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.
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 bench that will accent the style of your garden. Or shop for a bench 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. Benches are for enjoying 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 styled benches. Benches can add a whole new dimension to your landscape.
Whether you are a fan of annuals or perennials, the sunflower can find a treasured place in your garden. These fast-growing annuals offer big, bold plants that are a quick, easy way to add eye-catching flowers to almost any garden.
There are varieties of these giant daisies that grow over eight feet tall and varieties that reach only two and a half to three feet. Some are long stems topped with a big, rayed, disk of a bloom whereas others will branch up the stem offering multiple blooms. Colors are available in the traditional pure yellow, whites, lemons, mahoganies, bronzes, deep reds and rings of blended hues. There are double flowers, full and fluffy with petals, and there are single open disks outlined with just a ring of petals imitating the rays of the sun.
Sunflowers not only echo the sun in design, but actually turn to face the sun as it moves across the sky during the day. These interesting flowers are decorative, colorful, ideal for adding towering height or lollypop vertical growth to a garden bed. Use tall varieties in the back of a garden, to decorate a dull wall or fence or to add a bold accent or create a colorful focal point within a planting. Sunflowers add character to a Tuscan or other Mediterranean landscape design. They fit in perfectly with a cottage garden design and show off nicely in a Southwestern themed garden.
The sunflower (Heliantus annuus) is easily planted from seed. You can also buy started plants. It is easy to grow and because it grows quickly, is an ideal plant to help children become excited about gardening. The large seeds are convenient to handle and sprout fast. After flowering the big blooms develop seeds that invite birds into your garden, can be saved to plant next year and are edible. Give the sunflower plenty of sunshine, ample water and occasional plant food. These ponderous plants are heavy feeders.
One of the deservedly popular flowers in gardens all over America – all over the world – is the iris. These plants all grow from storage-adapted roots and tend to flower with large, showy blooms. Since there are so many different kinds of irises that have evolved in different climates, most gardens can be planted with at least one kind that will adapt well. There is a wide selection of sizes and colors – even combinations of colors — available. Irises can slip into designs for shade or sun, formal or informal landscapes, or gardens in a wide range of styles. The following are just some of the popular types of iris.
Bulb irises are usually early blooming flowers that are easily planted as dormant bulbs. These tend to be smaller types of iris that readily spread into attractive clumps. Many varieties are ideal to cluster in garden beds or even naturalize into lawn edges to give an informal look to the garden. The most common colors are blues, purples, yellows and whites. The bulb iris blooms in early spring, shows off colorful blooms then dies back down quickly to leave room for later flowering plants. Like all bulbs, foliage should remain attached to the plant until yellow or brown so the energy can settle back into the bulb to be stored for next year’s growth.
The bearded iris is well known for its big, frilly, lollypop flowers. These plants come in an assortment of colors and blends, all with fuzzy stripes (‘beards’) on the inner central part of the lower petals (falls). Bearded Irises grow from creeping rhizomes.
Water irises make up a number of irises that love to grow in wet, boggy areas. One group, the Louisiana hybrid, displays some of the showiest blooms in moisture-loving irises. It flowers in a wide range of colors. These irises are ideal for wet areas or ponds.
A less well-known iris is the Japanese iris. Flowers have a slightly unusual flattened, yet very large decorative petal arrangement. This iris likes moist soil and holds its huge bloom high on a tall, thin stalk.
The ‘Pacific Coast Hybrid’ irises are colorful hybrids of several native California species including the Iris douglasiana. A variable plant, it has short-lived blooms that open in succession to put on a colorful spring show. They prefer a little dappled shade or full shade. These irises come in an assortment of colors and are quite drought tolerant.
This is only a small selection of the wide range of garden iris plants. Some handle wet conditions whereas others like it dry. Some tolerate shade and some prefer full sun. There are more iris varieties like English Irises, Reticulata irises (bulb), Dutch and Spanish irises. There are so many colorful and decorative irises that are adapted to different climates, designs and themes that there should be a good selection to choose from for your garden, no matter where you live.
Sometimes the difference between a nice garden and a lovely garden can be just a question of garden décor. A reasonably well designed garden will always look good, but if you add a piece of sculpture to fill that empty space, some cushions of just the right color to accent a seating area or an eye-catching specimen plant that creates a focal point, well, it can transform “good” into fabulous.
There are endless possibilities of ways you can add décor. If you have a theme to your garden, décor is the perfect way to punch up the effects. A Southwestern garden really comes to life if you add some wagon wheels, an old buckboard or maybe a tiled, Spanish fountain in a courtyard. Accent a cottage garden with a white picket fence, an archway or some gingham outdoor drapes.
Garden décor can come in large and small sizes. Colorful or realistic mushrooms can heighten the forest feel of a woodland garden. Add a small decorative bridge to connect two parts of the landscape. Or a monster sized chess board might bring gaming to new levels as a focal point in an ordinary backyard design.
Décor should be the last part of your landscape to be installed. After permanent features are built and plants are in place, you can see where a little extra accent can add color, shape or just a little life where it is needed.
The exception to this rule is when you use a large piece of décor as a central focal point. This is best installed after all the systems (drainage, irrigation, utilities, etc.) and hardscapes (permanent features) are in place.
A large sculpture or a waterfall might be good examples. If you intend to use your décor as a focal point it is best planned into your garden design early on so paths, walls and other structures will work in harmony with it to make an overall picture. Plants can then be used to emphasize or soften the area around your special feature.
Pets enjoy being outdoors as much – maybe more – than people. Allowing your cat or dog outside offers them fresh air and a chance for exercise. But being outdoors can also be dangerous. Predators, road traffic, poisonous or sharp plants are only some of the threats your pets can face. Building an outdoor enclosure can keep them safe. Here are some tips on how to build the kind of enclosure that will work best.
Think of what kind of structure will fit best in your landscape, lifestyle and for your pet(s). Offer comfort, shade, safety, a place for water and ease of cleaning. You may want to incorporate a long running space or other structures for exercise.
Decide if you want to build a run, a temporary pen, permanent outdoor housing or a combination of these enclosures. There are a number of products and plans you can build from depending on whether you want something ready-made or do-it-yourself. Most enclosures should have roofs of shade cloth, wire or other material to provide shade and to keep pets from escaping. A roof may not be necessary where walls are sufficiently high (and – for cats — too smooth to scale) and there is already plenty of shade.
Dog pens are often build with chain link and you can find kits at retail stores. You can also create your own framework with wood, fiberglass or vinyl and cover it with chicken wire or hardware cloth. Make sure the structure is built with resistance for jumping and scratching. Flooringcan be gravel, grass, soil, decomposed granite, pavers or easy-clean pet mats. Choose ¾ inch gravel over pea gravel since the latter will kick out of the enclosure easily and can be difficult to clean with solid waste matter. You can also buy outdoor mats ideal for pen floors.
Cats are lighter and can be contained with a lighter framework. Make sure the screening over the framework is tight since cats can be master escape artists. Give small paws firm footing and add benches and ramps for exercise. You can even use PVC pipe as a framework for an inexpensive, lightweight base structure.
Both dogs and cats will appreciate long runs that wind around the house or through the garden for exercise. Allowing a run or enclosure to open onto a cat or dog door will allow your pet the opportunity to go indoors and out at will.
Don’t leave pet food out, particularly after dark as it will attract rodents and other undesirable wildlife. It can also bring ants.
To make your pet enclosure more decorative, you can surround it with attractive fencing or grow climbing plants over a second, exterior fence wall. You can even find decorative pet houses in prefabricated kits that you can assemble yourself. Some can even function as focal points for your garden, looking like fancy little houses or caves.
Whether you go for something fancy or simple, buy ready-made or build from scratch, creating safe quarters for your pet(s) outdoors will make life easier and more fun for human and animal alike. Keeping your beloved pet safe is well worth the effort. And creating a comfy outdoor home will make for healthier and happier animals.
Instead of always gazing around the garden, there are those special times when it’s handy to gaze out of the garden. As a landscape designer and contractor, I’ve become habituated to getting up very early in the morning so I can be on site for those 6 o’clock plant pick-ups and early morning installations. So, even though it is a Saturday without any outdoor work scheduled, it was easy to nip outdoors to check out the full lunar eclipse viewable in the early hours of darkness in Southern California.
Knowing my garden — even at night after the solar lights have dimmed to sleep — made it easy to comfortably traipse outside to go eclipse hunting in the dark of 4:45 A.M. What I hadn’t counted on was how many trees my neighbors had to obstruct the view. But I finally found a perfect break in the trees where I could take my photos. The earliest parts of the eclipse are not much to see other than a shadowy hazing of the top of the moon. But by 5:30 AM there was a decided chomp missing right down into the middle of the familiar solar lamp in the sky.
The next thing I hadn’t considered was that my little hand-held digital camera would be useless for this kind of photography as witnessed by the photos here. But I wouldn’t figure that out until I downloaded the pictures — being the genuinely amateur photographer that I am.
The third surprise was when I returned outdoors at 6 A.M. just as the eastern horizon began to pearl with sunrise in hope of getting a good shot of a considerably eclipsed moon. Instead, the moon was gone altogether. I live in a higher elevation of inland Southern California and my garden is surrounded by decorative hills and mountain peaks. By now the moon had sunk down behind one of those scenic mounds making my view of the eclipse nonexistent.
Well, at least I did see some of the highly publicized total eclipse of the moon this morning. And instead of being able to share it with you from my garden, I can only share this story of my aborted effort and the conclusion that I’d be best sticking to designing landscapes and writing about gardening. And leave the photography of heavenly bodies to the experts.
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