of the things Bill finds hard himself is to just get started. WITH A PLAN IN PLACE IT PROVIDES THOSE STARTING POINTS, where to start, how to begin your landscape and garden. The plan helps you work through that process, it helps you think it through, so when it actually comes to putting plants in the ground, you've done a lot of the groundwork and it will go much more smoothly. The results here speak for themselves.

Click here for more info

LINKS:

Spruce Point Inn

Bruce Riddell - Land Art

Garden Smart Plant List

COMPLETE TRANSCRIPT OF THE SHOW.

Stunning flower beds, native plants and beautiful gardens - these are important elements in every Garden Smart show. But, there is often a tendency to overlook or forget the work that goes into the finished product. In this Episode we go behind the scenes at the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden (CMBG) and take a look at the plans and tools the pro's use in designing these beautiful gardens. Whether planning, designing, or even planting a garden, this show has garden lessons galore.
Bruce Riddell is first up. Bruce was involved in the design phase at CMBG. Bruce grew up in Maine, his interest in gardens developed during childhood looking at gardens with his grandfather who was an estate gardener in Bar Harbor and had studied at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh, Scotland. He had been recruited to come to Bar Harbor during the Great Cottage Era and worked on many large estates. Bruce grew up walking the grounds and admiring those gardens. After graduating with an undergraduate English degree Bruce took a summer job and coincidentally worked on the McCormick Estate which was one of the gardens his grandfather had worked on in the 1970's. With encouragement from the McCormick family Bruce went back to study at the Univ. of Pennsylvania where received a Masters degree in Landscape Architecture. After that he went to work for Oehme van Sweden & Associates in Washington, DC. The firm is best known for their New American Garden Style, which is mixing ornamental grasses and perennials with native plant materials in naturalistic settings. After 8 and 1/2 years Bruce decided to return to Maine and started his own design firm which he calls Land Art. He designs large estate gardens as well as a few public parks such as the Charlotte Roads Butterfly Garden and the Veteran's Park, both located in Southwest Harbor. He tries to design the gardens from the ground up. He usually starts with the hardscape - which is the placement of stone and boulders, creating terraces, walkways and walls as well as placement of other elements within the garden. All will frame the plants throughout the season. Bruce hopes that he has not developed a theme of his own, rather he tries to design all his gardens to reflect the unique tastes of his clients, the site and the environment.
Bruce has some suggestions for home gardeners when designing their gardens. Whether designing terraces, walkways, even a small terrace to surround your house, look at how the stonework and hardscape will frame that garden throughout the seasons, then develop a planting plan. Also remember that the scale when laying out terraces and walkways must be much larger because the plants, sooner or later, will close in over the edges and actually shrink it down. Joe thanks Bruce for the information, says good by and is off to meet Bill Cullina.
Bill Cullina is the Plant Curator at the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden. In addition to being Plant Curator he oversees the development of this garden. This is the perfect job for him, it fits with his interests and his background. He studied landscape architecture and horticulture in college. When some hear of a landscape architect they think that person knows about laying out paths and drainage but not so much about plants. Bill didn't want to fall into that category, thus studied horticulture at the same time because he feels it's important to learn about soils, fertilization, all the things that have to do with the living part of the garden, the parts that make the garden great.
Before the gardens were built at CMBG they had a master plan which is basically looking at everything they want to do and coming up with a plan that details how everything knits together. This allows them to do different parts at different times, but it all works as a whole.
But in the home setting most don't have the kind of discipline nor the background that Bill does. We typically go to the nursery, look around, see that plant in bloom and think that is something that will look great in our garden. Then we get home and don't have the place picked out for it and we end up plunking it wherever we can find room. That is not the best plan. Bill, too, has been there. Someone might give him a plant and he will stumble around looking for a place to put it. But whether ten square feet or a thousand square feet it does pay, before you buy the plants, to step back, look at the big picture, look at the site conditions, look at how you want to move through the space, all of those things, before shopping for plants.
And, the best place to start, once you have that idea in your head, is to GET IT ON PAPER. One of the first challenges is coming up with a plan that you can work from. It's important to have a plan, something that you can sketch your ideas on. Luckily you can go to the town hall, if a property owner, get a plot plan that you can use. The plot plan Bill has is small, thus on a scale where it's difficult to operate from. One couldn't get any meaningful design on this small piece of paper. But it's easy to find a copy type machine and blow this plan up to a workable scale. Bill's has been blown up to a scale where 1 inch on paper equals 10 feet on the ground. This is a nice size for planting design. If the scale is too big it's hard to work with because you will have this giant piece of paper; if the scale is too small, it's difficult to get design detail.
Top

WITH THE PLAN THE CORRECT SIZE, DEVELOP YOUR CONCEPT OF WHAT YOU WANT FOR THAT SPACE. In this case they had a septic system installed and looked at that as an opportunity to have a lawn where they could have events for wedding receptions, to set up tents and that sort of thing. So, the concept was fairly simple, just a lawn over the leech field with pathway systems through the raised areas where they will have sweeps of perennials with muted colors and some screening.
Top

The next step is most helpful, DO A SIMPLE SITE ANALYSIS OF THE AREA, it doesn't need to be sophisticated, but think about things like where is the sun coming from, is there anything I want to screen from view, how am I going to move through the space, where are the different areas and different features, or are there views to emphasize? These are simple things but will help immensely in organizing the design.
Top

Once the site analysis is complete, then come up with THE PATHWAY OR HARDSCAPE ELEMENTS because as Bruce pointed out the hardscape and how you lay out the paths and rocks and walls and other features really define the space. If you get that right, if you like the area with no plants, if you like the way the paths are laid out, you will have a great garden once the plants are added. Bruce shows his plan with the path layout, which is based on how they figure people will move through the space. If you have something like this, and it doesn't need to be fancy, you can then show something like this to a good contractor and they'll be able to take it, run with it and put it in. Bill often goes out with a little white survey flag, you could use hoses, anything similar to stake it out or show the pathways; this will help you lay out the paths.
Top

Once the path system, along with other elements you might want to add, is designed on paper you can START ADDRESSING PLANT MATERIAL. What Bill likes to do before adding plants is to come up with a long list of plants that he wants to use. You don't need to use them all but he finds it easier to work off a list, rather than trying to keep thinking of things. He finds the internet great for this, he can type in something pink and perennial into an image search and come up with a long list of different plants. By doing this he may find one that he hadn't thought of and that can be added to his list. He can then start roughly sketching things in, drawing blobs, putting one blob here, one there. On his plan he points out that he has screening plants, large conifers on the side, and some woody plants and sweeps of perennials.
Top

TO GET AN IDEA OF HOW MANY PLANTS HE WILL NEED it's helpful to take one more step. He has a simple circle template that can be purchased at a craft or art supply store. If you know your scale and if you know that a particular perennial is 24 inches wide once it's mature you can measure on that scale and get the right size circle. Then start drawing them in to get the spacing right. It's quick and relatively easy and is most helpful in planning the number of plants you will need for your plan. Bill also finds it helpful to color in the circles with the appropriate color. If it is a white flower, blue, etc, color that color in. That way it is easy to see that you have a lot of white, etc. in any given area. And when complete count all the plants, make your list, take it to the nursery and get your plants. You can get started.
The guys next go outside to get started. They're at the edge of what will be their newest garden, the Garden of the Five Senses. Although this is a big project, it is obvious that they're doing what we just discussed, they're laying out the paths, building the stone walls, getting the bones of the garden and the hardscape done, all the preparation done. Then they'll come back at the end and put in the plants. So, big or small the process is the same.
The next space is the space we just viewed on paper. This is the actual garden, the paths are in and it's easy to see that they define the space. Before it was just huge mounds of fill soil and wood chips; now that the paths are in it defines the beds and they're getting ready to put in the plants. They have also brought in a lot of soil amendments, adding about a 6 inch layer of good compost over the whole area. Whether buying in bulk or in the bag putting your money in good compost, especially when dealing with poor soil is prudent. It's very important for the plants. They have a lot of great plants coming in and Bill wants to give them the best possible growing environment and the best way to do that is to provide the best soil possible.
Top

Bill likes to take a decent size area and PLACE THE NEW PLANTS ON TOP OF THE SOIL while still in their containers. Bill and Joe start doing just that. Even though Bill has a written plan, everything was drawn out as to quantities and spacing, there is no sign of the plan in the field. And that is on purpose. Bill has the plan in his head, he knows basically where he wants the plants to be, but there are always rocks or other items in the space, things change as you go. Thus in reality the plants might be moved somewhat, or he may feel that he doesn't like the way something is working so he lays out all the plants before putting them in the ground. When designing on paper or when laying the plants out the question of - where do I start - frequently pops up. Bill likes to start with something structural whether a tree or a shrub or a grouping of shrubs. In this case the Phytolacca americana 'Silberstein variegated pokeweed is a large perennial. He starts laying those out and works in and around towards the edges. The Amsonia hubrichtii 'Arkansas Blue Star' gets high when mature so he considered that and how it will look with the other plants. The plan was more conceptual, here he can tweak the plan. Bill works sort of a triangular pattern. He doesn't plant in straight lines, instead he plants how one would find plants in nature, thus does try to work in triangles which helps keep plants from ending up with a bunch of straight rows. He will frequently step back when planting to make sure that things aren't looking like they are in straight rows. The straight lines make it look too contrived, especially with a naturalistic looking bed like this which is alongside a curved pathway. It would really look out of place. They discuss some of the other plants. The goal was to keep the palettes rather subdued with yellow, white, pink and blue, colors that tie it together and unite the garden as a whole. The colors will also work beautifully as a wedding and reception kind of garden.
Bill's goal was to work with the topography, bringing in drifts of plants going across the slopes. This is the case with the Perovskia atriplicifolia Russian sage which seems to flow with the bed and slope. The Echinacea purpurea 'White Swan' White Coneflower on the other hand isn't a continuous weave and that was by design. One doesn't always have to have a whole line of something, but often your eye will read it that way. If there is a clump here and a clump there and you pick it up farther down the way, then even further, your eye will read that as a repeating pattern. One sees that all the time in nature. You will see something, then something completely different, then something completely different, it gives a more natural and more finished look. It knits it all together.
Top

THE PERENNIALS IN THIS BED HAVE BEAUTIFUL FLOWERS BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY THEY HAVE FORM AND TEXTURE. And they all work together. Bill believes that foliage that is soft or bold, or has a coarse texture influences how one reads the garden, more so than the colors. That's because even the best perennials are only going to bloom for part of the season, but the leaves can be present throughout all the seasons. Therefore pair a coarse textured plant with fine textured plants, they will really set each other off. For example, pairing a coarse textured plant with Hubrict's Blue Star that is fine textured works well. Pairing Poa supina 'Supina Bluegrass' with Cimicifuga ramosa 'Brunette' Black Bugbane provides both the color difference and the textural difference. It's a nice way to create contrast. If one has a garden that's all medium texture your eye will read it as a big blob and boring.
Bill comments that the Sticta pulmonaria 'Lungwort' in the south is a plant that thrives in the shade and doesn't do well in full sun, while clearly here in Maine it is in full sun and will thrive. The reason is that the sun in the south is much more intense. Thus Lungwort here, because of the cooler temperatures and because the sun isn't as hot, does well in the sun, it can almost take full sun. And that is something that must be considered when choosing plants. Try to pick plants that are suitable for your situation.
As they view the plants further up the hill they have ferns and other plants that are more adapted to full shade under trees. No matter where one lives it's important to put the right plant in the right place. One can't take a cookie cutter approach to design. A lot of that comes from experience and from talking with friends that have experience with plants. Oftentimes, to know how something will grow, one must simply try it yourself. To make the process more confusing the labels can be deceiving because they could be describing conditions in other areas. For example, what might grow in full sun here might very well not grow in full sun in Atlanta, it would cook. Thus experience is often the best teacher.
The guys look at the bed on the opposite side of the path. This bed is similar to the one just visited but this has been completely planted, the plants are out of their containers and in the ground and Bill has added mulch. Once in, they added fertilizer and have added compost because the soil here was poor. They're trying a new product which is a a mulch blended with compost about 50/50, a bark mulch with compost. The idea is that it will do all the good things that mulch does, suppress weeds, conserve moisture, cool the soil, give it a nice finished look but it also has nutrients. One of the problems when you put down, especially wood based mulches, pine straw, things like that, is they tend to lock up some of the nutrients in the soil for a while, this new product will hopefully circumvent that issue.
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Once it breaks down it frees up those nutrients to replenish the soil but because it is organic material and does break down you do need to come back periodically and add a fresh amount to replenish the nutrients. In the spring, with perennials, BILL WAITS UNTIL THEY START POKING OUT OF THE GROUND SO YOU KNOW WHERE THEY ARE AND DON'T STEP ON THEIR HEAD, to come in and put down an inch or so, at the most, of fresh mulch. It will keep that big layer on there, keeps the weeds out and makes it look fresh and clean for spring. At that time they also sprinkle a little granular fertilizer around the plants.
For more information about amending beds, adding mulch and nutrients:

Top

One of the things Bill finds hard himself is to just get started. WITH A PLAN IN PLACE IT PROVIDES THOSE STARTING POINTS, where to start, how to begin your landscape and garden. The plan helps you work through that process, it helps you think it through, so when it actually comes to putting plants in the ground, you've done a lot of the groundwork and it will go much more smoothly. The results here speak for themselves.
But no matter how much prep and planning when placing those plants it requires tweaking. The same thing can be done with mature plants, if that plant isn't happy, it's better to dig it up and move it because when it is in the right place it will look its best. Bill finds that no matter how he likes the design on paper, how he likes it when planted, he always comes back in a few years and says maybe I'll add this here or move this over here. But it's a lot easier once you've got the good bones down, the paths the way you like them, everything the way you like, you can then go back and tweak until you get it just right.
Good advice Bill. Thanks for your time and expert advice. You've done a wonderful job at the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden, it is a testament to your planning and horticultural abilities.
Top

LINKS:

Spruce Point Inn

Bruce Riddell - Land Art

Garden Smart Plant List

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