Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Destination in the Garden

Your garden may be large, small, medium, divided, split, on the side, in the back, or in a courtyard. Where ever your garden grows, there is a reason for visiting it. This is the focal point, or destination. It is the attraction that draws your neighbors to meet you, to stop on their walk and admire, to sit a spell.

Pictured here are a couple more examples of focal points in the garden landscape. To the left is a simple stone bench with a piece of stone the garden owner considered important. The gardener set the white stone off, i.e. highlighted the white, with the dramatic dark green spikes of coral yucca and its coral, hummingbird attracting flowers. Imagine you are looking at this garden from the street on your evening walk and you are caught by the stone and yucca. You slow down, if you know your neighbors, you stop to sit at the bench-exactly what it is for. By sitting on the bench you can enjoy the rest of this bountiful garden. You want to enjoy it to learn what these great hearty plants are blooming in the heat of Austin's summer. In the foreground from left to right: lipstick red canna lily, fall aster (to bloom end of summer), a single purple coneflower in the foreground with the flower above the purple heart, purple heart, sago palm, datura (night blooming for moonlit garden strolls).

Also notice in this plan the ample pathway. The path serves as a way to move through the garden as well as a line of sight or "axis." More on axis and line of sight to come. But understand this, the path or line of sight generally leads your eye to the focal point.

Here is another example of a focal point. What is drawing your attention in this garden? Not only from the point of view of the photo, but from the house. The house is on the right, imagine you are looking into the garden from the back porch of the house, what would you be looking at? The blue pot on the pedestal with a pindo palm planted in it. The focal point is something very different from the rest of the garden. This object is clearly important and an object that most of us would want to inspect more closely. What kind of palm is that-you don't see one of those everyday? What is that pot sitting on (a block of limestone)? Is that a ceramic pot or plastic pot? All questions subliminally worked into the wonderful plan to get you into the garden.

Again, with this example, there is a nice wide path to maneuver through the garden. The path also allows a line of sight to the entertaining area as well as space to move food and/or drinks to the dinning area. Another basic idea of garden design is the 'gateway' effect, demonstrated here with the two fan palms flanking the entrance to the dinning area. This gate, or door way delineates one space from another. Thus, the idea of outdoor 'rooms.'

In most garden designs, the focal point, or destination, is where the plan begins. Think about what you want to do in your garden. Do you want a dinning area, a reading bench, or a water feature? Or, have you received a piece of garden art that needs a home. Walk around your yard, feel where you want that destination to be. Stand or sit in the rooms of the house you use most and look out the windows. Are there spots in the yard that you watch the most? Or are there spots on the other side of your yard you want to disguise or draw attention away from? This spot may be the place where you build your gazebo, pond, or plant that beautiful flowering tree. Mark that element on your site plan and then work your garden around that.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Beginning your new Garden Design

One of my jobs here in Austin is as a Garden Design Instructor at the Art School at Laguna Gloria and in the GoNativeU Program at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Over the years of teaching these courses, I have worked to simplify the design process for those homeowners that may not have a design background. These folks want to take an active role in creating their own unique landscape that suits their needs and beautifies the community. The basic concepts can help everyone understand what makes a good design plan and can get you on the way to re-working your outdoor environment.

There are three basics design principles to work with when planning a new garden. 1. Focal Point or Destination in the garden. 2. Axis, line of sight, or view corridors. 3. Scale, or relationship of size of objects to one another.

Before beginning the definition of these principles, have your property site plan at hand ready to sketch in the components. I recommend to my students that they start with the site plan they received when they purchased their property. Have this enlarged to a scale of 1/4" equal to 1'. This large size makes drawing and labeling plants and objects easy to read. We call the enlarged plan the base plan. We then will use tracing paper laid over the base to begin the idea process.

On your base plan, you will have to mark in the fixed items that will not be removed from your landscape. These would be items like mature trees, sheds, workshops, concrete patios, walkways, utility boxes, A/C units, or water faucets. The point being, you want to know where all permanent items are in your plan so you will not try to design over them. Next you will need to notate North on your base. This is in order to study and understand where the arc of the sun is on your property. The sunlight hours will greatly influence plant selection. Also notate where shade falls from the house and from large trees. Another important element to notate on your base is where water is common. Do you have rain gutters or not? Where does the rain rush or sit on your property? Or do you have slopes and outcrops to be aware of? Having a good feeing for the environment of your property will help you understand the work process on the land and help select plants that will thrive.

Now that the base is set, here are the basics of design that will give you an understanding of what makes a great landscape design. A focal point is the object of interest in your garden. What is the reason you like to go into your garden? What is the destination in your garden? Examples could be: gazebos, sculpture, fountain, fancy pot, reading bench, entertainment area, or a specimen plant. A specimen is a special plant that normally would on be one of. Normally this would be something really showy, or something very unusual. For instance: a redbud, peach tree, or weeping yaupon. Have you received a nice chair, pot, or tree as a gift lately? Or have you had a special item or spot in mind in the yard that you have wanted to place or beautify? This would be your focal point. Now, where do you want to see that focal point? Do you want it to be found from the front sidewalk? Do you want to see it from inside the house? Where ever you want to see or experience your destination, mark or circle that area on your base site plan.

I will continue additional steps in future posts.

If you are interested in personal instruction, I encourage you to look at these websites to learn more about classes offered in the Austin area.
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center hosts the GoNativeU program which is coordinated by the UT Informal Classes. Class times and descriptions can be found on the Willdflower Center web site:

The Art School at Laguna Gloria is part of the Austin Museum of Art. In addition to Garden Design Classes, the Art School offers a variety of traditional and computer based art classes for adults and children. I have a weekend class coming up in April.