Getting the Green Thumb
People often comment that I have a green thumb...if they only knew!
I used to watch my neighbors garden, looking at their beautiful flowers and scrumptious vegetables with envy. It seemed as though the only thing I could grow was weeds (and did they ever grow). My neighbor patiently said, “Just give it time. You’ll learn.”
Instead, I gave up. And, I started again, and gave up again. I started and gave up for about 15 years before I ever ended up with anything that could be called a garden. Even though my favorite television programs were Saturday morning garden shows, I think I learned the most by trial and error. So, I decided to share my error in hopes that your trials may be lessened.
As I gaze out my window at the glorious colors surrounding my pool and my eyes wander down the path to my sunken rose garden with its babbling fountain, I find peace. My neighbor was right. All I needed was patience. It took 4 years of a huge mess to create this view. But, I lived through the mess because I had the vision.
Previously, this area was mostly grass with a perennial garden to one side and a bush berm to the other side. But, I always wanted a swimming pool. I was a real fish as a kid. A pool is not for everyone. Although they look pretty, if you don’t frequently have an overwhelming urge to swim, I wouldn’t attempt one. Pools take a lot of work to keep them clean, and a dirty pool is an eyesore that will need to be removed if not kept up. But, a pool was part of my vision.
I caught this vision by paging through gardening magazines. Books and magazines have been my best source of vision. I recommend keeping a reference of ideas you like in a binder, photos either torn from magazines or copied from books. While it is unlikely you will ever desire to recreate an exact scheme, you should be able to find many ideas you can use for your own garden.
REFINING YOUR VISION
Next, sketch up your yard. You don’t need to be an artist. Just get the basic measurements of your yard and the permanent items in it and draw them as boxes and circles on graph paper. If your graph paper is 34 boxes tall and 34 boxes wide, and your yard is 150 feet long and 100 feet wide, you have to figure out what scale to use. Find your scale by dividing the longest measurements (150 feet ÷ 34 boxes = 4.4 feet per box). Do the same with the shortest measurements (100 feet ÷ 34 boxes = 2.94 feet per box). Using the higher result, you can say each box is 5 feet and draw a square to represent your yard 30 boxes long (150 ÷ 5) and 20 boxes wide (100 ÷ 5). You may even want to tape papers together to get your yard to a scale you can more easily see.
Now measure the size and location from the lot lines where your house, other structures, large trees, and other permanent items exist and draw them in on this lot plan. At this point, you may now want to photocopy this drawing so you can use it to try to draw in many different scenarios.
Now, it's time to dream. If you plan to keep this house, why not plan to make it what you want it to be?
First, think about the biggest items, the structural items. I had always wanted a swimming pool. When I finally got enough money for one, I had already landscaped the rest of my yard, and had to tear up almost all of it to get the pool in. Not only did I make a huge mess, I had installed a fence that gave me almost no access to the back yard to get the pool in.
So, now is the time to list all of your big dream items, and make a plan where you want them, their sizes, and what you need to leave open to install them some day. You may want a:
- Horse Barn
Ok, this yard is not big enough for a horse barn, and probably does not allow one in the building code. But, we will plan for the other items, including leaving access for future construction.
First, I located the pool, since a pool has has many requirements. The following three need to be noted now. Others can be reviewed later.
- Setbacks (check your code)
- Distance from house-say 12 feet
- Distance from (and to) electrical
- Distance from neighbor's yard
- Tall, lockable fence
- No ungrounded metal within 5 feet
- No access from house unless door is alarmed
- No way to get over, under, or around
- Keep Overhead Trees Away
- Sunlight needed for warmth
- Keep leaves and debris out of pool
Since there are two large trees at the back of the lot, and you want to keep access open for other construction, I picked behind the house on the right for the pool. The fence location is also noted. The shed is located on the northwest corner of the pool to provide wind protection without shading the pool and is kept the required distance from the lot lines. I selected the back corner for the gazebo to make it a secret hideaway, however codes need to be checked to see if this type of structure can be placed so close to the lot line in your area. Access to the shed, pool, and patio are left open. The patio is not in the pool area as this will be the place to grill and eat, keeping food away from the pool.
You may want to cut out pieces to scale for your large items and move them around until you find a place for them you like.
ADDING THE GARDENS
Now that you have the structures in place (on paper, at least) you can start figuring out where you want plantings. Again, start with the larger items, such as trees, that take a while to grow. Then, add special features and smaller garden patches.
You will want to think about how your garden will look in the four seasons and the sun requirements of each plant. Now it is time to move on to look at your planting options.
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