Garden grasses are for more than lawns

ornamental grass design

Mixed grasses offer textural and colorful effects that move gracefully in the breeze.

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Gardens love grasses!

The number of garden grasses is awesome. They are more than lawns. We tend to think of grass as the accepted way to grow a lawn, but although most lawns are comprised of low-growing grass types of plants, not all lawns have to be grass based.

Lawns

You can have a lawn of other green groundcovers, like Dichondra or even thyme or mint. Tough grass lawns have been cultivated for resistance to heavy foot traffic and different mixes are adapted to a wide range of climates and uses. All require a fair amount of water to grow well. Lack of rain and the need to supplement water have encouraged the development of new drought-tolerant mixes. Look for brands like Pearl’s Premium Lawn Seed and EcoLawn. Less formal varieties have also found their place in lawns like Blue Grama, Buffalo and Black Gamma that have afforded a resilient lawn with less irrigation, even if they are less neat and low-growing.

Ornamentals

In addition to low-growing lawn grasses there are all kinds of ornamental kinds available. You can use them in flower gardens, in like-kind gardens, wild lawn effects or even as focal points in the landscape. Ornamental varieties look perfect near rocks, dry riverbeds, water features and fountains. They can be lined up like soldiers to define the edge. Or use them to outline a formal garden. They can also ramble over the landscape creating a completely natural look.

Although they do not have colorful flowers, some have dramatic inflorescences (arrangements of insignificant-looking blooms). Some inflorescences fluff out decoratively and make splendid 10-second cat toys! Pampas grass is probably one of the best known ornamental favorites. But as it self-seeds so readily in some parts of the country that it has been declared a garden pest.

Use for interesting foliage

There are, however, many other garden grasses with better manners that you can try.  Try Miscanthus for tall colorful foliage that comes in varieties with a great selection of marvelous patterns and colors. Fountain grasses come in reds, greens, and even black-flowered, as well as large and small sizes. (Watch out for the large green ones: they self-seed like crazy!)  Blue tints are available in fescues, oat and lyme grasses. And the Carix family offers plants with blades fine as hair, thick as a finger, curly, straight and in almost every color.

Consider adding garden grasses to your landscape. They are easy-care plants that sway gracefully with breezes, adding motion to your landscape design. Look for decorative grasses that will grow well in your climate and exposure. Some stay small, others grow wide or tall. There are so many interesting types, you are likely to find the vertical growth habit will be an asset to your landscape, no matter what design you have. Enjoy the possibilities of grasses, for lawns and for much more!

Gardening is a living thing

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growing world

The Earth is a growing place!

Gardening is a living thing and as with all living things, nothing stays the same. We tend to perceive life through our experiences and often think what is now will always be – even if our logic tells us it isn’t so. But still we plant a garden and expect all the good parts to stay the same while we focus our attention on the parts we want to change. Now that we are beginning to accept even the weather patterns may be moving away from the expected, our view on gardening – like many other parts of our lives – has to become more flexible, too.

Also, because gardening is a living thing, to have a successful landscape means to expect a fair amount of trial and error. Every plant and every planning space is unique. Although a friend, neighbor – or even a trusted plant expert – may assure you that what has grown easily for him/her will do fine in your garden, it is never guaranteed. Experience has shown that one particular kind of plant that grows well in the same garden can languish in another, even though conditions appear to be the same. As if that’s not enough to rock our sense of security in the landscape, we have to deal with the fact that each plant, just like each person, is a little different. So it is entirely possible that an individual plant will be stronger, weaker or grow a little differently than others of the same type. Then there is the fact that even if the plants behave as expected, their surroundings may not. Pests can suddenly discover even long-time residents. It took years before the gophers in my garden area discovered (and destroyed) a group of roses and all the agaves on the hill (all untouched for over a dozen years). And once the ground squirrels happened by my outdoor vegetable patch that grew unmolested for over five years, no amount of protection could save the edibles from decimation. Sun exposures change, too, as surrounding trees grow or structures are added or removed.

If you love gardening, then the quirkiness of designing and maintaining a garden is half the fun. Nothing is entirely predictable. Some of the most exciting events happen when a plant that isn’t supposed to grow well thrives anyway, or a favorite plant seeds itself into perfect locations you’d never considered.

Part of acknowledging that gardening is a living thing is realizing that even the best areas will die or be overgrown in parts. Weather or pests can make a mess of well-controlled gardens. Trees or large shrubs are likely to grow in ways you didn’t count on. And most of all, no matter how long it took you to put your garden together, it will take no time at all for it to look awful if neglected!

When bigger issues impact our gardens – like the climate change we seem to be experiencing, being flexible can seem more daunting. Many people have given up on their gardens and lawns feeling overwhelmed by the impact of drought, flooding and temperature changes.

But we gardeners can be flexible and allowing our property to die off and become dust bowls will not only cheat us out of the joys of gardening, but will actually exacerbate the problem. Clearing land or leaving dead lawns then covering the surface with seas of gravel, cement or nothing at all will create heat sinks (or heat islands).

bad gravel landscaping

Poorly designed oceans of gravel create ugly landscapes that are bad for the home and bad for the environment.

Heat sinks reflect sun and raise temperatures around and in your home as well as in the outdoor environment. These lifeless areas do not help balance the oxygen and CO2 in the air (as plants do), lower humidity by denying the moisture provided by leaf transpiration, and encourage increasing winds to whip through uncontested. With heavy rain, such areas quickly erode away. If human beings are going to survive in high numbers on this planet, we need to take responsibility for the space we occupy. Ironically, this means gardening is a good thing so long as we make provisions for our needs, our aesthetic desires and the environment. This is not hard to do, but it does mean we have to look at a larger picture, design landscapes we can love – and so can the wildlife, our neighbors and Mother Earth.

There are millions of designs possible to create a dream garden that can improve our living conditions and help maintain nature’s balance. Start looking into all the possibilities a harmonious garden can offer. Ask for advice or hire labor when you need it. It is no longer “gardening-as-usual”. Start with the little things you already have. Don’t give up. Gardening is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself, your family, pets, and property. Design something new and exciting. Or start by just working with what you currently have. Either way, there are rewards for gardening with respect for living changes; your landscape will look better, be more productive, require less labor, save you money and be more fun to enjoy.

Romantic pool

A romantic swimming pool blends with the look and climate of this landscape.

Hot dry garden

Hot, dry climates can be homes to beautiful gardens, too.

Try to schedule regular upkeep in your landscape. Do the small things as an excuse to get out of the house or take a break from work. Gardening is a wonder-drug for the mind and body. It will also keep the little problems in the garden from becoming big ones. Call in regular help so maintenance doesn’t get away from you. Calling in a good gardener, landscaper, tree trimmer or other expert at least annually will keep the garden healthy and keep big issues from becoming even bigger. And expect to review your garden every few years to decide what areas are working and which ones are not. Climate changes happen, events occur, and even your lifestyle will likely be different as time goes on. Again, gardening is a living thing! Keep adjusting your garden so it works for you, not against you. We human beings have something in common with our landscapes: we are both alive and constantly changing. Adjusting for those changes makes for a better quality of life. And, for better or worse, it sure keeps things from getting boring!

Growing the ‘New Climate’ garden

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rain clouds

A well designed garden will thrive with rain or drought.

As the weather becomes more extreme all over the world, polar ice caps melt, technology shrinks distance with instant communications and the biggest population of human beings ever to walk the earth are now traveling from one place to the next transporting lifeforms of all types planet-wide, Mother Nature is finding her own ways to adapt to a changing world. We can individually reclaim harmony and sanity with a sustainable garden to adapt to nature’s changes.

mixed vegetables

A crop of mixed vegetables from a small garden

We need to look at the bigger picture. Gardening, something too many people are ignoring in the frantic demands of everyday scheduling, is quietly becoming one of humanity’s greatest tools for survival. Food production is changing. Profitability has thus far triumphed over sustainability and long term human health. So avoiding chemical and hormonal additives as well as eating nourishing fruits and vegetables is now a project for each individual. Chemical pollution (plenty of which is added by the home gardener) threatens water resources – again something we individuals can impact. And so many diseases are being traced back to the stress we impose on ourselves – another area where our gardens can help us heal.

Whether your local area is experiencing cold, heat, dry or wet weather, you can grow a garden that will help you and your family to grow a ‘New Climate’ garden that can make a difference to your quality of life. You can deal with extreme weather by designing good drainage and places to trap and store water.

rain barrel

Rain barrels can blend with attractive landscapes.

You can build in protected areas to shelter your favorite plants from too much cold or heat and even recycle old tubs and glass shower doors, turning them into protective vegetable gardens or cloches to extend your food growing season. (Recycling will save you from having to buy new materials while increasing trash in your home or in landfills.) Add decorative umbrellas or overhangs to provide shade from hot sun. Or plant in pots (or creative recycled containers like old sinks, broken fountains or even old toilets for a bit of humor) in sunny spots in gardens that have too much shade.

 

Comfortable outdoor chairs

These outdoor chairs beckon visitors to relax comfortably in the sunshine.

Look to your garden to extend your living space, add a place for rest and relaxation, meditation, play, hobbies, entertainment, outdoor rooms, sports and whatever else can give your mind and body a chance to heal from daily stress. There is always some nook you can fill with herbs, a dwarf fruit tree in a pot, a favorite vegetable – or a whole vegetable garden for fresh, healthy food. Surround yourself with beauty. In our fast-paced techno-society we are losing the magic of fine arts, replacing them with quick, cheap forms of immediate gratification and we seem to be finding ourselves more impatient, angry and frustrated than ever. Surround yourself with the shapes and colors of nature’s garden and in will fly birds to supply natural music and butterflies to brighten your heart. We are learning how very important ‘mindfulness’ is to our mental and physical health. Ironically, we have everything we need provided for us naturally. We can then add our human ingenuity to create works of art, spaces for fun and activity and centers for delicious food, rest and relaxation and places to share our ideas, laughter and love.

backyard entertaining

Design your yard to entertain.

Yes, the ‘New Climate’ may be changing the weather, but it’s larger than that: it is a loss of being grounded to the bigger picture of life. There are so many great ideas to help you create a thriving garden despite changes in weather. You don’t have to look far to enrich your life by balancing the speed and demands of the changing technology and social climate with the secrets of wisdom mankind has known for thousands of years. Look to your own garden. You may find you can thrive better with your own version of a new climate to grow in!

Garden color schemes to design an effective landscape

flower brilliance

Flowers and plants can create brilliant color patches. These cut flowers illustrate the point.

Creating great color combinations in the garden can make a landscape into something out of the ordinary. Garden color schemes paint a theme into the overall design, adding continuity, accents and focal points. These effects also have a strong impact on our moods.  You can just plant whatever flowers you like in your garden or you can think about what you are doing — design, and create a walk-in picture, your own magical three-dimensional painting you can visit whenever you want.

Use colors to set the mood

Hot hues of red, orange and yellow have an energizing effect on how we feel.  Cool blues and purples feel relaxing.  Soft pastels are peaceful and gentle. Dark colors can conjure up the mysterious.

lavender pink landscape

A lavender and pink garden is created by garden materials. plants and lighting.

Create combinations

This is like painting with plants. Design a garden with blended hues like pink, red and white. (Red and white mix into pink.) Add contrast with mixtures of light and dark. Go bold with brilliant splashes. Or come up with your own color scheme that reflects your favorite combination.

All-of-a-kind-garden

Single colors can paint a garden with an assortment of plant types, like an all-white garden with assorted white blooms and white variegated foliage. White can really pop in the shade. All-blues, all-pinks, all-reds and even all-green landscapes can form a powerful theme.

Landscape color

Plants, walls, a walkway and decor paint a colorful picture.

Flowers and more

Sources to color your garden can come from more than just flowers. Leaves can glow in multiple shades. Walls, furniture, outdoor fabrics, paints, oils, stains and other finishes offer a rainbow of choices. Even stone – gravel, blocks, boulders or slabs – come in an amazing range of hues including the unexpected, like purples, greens and blues, some with spots, veining and even sparkles.

Structures can add color, too. Powder coated metal, wood and other building materials can sport colorful finishes and even designs or murals. Add a trellis, arch, fencing, window frames or decorative doors as ornamental or functional sources of color. Or use your favorite décor – sculptures, flags, pots, outdoor drapes and pillows or other decorative items – to pick out colorful accents.

Mix and match the shades you like best to design the garden that reflects your taste and creates the mood you want.

red garden

Red energizes this garden seating area.

If you want guidance, study color wheels that guide you through various combinations. You can find these wheels illustrated in art and design books or on the Internet. Your landscape is a creation of your own. Design it the way you want. There is no right or wrong, but there are color combinations that work better than others. Paint your garden into the look and feel that complements your house and the area where you live. Then enjoy your colorful outdoor creation.

Benches add design and more to your landscape

Angel sculpture and bench

This formal bench blends nicely with the angel sculpture to create an alluring seating area.

Benches add a design element to your landscape that is both easy to do and can encourage you to think creatively.

Sometimes all it takes is a little change to make an ordinary area into something special in your landscape design. Something as small as a bench can make all the difference.

Adding a bench is like posting a welcome sign that says “Have a seat and enjoy yourself!” Not only is it inviting to those who visit your garden, but it is likely to make you take a break from your work and encourage you to stop and appreciate the combined work of Mother Nature and your own efforts.

Use a bench for comfort, practicality and decor. Placing a bench by the entry to your home gives you a spot to set down anything you are carrying so you can open the front door. It hints that guests should make themselves comfortable. Or you can fill a bench with flowers so it becomes a display with character.

Nestle a bench in the shade of a tree to invite a cooling rest. Or set out an ornate bench along a stepping stone pathway to offer a rest and a place for viewing. Place a bench handy to a water feature to encourage watching fish or splashing water from a fountain. Hide a bench in a wild garden to beckon you into cozy place to read a book, or use a bench to divide one part of the garden from another. Even small gardens can benefit from a bench that is cleverly and artistically positioned. In fact, a decorative bench can become the major feature — a focal point — of the whole garden.

contemporary landscape seating

Clean lines make this built-in bench into a contemporary seating design.

 

rustic wooden bench

Build a creative wood bench from tree trimmings.

The bench itself can be ornamental or practical. Use the style of the bench to accent a garden theme. Go for the traditional iron and wood bench if you aren’t sure since it will fit in almost any situation. Rustic benches blend in nicely with woodland or natural styled landscapes. You can buy one or construct your own from hunks of wood, tree trunks, branches or driftwood. Or try a stone bench. A rough-hewn chunk of rock can look natural or will blend in nicely with a contemporary landscape design. Try wrought iron for an English or Southwestern styled garden or slip in a bench inset with brightly colored tile to decorate a Mexican theme.

Choose the kind of furniture that will accent the style of your garden. Or  shop for the kind of seating that captures your imagination and build your garden around it. You can always buy a simple bench and drape it with outdoor fabrics and pillows to create your own effects. Seating gives you a place to enjoy your landscape. Have fun deciding which bench you want to use and where you want to position it in your garden. Larger spaces can handle multiple benches. Areas separate from each other can use different styles. Benches can add design and more — a whole new dimension — to your landscape.

Tile bench

Tiles make this bench into a work of art.

What to look for in patio flagstone work

laying flagstone

A job in process: Well-laid flagstone is evenly spaced. Gaps need to be filled and edges trimmed. Closer, tightly fitted installations are more time-consuming, but look more impressive and stand up better over time.

If you are planning to lay flagstone for flooring in your patio – or elsewhere – you’ll find there can be a wide range of prices quoted for the installation. That is because there are many kinds of flagstone that can be used and, depending on the texture and color you like, different stones can vary drastically in price. The other reason is that installer can also offer different qualities of workmanship. A more carefully placed job will demand more time than a job quickly done. The difference is easy to see if you know what to look for in patio flagstone work.

Price the various kinds of stone you like before buying. If you go to a builder’s supply store you can see not only many different types of stone, but get an idea of how each will look when spread out over a wider area. It can be difficult to get a realistic vision from a small, single piece.

Once you have your flagstone chosen you will want to choose the style for laying it. For an informal or more rustic look you can piece together complementary shapes so the rough edges remain at a consistent distance from each other throughout the installation. The closer the fit, the better job you will have. A good installer will chip edges naturally so gaps create uniform lines and the design will slot together like pieces of a puzzle. A poorly installed job will look more like slabs of stone that have been randomly floated on a sea of concrete. The best jobs will have even spacing and will fit accurately.

Another approach is a little more formal with a more polished look in that the stones can be fitted by cutting with a saw to have simpler, cleaner lines. Just like the chipped stones, the tighter the fit, the more time-consuming the job will be. The neater and consistent the spacing, the more polished your finished flooring will be.

A good job of installation will often come down to the finish work — the details of how pieces fit together, corners are joined and surfaces are smoothed. A good job of basic installation and finish work will make the difference between a good job and a bad one. Once you know what you are looking for, you’ll find the comparison to be easily noticeable.

flagstone floor

A good job will look smooth and even when finished.