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GardenSMART Episode

Show #08/6708. Making A Space Come Alive - From A Tried Garden To An English Cottage Garden

Summary of Show

Converting A Tired Landscape
In this episode GardenSMART is taking a TIRED LANDSCAPE and converting it into an English cottage garden with the help of one of our favorite designers and many of our favorite plants. Good garden design starts with a vision for what the site can be, a healthy dose of creativity and a good working knowledge of plants.
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First Steps
Anytime Alex looks at a new project, the FIRST THING he does is take in the surroundings. Clearly when he first came into this neighborhood - it's very charming, it kind of feels like main street USA, which is great and the architecture is sort of arts and crafts. Some of the landscaping has age to it even though it's not that old.
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October Glory Maple
In order to create the right conditions for this cottage garden one of the first things he would do is look at the red OCTOBER GLORY MAPLE and realize that it’s going to be very difficult to grow anything under an October glory maple. The roots are very aggressive and very greedy, from a water point and they even stay on top of the ground, so that would be one of the first things that needs to go.
For More Information Click here

Edit Some Foundation Plantings
The little carissa holly hedge could potentially stay to provide a bit of a visual buffer. Then inventory some of the FOUNDATION PLANTINGS and more than likely remove some of the remaining holly even though they do provide some evergreen quality and help give some bones for the herbaceous stuff that's going in here. Alex also likes the coral bark maple it's a real jewel that would lend itself to being in this cottage garden situation.
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Removing Trees And Roots
They took the TREES OUT otherwise there was not going to be any way to realize an English cottage garden with the trees in place. There were an incredible amount of roots that had to be pulled out, about 25 wheelbarrow loads. Whenever you take a tree out, especially if you're going to be gardening make sure you go to the extra effort of grinding the stump.
For More Information Click here

Amending The Soil
Eric brought in a bunch of SOIL AMENDMENTS. It had about 70% aged, milled pine bark, 25% cow manure and about 10% sand. He then tilled that in multiple times with a tiller. Tilling the soil allowed him to get out more roots and rocks. The soil amendments went on top of that. He made sure that everything was evenly incorporated so he wouldn't have little patches where it had better drainage or worse drainage. Now it's a very uniform soil and it's ready to plant. Alex comments that oftentimes the soil is really poor, when that is the case they may excavate out some of the existing soil.
For More Information Click here

Steel Edging
Another thing Eric thinks is really important is they went ahead and put STEEL EDGING down because they were adding so much back into the yard, plus when you till the soil it gets nice and fluffy. So, he wanted to make sure, because this on a little bit of a slope, that this area didn't get significant erosion after putting all the effort into getting the soil right.
For More Information Click here

Pathways
Another important thing Eric wanted to make sure before starting planting was determining if he wanted PATHWAYS. If so, he needed to get them established so that when setting plants out they will know where the paths were going to be. Paths may not be a significant design element but they do aid in determining where the plants are going to go.
For More Information Click here

Laying Out The Plants
Eric and Alex are ready to start putting the plant design together. Eric has done many, many gardens in his career as a horticulturalist and there is always a moment when you have a blank slate. And that can be a little intimidating. Eric says he doesn’t do this occupationally the way Alex does thus enters into the stage with some fear and trepidation. Eric would like for Alex to talk about the process of STARTING THE DESIGN in his head. Whether it's sitting at the site or sitting in front of a piece of paper and figuring out what he's going to do? With this specific garden we're dealing with certain limitations.
For More Information Click here

Where Did Alex Start With Design Ideas
So how does Alex start? The first thing he did was go over the photographs Eric sent after the site had been cleared. That was very helpful. This is a very simple space, somewhat symmetrical, the house is very organized and when looking at the list of plants Alex started thinking about WORKING FROM THE FOUNDATION OUT. He started thinking about which plants are going to be sort of the anchors or the bones of the garden. He looked at the list of woody shrubs, looked at the roses, looked at things that will provide a little more verticality and a little more staying power than the herbaceous plants.
For More Information Click here

Placing The Plants
Eric and Alex have all PLANT MATERIALS SET OUT and it actually went a lot faster than expected. Eric feels that's because we've got the professional here and what a great eye Alex has. Alex appreciates that very much. It's always easier if you have a wide variety of plants and it's always good to have a plan to, at least, start. Normally when Alex draws a plan by the time he's finished drawing the plan he almost always has it committed to memory. He begins by laying the bones out and then begins placing plants by feel. Both Alex and Eric were doing that here.
For More Information Click here

Discussing The Plants-Color, Performance
Eric would like to talk about one little area. The COLORS are so much fun and he loves what's happening with the textures. It has a nice combination of flowering plants, evergreens, and varied foliage. Just kind of talk us through the way you were thinking about the design. Well, hydrangeas are very popular, limelight is one that's been on the market for several years, it's a true performer. So we've got a limelight hydrangea in one spot it can get upwards to, five by five or six by six. So it sort of dominates, thus wanted to put it in the corner as sort of an anchor.
For More Information Click here

More Formal Area
Last but not least are the plantings that are right up against the foundation. This area has a really nice kind of stack stone, almost wall like feature, which plays so well into the idea of an English cottage garden. So once again, it's a little more of a FORMAL ELEMENT. So on both sides they’ve lined it with beautiful roses. They’re going to provide a nice fragrance for guests sitting on the porch. Next to the roses there is a nice smattering of perennials and flowering woody shrubs.
For More Information Click here

Attracting Wildlife
Another thing Alex would like to mention that they didn't talk about is the mandevilla. They going to train it to grow up the ballister. In the time here today he has actually seen a couple of hummingbirds that have arrived on the scene to experience the salvias and other blooming plants.
For More Information Click here

LINKS:

Alex Smith Garden Design Limited
Alex Smith Garden Design, Ltd. | Residential garden/hardscape design and installation company dedicated to creating classic, timeless outdoor spaces

Colmet Edging
Colmet - Home

Plant List

Show #08/6708. Making A Space Come Alive - From A Tried Garden To An English Cottage Garden

Transcript of Show

In this episode GardenSMART is taking a TIRED LANDSCAPE and converting it into an English cottage garden with the help of one of our favorite designers and many of our favorite plants. Good garden design starts with a vision for what the site can be, a healthy dose of creativity and a good working knowledge of plants. For this garden we've pulled together a diverse array of new and exciting garden plants that are designed to provide year-round interest and bold combinations to enliven every corner we plant.

Determining where every plant goes is vital to creating a harmonious design, and for that we turn to our longtime friend and renowned garden designer, Alex Smith. Eric has admired his work for years and always been impressed with how he is able to seemingly, effortlessly transform a space into something that is not only beautiful, but also warm and inviting.

Eric meets Alex Smith, one of our favorite garden designers, to discuss this comprehensive landscape makeover. This is a pretty common, generic type of American suburb landscaping. There's nothing necessarily wrong with it, there are reasons why these landscapes work in certain settings but we want this to be an English cottage garden. And there are numerous, obvious impediments to that. Eric asks Alex to give his sense of what this scenario is and then how he would start to approach the project.

Anytime Alex looks at a new project, the FIRST THING he does is take in the surroundings. Clearly when he first came into this neighborhood - it's very charming, it kind of feels like main street USA, which is great and the architecture is sort of arts and crafts. Some of the landscaping has age to it even though it's not that old. There are some beautiful street trees in this neighborhood which gives it the look and feel that is desirable, but a cottage garden in this situation is very appropriate in Alex's mind, so he thinks Eric is definitely heading down the right path. Whenever he looks at a project like this he starts to inventory, mentally and on paper what he wants to keep and what he thinks should go.

In order to create the right conditions for this cottage garden one of the first things he would do is look at the red OCTOBER GLORY MAPLE and realize that it’s going to be very difficult to grow anything under an October glory maple. The roots are very aggressive and very greedy, from a water point and they even stay on top of the ground, so that would be one of the first things that needs to go. Some of the foundation plantings were more than likely put in when the house was built because they were readily available and they grow fast. Nothing necessarily wrong with them but when you get creative and want to do something kind of fun you might want to edit out some of these existing plants. Alex also thinks that by removing the maples it would free up the ability to properly amend the soil. Importantly, he’s not convinced that was done in the beginning.

The little carissa holly hedge could potentially stay to provide a bit of a visual buffer. Then inventory some of the FOUNDATION PLANTINGS and more than likely remove some of the remaining holly even though they do provide some evergreen quality and help give some bones for the herbaceous stuff that's going in here. Alex also likes the coral bark maple it's a real jewel that would lend itself to being in this cottage garden situation. Eric agrees it's a nice accent, it's spent years and years and years of not enough water, not enough fertilizer so with that tree he will limb it up a little bit, cut it back, rejuvenate it, see what we can do to really get it happy and healthy. When the soil is amended this space will have nice fertility, plus with regular irrigation that guy's going to perk right up.

The soil is going to be a big deal. We’ll need to get rid of some material in the yard. For example they're standing on giant roots which is a big part of the reason nothing grows under red maples. And the same goes for pretty nearly every oak tree. The little herbaceous plants can't compete with it. Also it's worth pointing out that this tree is designed to get 30 feet wide by 80 feet tall, yet was planted 10 feet from the foundation. Meaning there is also the potential that it could cause structural issues, crack the foundation, in time it's certainly going affect the sidewalks. So in the vision of where we want to take this design this will be the first thing that's got to go.

Alex meets Eric a week or so later and comments when they last met Eric was going to work on the soil and get it ready for some plants. Eric explains they spent all of last week getting this ready to plant and it was a lot of work.

They took the trees out otherwise there was not going to be any way to realize an English cottage garden with the trees in place. There were an incredible amount of roots that had to be pulled out, about 25 wheelbarrow loads. Whenever you take a tree out, especially if you're going to be gardening make sure you go to the extra effort of grinding the stump. Otherwise you're just delaying years and years and years of waiting for that thing to naturally rot. After they did that they brought in a little mini excavator and took out all the large shrubs. They needed the excavator to help get all the roots out and to loosen the soil up to where they can actually start prepping it. And soil prep is one of the most important steps for laying the foundation for a garden. Alex agrees it is the most important step, preparing the soil and bed is the best money one can spend. Alex encourages clients to put more money into the prep, then buy plants as they can afford them. And that’s because you can't do it later. Once everything's planted you're kind of stuck with what you've got and a lot of the success that people either do or don't have with their plantings has everything to do with the foundation that you lay. One can see how clean and open the front area is right now. They will have no trouble working the soil. But once the plants are in they’ll be kind of stuck.

Eric brought in a bunch of soil amendments. It had about 70% aged, milled pine bark, 25% cow manure and about 10% sand. He then tilled that in multiple times with a tiller. Tilling the soil allowed him to get out more roots and rocks. The soil amendments went on top of that. He made sure that everything was evenly incorporated so he wouldn't have little patches where it had better drainage or worse drainage. Now it's a very uniform soil and it's ready to plant. Alex comments that oftentimes the soil is really poor, when that is the case they may excavate out some of the existing soil. There is such a thing of having too much of a good thing, so it's nice that Eric brought in the soil amendments. But to then mix them in with the existing soil makes it even better. Now there is a fair amount of native soil, probably about 50-50. It's nice and loose and with the amendments it was about an even two inches of the blend across the entire top. They tilled down about six inches, about what the root system system of a perennial is going to be. So the soil amendments are incorporated really, really well.

Another thing Eric thinks is really important is they went ahead and put STEEL EDGING down because they were adding so much back into the yard, plus when you till the soil it gets nice and fluffy. So, he wanted to make sure, because this on a little bit of a slope, that this area didn't get significant erosion after putting all the effort into getting the soil right. The metal edging was more affordable than thought and will make sure everything stays put. And it looks great too, it's very functional and makes a really smart edge. So once they start to plant some of the herbaceous plants they’ll spill over the edges onto the sidewalk yet at the same time the edging acts as a barrier, so erosion doesn't come into play.

Another important thing, Eric wanted to make sure before starting planting was determining if he wanted PATHWAYS. If so he needed to get them established so that when setting plants out they will know where the paths were going to be. Paths may not be a significant design element but they do aid in determining where the plants are going to go. Also in this case he wanted some simple pathways to allow people to travel around either side of the house as well as access to the irrigation controllers around the right hand side. Paths provided access to that as well as the hose bibs and the rest of the garden around the left hand side. So simple paths provided that access.

Eric and Alex are ready to start putting the plant design together. Eric has done many, many gardens in his career as a horticulturalist and there is always a moment when you have a blank slate. And that can be a little intimidating. Eric says he doesn’t do this occupationally the way Alex does thus enters into the stage with some fear and trepidation. Eric would like for Alex to talk about the process of STARTING THE DESIGN in his head. Whether it's sitting at the site or sitting in front of a piece of paper and figuring out what he's going to do? With this specific garden we're dealing with certain limitations. And one finds that with any garden - whether it's the site, hardiness, conditions, etc. With this garden they'll have the limitation of the list of plants already chosen. Eric picked a bunch of his favorite plants - woody’s, perennials, ground covers, grasses, etc.

So how does Alex start? The first thing he did was go over the photographs Eric sent after the site had been cleared. That was very helpful. This is a very simple space, somewhat symmetrical, the house is very organized and when looking at the list of plants Alex started thinking about WORKING FROM THE FOUNDATION OUT. He started thinking about which plants are going to be sort of the anchors or the bones of the garden. He looked at the list of woody shrubs, looked at the roses, looked at things that will provide a little more verticality and a little more staying power than the herbaceous plants. Once he did that he started to organize the foundation plantings. Then because of this very nice central axis of a walkway acting as sort of a progression from the sidewalk he started thinking a little bit in terms of symmetry.

Alex knows that Eric wanted this to be a sort of a free flowing English cottage garden, which is wonderful and it very much lends itself to that. He did keep in mind that there were certain species on the list that had the quantities identified. So if they have four of these, it might be a good idea to do two and two coming in just to create a little bit of symmetry. Then when he went through the woody shrubs and the roses and things like that he started thinking about some different color combinations, which plants would look interesting blooming next to other plants. And he had some fun with that. There's a beautiful althea that looks sort of like a hibiscus that will get rather large with a blue flower. He also saw that Eric had Russian sage which is a really beautiful powdery blue herbaceous plant. That will be a fun combination and quite frankly one he has not done before. But that's part of the fun of being a garden designer and working in a garden, one can move things around and come up with different combinations. Alex is looking forward to helping lay this out.

Eric and Alex have all PLANT MATERIALS SET OUT and it actually went a lot faster than expected. Eric feels that's because we've got the professional here and what a great eye Alex has. Alex appreciates that very much. It's always easier if you have a wide variety of plants and it's always good to have a plan to, at least, start. Normally when Alex draws a plan by the time he's finished drawing the plan he almost always has it committed to memory. He begins by laying the bones out and then begins placing plants by feel. Both Alex and Eric were doing that here. They collaborated back and forth about what some different combinations would be and that's what's fun about garden design, especially in a cottage garden or herbaceous design like this one, you can really kind of have some fun shifting things around.

Eric would like to talk about one little area. The COLORS are so much fun and he loves what's happening with the textures. It has a nice combination of flowering plants, evergreens, and varied foliage. Just kind of talk us through the way you were thinking about the design. Well, hydrangeas are very popular, limelight is one that's been on the market for several years, it's a true performer. So we've got a limelight hydrangea in one spot, it can get upwards to five by five or six by six. So it sort of dominates, thus wanted to put it in the corner as sort of an anchor. With the coloration of the limelight starting out somewhat chartreuse then turning pure white and then fading back to chartreuse Alex thought it'd be really beautiful to play off a variegated grass. He thinks those two will work well in combination. The idea would be the limelight grows up big and then the grass will sort of commingle through it which will be nice.

In, the center part of this design there are some beautiful echinacea, then they've splashed in some gerber daisies and some phlox. Eric imagines when all of this is in bloom it's going to be quite electric. It's going to be a riot of color. Alex had not seen this particular weigela, which is a woody shrub and when he saw this echinacea called Cheyenne Spirit that has all the different hues of rust colored and orange and yellow he thought it worked really well with the foliage of the weigela and the orange of the of the gerber daisy. Then behind all this anchoring section of the design they have Scentlandia which is wonderfully fragrant, a little more compact, a great native. Alex is anxious to see what this one will do. It stays a little smaller which will create a wonderful combination between the foliage of the Japanese maple and the white flowers of the Itea and the variegated hostas. They will work really well together.

The entry way to this home is a very prominent feature, pretty much everyone that comes to visit is going to have to walk down this path. It was an important part of the the design. But how do we actually set off this architectural feature, the entry of the home. Eric has done a really nice job of adding something that is a little more formal because there's no getting around the formality of this straight edge pathway. Here they utilized some dwarf spireas to create sort of a pattern or succession of plants. They frame this central access or walkway and then thought it would be a great idea to have a nice assortment of sedums, ice plant and lysimachus, which is creeping jenny. What that does is form a beautiful tapestry of little creeping plants that will co-mingle and spill onto the path and really create a nice welcoming addition.

The next area discussed has a little bit higher elevation. There they went with a really nice collection of perennials, some coral, monarda, salvia and buddleia. Eric is loving the wine colored salvia, it's new, with an almost deep purple color. It’s really, really nice. Throughout spring to fall there will be a nice splash of color. And as one thing's coming on we'll get the next bloom from another plant. Sprinkled in are some nice coreopsis, two different varieties of Tickseed that are wonderful hardy perennials. They’ve also incorporated a few rosemary plants because Eric loves to cook. And, he's quite good at it. Having some rosemary intermixed also provides an evergreen quality and lends itself to this whole notion of being a cottage garden. There is some baptisia in the corner. It's a new variety that's yellow, will bloom really early, which will create a nice succession of blossoms.

The foliage of the baptisia has bluish, foliage which will be a nice contrast to the red menarda and the veronica and the salvias which have more of a traditional deep green. Thinking about the way foliage interacts with the garden is important, we must remember the bloom is very short on most plants. But the foliage you live with for the better part of the season. Plus Eric loves the seed pods on baptisia. They're great, don't cut them down after they bloom. Because it creates some seasonal interest.

Last but not least are the plantings that are right up against the foundation. This area has a really nice kind of stack stone, almost wall like feature, which plays so well into the idea of an English cottage garden. So once again, it's a little more of a FORMAL ELEMENT. So on both sides they’ve lined it with beautiful roses. They’re going to provide a nice fragrance for guests sitting on the porch. Next to the roses there is a nice smattering of perennials and flowering woody shrubs. The roses provide a nice backdrop and the stone provides a wonderful foil or backdrop to the roses. Moving down are some Encore azaleas which will provide a little bit of evergreen and some variegated lavender which Alex has not seen before. It’s new to Eric as well.

Moving down the driveway Alex notices a hydrangea. It's called Little Lime Punch. It will get a little bit of a burgundy hue as they mature. Eric thinks these provide some nice bones and create a sequence coming into the driveway. This is one of Eric’s favorite hydrangeas. It's a really nice, deep, deep pink and when in bloom it will have anything from deep pink to even like white to greenish-white flowers. It’s a more compact plant so will probably only get about four feet tall, so it's a really, really nice little allee for people driving in.

Another thing Alex would like to mention that they didn't talk about is the mandevilla. They are going to train it to grow up the ballister. In the time here today he has actually seen a couple of hummingbirds that have arrived on the scene to experience the salvias and other blooming plants. So he's thinking the word is out with the WILDLIFE that this yard is about to be open for business. It will be fun to watch as more and more arrive.

As Alex stated getting the soil right is such a huge part of building a successful garden. All the extra effort yielded a rich, fry-able foundation for our plants where they will thrive. As an added bonus, the planting process flew by as digging holes in this rich, light soil was a breeze. Now that we've got everything planted the roots will start taking hold and the new garden will spring to life.

Perhaps the thing Eric loves most about garden design is that everyone has their own unique creativity and that has the potential to make a space come alive and provide its own personality. Eric thanks Alex for spending time on this project. It’s always a pleasure hanging out and having the benefit of his expertise. Thanks Alex.

LINKS:

Alex Smith Garden Design Limited
Alex Smith Garden Design, Ltd. | Residential garden/hardscape design and installation company dedicated to creating classic, timeless outdoor spaces

Colmet Edging
Colmet - Home

Plant List

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FEATURED ARTICLE
GardenSMART Featured Article

By Joe Raboine, Director of Residential Hardscapes,
Photographs courtesy of Belgard

When designing outdoor spaces, most homeowners historically leaned towards traditional designs. But as outdoor living becomes a more integral part of daily life design concepts have changed. Belgrade has an interesting article that details some of the modern design ideas. Click here for an interesting article.

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