Designing a Meditative or Yoga Garden

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Guest post from Jan Johnsen, author of the new book Heaven is a Garden and my co-contributor over at Garden Design magazine.

Yoga and gardens are a natural fit! Both are very personal endeavors – Yoga practice elevates our sense of wellbeing and makes us more aware of the present moment while gardens encourage us to appreciate the ‘now’ as we inhale the aroma of flowers or the green atmosphere after a quiet rain. When you put the two together and create an outdoor space where you can practice Yoga in a meditative garden, it is joyful, indeed!

Gardens are a simple way to celebrate our time with Nature in our own individual way. Some of us thrill to a garden filled with flowers, in colorful bloom all summer. Others yearn to be in a quiet, simple space, with rocks and trees sighing in the breeze. Whichever type of environment speaks to you, it can become a Yoga garden where you face the morning sun and breathe in deeply.

Here are a few ideas that you can use to make your outdoor space a serene yoga garden.

[Read more...]

Edible Landscaping for Industrial Settings: Tips and Best Plants

Using-edibles-in-commercial-landscapes.jpgLast week, I talked about some of the benefits and drawbacks of edible landscaping in “public” spheres such as commercial/ business landscaping or in a multifamily residence such as an apartment complex. This week, I want to talk more about how to actually succeed with this. Though there are a number of settings in which edible landscaping simply isn’t appropriate, by knowing how to do it right you’ll find it easier to judge when you can and can’t use edibles successfully. (And if you’re a homeowner, the plant choices at bottom will serve you well in developing a low-maintenance edible landscape.) [Read more...]

Edible Landscaping for Industrial Settings: Benefits and Drawbacks

Using-edibles-in-commercial-landscaping.jpgDoes edible landscaping belong in the public sphere, which is to say in the landscapes owned by cities, businesses, and in multifamily housing like apartment buildings? It sounds like a great idea, and if asked, I think most people would give an unqualified and enthusiastic “yes”! However, there are a lot of considerations with edible landscaping that actually make it really challenging to do well under industrial circumstances, and edible landscaping has the potential to cause problems in these types of settings if it isn’t implemented thoughtfully, particularly for businesses. [Read more...]

Low-Maintenance Planting Design: More Than Just Plant Selection

low-maintenance-planting-design.jpgThere are a lot of misunderstandings about low-maintenance planting design. A lot of people think that in order to have a low-maintenance landscape, you just need to choose low-maintenance plants. But the way you design your planting beds is as important as the plants you select – maybe even more so. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind when planning for low-maintenance planting beds. [Read more...]

Providing Water for Wildlife: How Not to Screw It up

frogs-invite-contemplation.jpgThere’s little that irritates me more than going to the garden center and seeing an array of gorgeous, well-made bird baths that are all completely and utterly useless. It seems that the manufacturers of such things have never really researched or even given the most cursory amount of thought to what qualities a bird might actually like to see in a birdbath. It’s the same with ponds. Most commercially-available ponds have steep, slick sides which make the water tough to access and limit the pond’s value to wildlife. Since providing water is one of the easiest ways that you can not only benefit wildlife but attract them into your garden, it seems a no-brainer to take the time to get it right. After all, water isn’t just for drinking. Butterflies get valuable minerals and salts from puddling about in shallow, slightly muddy sections of water. Salamanders and newts, frogs and toads, and even dragonflies use water as shelter and breeding grounds during different parts of their life cycles. Here’s what you need to know to provide the best benefits to wildlife with your water sources. [Read more...]

Wildlife Garden Design Tip: Use Less Lawn!

No-mow-landscaping-ideas.jpgWhen talking with another designer recently, she said something that stuck in my head: “Lawn? We call that “green concrete”. Sure, sometimes you need a bit of it here or there, but it brings so little to the table that we try to avoid it!” And it’s true! I love sunning myself and playing with the cats on my small lawn, but I’m pretty cognizant of the fact that every inch of lawn is taking up space that could be used for something more productive. Even an organic, no water, manually-mowed, unfertilized lawn like my own, is simply doing no harm. But it’s missing an opportunity to do good. [Read more...]

Wildlife Garden Design Tip: Using Native Plants Effectively

plant-native-plants-in-drifts.jpgFor most of us, our first thought when designing a landscape is how to make an aesthetic difference. As landscape designers, we want to inspire people and give everyone who spends time in our landscape an opportunity to reflect, feel uplifted, and just enjoy the sheer beauty of the plants that share our world. This is important work. I know when I spend even a few minutes in my garden, I emerge feeling refreshed and ready to do good things in the world.  A life spent in the pursuit of beauty is a wonderful thing. However, there’s more to the creation of beauty than pairing this color with that, and landscape designers and home gardeners are in a position to be able to make an enormous difference to the world simply by choosing some plants over others. I’m talking, of course, about native plants. [Read more...]

Wildlife Garden Design Tip: Focus on Shape

wildlife-landscape-design-11.jpgThink native plants and wildlife-attracting gardens look messy? It doesn’t have to be that way. In this series, we’ll talk about the techniques involved in designing a beautiful wildlife garden. At left, landscape design by: Shades of Green Landscape Architecture, Sausalito, CA. Recently, Rachel Matthews wrote a guest post here about what she sees as the most important aspect of landscape design: Shape. I want to follow up on that concept because this is something so critically important to wildlife gardeners. When we’re gardening for wildlife, we’re often thinking about planting specific plants to host caterpillars/ butterflies or providing a certain type of shelter or habitat. Sometimes, we can get so focused on the details of attracting wildlife that we lose track of the bigger picture, design-wise. The shapes you use throughout your garden give it a sense of structure and beauty that allows even disparate garden elements to feel like they “fit”. The shapes of what, you might ask? [Read more...]

Wildlife Garden Design Tip: Choose a Simple Color Palette

Wildlife-garden-photo-courtesy-American-Beauties-Native-Plants.pngThink native plants and wildlife-attracting gardens look messy? It doesn’t have to be that way. In this series, we’ll talk about the techniques involved in designing a beautiful wildlife garden. Today’s tip goes well with my last piece of advice, which was to plant native and wildlife-attracting plants in masses: The tip? Choose a simple color palette. This is one of the biggest differences between professional designers and home gardeners: restraint in color selection. And don’t think I’m giving you a lecture here, because I’m talkin’ to myself too! Everything I know about good design goes right out the window when I’m planning my own home garden. But when we’re creating a native plant or wildlife garden, doing something that looks cohesive and attractive to visitors is one of the key ways we can multiply our efforts for wildlife and become an ambassador, if you will, for this type of garden. Imagine the benefits your wildlife garden will bring if you can act as inspiration for your neighbors to do something similar for wildlife! [Read more...]

Wildlife Garden Design Tip: Plant in Masses

Wildlife-friendly-gardens-with-good-design-3.jpgThink native plants and wildlife-attracting gardens look messy? It doesn’t have to be that way. In this series, we’ll talk about the techniques involved in designing a beautiful wildlife garden. Many native plant enthusiasts and wildlife gardeners start out by trying to replicate the randomized “design” of nature, by planting a lovingly-curated collection of individual wildlife-attracting plants throughout the garden. But the effect of this just isn’t right next to a home. A home is large and its design speaks heavily of human involvement, so going from the clean lines of a building straight to a replication of wilderness seems out of scale (wrong size) and out of place (wrong feeling). While a home landscape should provide a connection to nature, wildlife and the seasons, it should also reflect elements of our architecture, provide comfortable places for us to spend time, and soften the strong lines of a home with plantings that feel in scale with the surroundings. A well-designed garden is in harmony with both the human world and the natural world. One of the simplest ways of integrating home and garden is to use large groupings of individual varieties of native or wildlife-attracting plants. By using plants in drifts or masses, we set a scene that draws the eye through our landscape in an organized way and makes our home seem more in tune with the surroundings. When we go for the one-of-this-one-of-that approach, our eyes wander from spot to spot, which feels unsettling. Larger groups of plants “read” as one, so they feel more right-sized next to the home. And by using natives, you’re reflecting the natural beauty of your region as well as attracting local wildlife. Drifts or masses of plants:
  • Give natives instant design appeal
  • Lead the eye through the garden
  • Create a sense of flow and enhance the shapes in the landscape
  • Have a billowing effect which is more like a grand, far-off view of nature than a close-up
  • Move with the wind in a graceful way that is fun to watch
  • Reflect the scale of the architecture
  • Integrate home and garden
Of course, all this “reflecting the architecture” business may have you feeling worried if you go in for a softer design style. I’m not saying your plants should be planted in a straight line just so they go with the home. A meandering swathe of native grasses or perennials can emulate natural shapes such as that of a stream, yet the bold nature of the design would still fit in nicely next to a building. Neither do you need to feel bound by a naturalistic design style just because you’re designing with natives or with natural processes in mind. Native plants can be planted in traditional or formal gardens, and can be pruned or shaped appropriately to fit in with the surroundings just as other plants can. Loads of our natives are bright enough to go in an English cottage style, have architectural forms suitable for modern landscapes, or can be pruned and manipulated to show man’s influence in a Japanese-style landscape. There’s a horticultural benefit to planting in masses, too. Many plants use a type of chemical warfare (allelopathy) to stunt the growth of other types of plant growing nearby. By planting in drifts, your plants will cooperate with one another rather than wage war on their neighbors, and your garden will thrive with less care from you.

Here are some native and wildlife-friendly gardens that use massing effectively:

Wildlife-friendly gardens with good design Wildlife-friendly gardens with good design (5)
Wildlife-friendly gardens with good design (9) Wildlife-friendly gardens with good design (7)
Wildlife-friendly gardens with good design (2) Wildlife-friendly gardens with good design (6)
Wildlife-friendly gardens with good design (4) Wildlife-friendly gardens with good design (8)
  Next up: Choosing a Color Palette

A Designer’s Take on Wildlife Gardening

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Though recent polls show that using native plants and attracting wildlife are big priorities for gardeners, these types of landscapes have a terrible reputation for being messy and poorly-designed.

It’s gotten to the point that many landscape designers I’ve spoken with shy away from mentioning native plants to their clients, even if they plan on including native plants in their design. Worse, some short-sighted neighborhoods have taken the extreme step of banning native plants (which attract wildlife) even as they mandate front yard lawns.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There is nothing inherently messy about either native plants or gardening for wildlife – we just get that idea because many of the proponents of wildlife gardening focus more on the wildlife aspect than the gardening aspect. Gardening enthusiasts compound the problem when we give in to negative stereotypes of what a wildlife-friendly garden looks like.

We’ve set up a false choice in our minds between gardening for wildlife or gardening for beauty, when we can absolutely have both.

Pollinator's paradiseWildlife gardeners - if we use good design principles to create a space that is as beautiful to people as it is to wildlife, we’ll find neighbors, friends and relatives lining up to hear more about how we did it. What better way of helping the cause of wildlife than to make others want to follow our lead?

Designers and plant geeks - Hey it’s cool, nobody’s telling us to back away from the plant catalogs. But we’ve gotta remember, wildlife brings beauty of its own to our gardens.  Nothing enhances the look of our high-end perennials like a few butterflies and hummingbirds, and that fancypants Brunnera looks way cuter when a salamander’s helping us keep it slug-free.

Can you have beauty and beasts in the same garden?

Yes, yes, yes! Over the coming weeks I’ll be talking about some of the ways you can support wildlife and the environment through good design and having a gorgeous garden. In the meantime, check out these articles to get amped up about some of the ways we can begin inviting wildlife into our gardens:

The Five Pillars of Ecosystem Gardening

Gardening for Wildlife: a Compendium of Tips

In this series:

Wildlife Design Tip: Plant in Masses

Wildlife Design Tip: Choose a Simple Color Palette

 

Wildlife Design Tip: Focus on Shape

   

Wildlife Design Tip: Use Less Lawn