Comment on Romance! by Hayley

Giverny

Claude Monet’s Garden at Giverny
Photo credit: Lesley Hegarty

One of the many great things about these Round Table group posts is that you never know what people are going to write about. Oh sure, we are all writing about the same topic, but fortunately no one person’s view is ever the same as another’s!

Take romance in gardens. Well, what is ‘a romantic garden’ anyway?

Is it a bucolic reverie of the past, a cottage garden idyll, or a more rugged and ruinous landscape with an ancient abbey perched on a wooded knoll half concealed in the mist?

Might it be one of those recognized staples such as the Taj Mahal with its fabulous love story, Monet’s pictorial garden at Giverny, The Alhambra or Ninfa?

Or if we are thinking in terms of garden history, will someone be writing an erudite dissertation on precisely which garden indicated the true start of the so called ‘Romantic Movement’ in gardens?

We are a very planterly group so surely someone will write about plants which excite the senses: all billowing blossoms, velvety textures and seductive scents. Queue lavender and roses, honeysuckle and azaleas, not to mention lilies and cherry pie.

Or perhaps one of us will get down to brass tacks and discuss how to dress a garden specifically for romance. Here we are clearly thinking sheltering arbours, tinkling fountains, aquamarine plunge pools and secretive screens for privacy.

You see, the possibilities are limitless!

Enough speculation. Lets find out what they all said!

Robert Webber and Lesley Hegarty

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

David Cristiani : The Desert Edge : Albuquerque, NM

Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT

Deborah Silver : Dirt Simple : Detroit, MI

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Mary Gallagher Gray : Black Walnut Dispatch : Washington, D.C.

Comment on Enclosure vs. Exposure by louiedonovan55

To enclose or not to enclose, that is the question…

With all apologies to The Bard, today on Garden Designers Roundtable, our designers offer their thoughts on whether to enclosure a space, and create intimacy and security, or to expose a space and borrow from the surrounding landscape, possibly creating a sense of awe.

Which would you prefer for you little corner of the earth? Follow the links below to see what our experts say then let us know!

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN

Comment on Boundaries! by Laurin Lindsey

Once you see the boundaries of your environment, they are no longer the boundaries of your environment.

~ Marshall McLuhan

2011 09 10_8854

Today on the Roundtable we are discussing Boundaries and the garden. Boundaries are used to to define space, create intimacy, provide privacy, and to restrict. What will our designers have to say on this “limiting” subject?

Follow the links below to find out!

David Cristiani : It’s A Dry Heat : El Paso, TX

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

4 Hot Design Tips from Portland Yard, Garden & Patio Show, Pt. II

March 7th, 2014

1 user recommends

Choose patio furnishings to draw the family outside. Click the image to enlarge.

Choose patio furnishings to draw the family outside.

Photo: Billy Goodnick


Note: Read Part I – Design Lessons from Portland’s Yard, Garden & Patio Show

Rule #3: Create Places for People

Game table with Scrabble set

I completely understand people who create gardens primarily to enhance their home’s appearance. That’s not what L. Meyers Design had in mind when she crafted “Small Lot, Big Entertainment, Take 2” as their entry. She created a place for people. In addition to the contemporarily styled, toasty fireplace and nearby water cascade that brought sound and movement to the outdoor family room, she set the stage for comfortable and stimulating gatherings. I can attest that the Scrabble board was well used by lots of folks, and the cozy, curving banquette and dice-motif ottomans said, “stay a while.”

Garden shed with dining table

Zipping back at Dee’s “Come Alive Outside” garden, you can see the heart of the space – a rustically elegant garden shed with sit-down dining for six. The airy, framed structure is simple, protecting diners from the elements with a corrugated roof and salvaged, glazed window frames hung from beams at the side walls. When dinner is done, guests adjourn to the fireplace for conversation and viewing the night sky.

Rule #4: Plant Boldly

Block planting

Planting boldly isn’t a universal rule for all garden styles, but if I had to choose between too much variety (the primary symptom of One-of-each-itis) or using larger quantities of fewer types, I’ll take the latter. Treeline Designz did just that, as illustrated in this grid of variegated Fatsia flanked by a columnar form of juniper and trimmed with orderly strips of variegated grass and dwarf heavenly bamboo. This blocky approach is most appropriate in contemporary, strongly geometric gardens.

Kale and greens in mass plantings

But the idea of planting in masses works in “softer” styles – even in this eye-popping mass of kale and greens. A group of four designers collaborated as Abundant Nature Garden to create a raised bed that doesn’t simply provide nutrition, but also draws the eye with its high-contrast combos. The lesson here: Don’t overlook the potential for delicious, homegrown food as a visually satisfying feast.
(Collaborators: Plan-It Earth Design, River City Gardens, Annie Bam, and Design With Nature)

Take in a garden show while the season is in full swing and you’ll be surprised how inspired you’ll be.


posted in: garden show, Portland, Yard Garden Patio, YGP



About this column

Enter the world of sustainable gardening with Billy Goodnick’s “Cool Green Gardens” blog. Billy lives in Santa Barbara, CA, and delivers a West Coast perspective on landscape design that will translate into your own backyard. Check out CGG for great ideas on reducing your impact on the environment and creating a landscape that is an extension of your home.

Billy Goodnick, a landscape architect, educator and writer, shares the wisdom he has gathered from thirty-five years of retail nursery sales, landscaping, designing and teaching. He’ll challenge your assumptions while putting a smile on your face with his off-the-wall humor.

Whether you’re seeking to fine-tune your existing garden or are starting with a clean slate, Cool Green Gardens is your go-to resource for sustainable ideas, innovation and inspiration.

4 Hot Design Tips from Portland Yard, Garden & Patio Show, Pt.I

March 7th, 2014

6 users recommend

A disappearing path draws visitors into the garden.

A disappearing path draws visitors into the garden.

Billy Goodnick

Water and fire combine for a memorable garden focal point.

Water and fire combine for a memorable garden focal point.

Billy Goodnick

Scale down pools and stone for a natural effect in any garden. 

Scale down pools and stone for a natural effect in any garden. 

Billy Goodnick

A disappearing path draws visitors into the garden. Click the image to enlarge.

A disappearing path draws visitors into the garden.

Photo: Billy Goodnick


Design Lessons from Portland’s Yard, Garden & Patio Show

It’s ironic. Just as I was leaving my parched town of Santa Barbara (less than an inch of rain since summer) for a round of talks at the Portland Yard, Garden and Patio Show, a series of much needed storms was racing to the rescue. I’d miss them, but I knew there’d be plenty of puddles to splash in when I got where I was going. So I hopped a plane and few hours later I raised my face to the heavens and waited for my glasses to fog up.

 YG&P logo

If you’re eager to improve your design chops, there’s no better place to go than a garden show, especially one in your own region. That’s where you’ll find talented designers and builders displaying a broad range of garden styles you can learn from, and then use as inspiration in your own yard. Even though I’ve been designing for as long as I can remember, I continue to pick up ideas each time I attend.

I was especially eager for the YG&P show, since this was the first time I was asked to judge. Though it isn’t the biggest show in the country, the quality of the gardens was top notch. Honored to be teamed with fellow judges Lorene Edwards Forkner (editor of Pacific Horticulture Magazine) and Nita-Jo Rountree (Seattle-based designer and educator) I found the experience inspiring, educational and reaffirming. 

Here are four fundamental garden rules that stuck in my brain. (Note: My good Nikon camera decided to make my life miserable, so please excuse the “softness” of my iPhone images.)

Rule #1: Every Garden Needs a Focal Point

Rusted steel panels and flames on water

The highlight of Autumn Leaf Landscaping, LLC’s garden – aptly titled “Abstract Reflections” – was the water feature designed by Matt Hammack. It stopped me in my tracks. Although there were many subtle and engaging elements in this garden, it was clear that the water feature was the conversation-starting focal point. It was placed opposite the central axis of a beckoning, high-ceiling, glass walled sitting room, visually framed by generous double doors. Three curvaceous, rusted metal panels were the stars of the show, reinforced by flames reflected in a black-bottom pool. Matt chose simple, vertical plants as supporting, rather than primary elements.  

Waterfall and pool

You can’t go wrong with water as the center of attention. This perfectly proportioned cascade and pool – built by operations and production manager Tony Prunty of All Oregon Landscaping – drew visitors in from the Oregon Convention Center’s floor. What I appreciated most was the artful, almost unconscious arrangement of stones, mimicking nature, yet scaled appropriately for the space. 

Rule #2: Lead the Eye

Circular garden gateway

There’s no better visual magnet to pique someone’s curiosity than peeping through a keyhole. Treeline Designz’s creative star, Iftikhar (Ifti) Amen, used a circular frame to invite show attendees into a garden dominated by square and rectangular forms. Use of this Eastern-influenced element set up an expectation of something exotic within; an expectation that was artistically fulfilled. 

Curving path and chair

I don’t want to short-sell the garden Dennis’ 7 Dees Landscaping and Garden Centers created by calling it “the oldest trick in the book.” But it’s easy to see why a path that mysteriously disappears around a corner could be the design trick used to lure Adam and Eve into Garden of Eden. In this case, the placement of a beckoning object (chair and a glimpse of the fireplace), pulls you through the garden. Extra bonus points for the brilliantly golden conifer as a homing beacon. 

I’ve got more ideas I picked up at the show to share. Read Part II


posted in: garden show, Portland, Yard Garden Patio, YGP



Great Stocking Stuffer: “Foolproof Plants for Small Gardens” Meets Cyber Monday

December 2nd, 2013 in blogs

4 users recommend

 Click the image to enlarge.

Does someone you know meet these criteria?

1. Own a smart phone or tablet computer

2. Have dirt under their fingernails

3. Appear on your holiday gift list

Then I think I’ve got one stocking stuffer that, for $2.99, is impossible to pass up. (You might want to drop a hint to Santa so you’re not left out of the fun.)

Home page for app

Plant Finding Power at Your Fingertips

Foolproof Plants for Small Gardens is a power-packed iOS or Android app that fills in the planting design lobe of your brain. With just a few taps at the screen this beautiful-to-look-at, easy-to-navigate software marvel will lead you to nearly 100 plants that are often left out of other resources.

“Small gardens are a passion of mine and where I have the most experience,” says Susan Morrison, landscape designer, coauthor (with Rebecca Sweet) of Garden Up: Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces (Cool Springs Press) and frequent contributor here at Fine Gardening Magazine.

Susan Morrison

“With homes getting bigger and properties getting smaller, it’s increasingly important to scale plants to the space you have.” And even if you garden a large property, most designers will tell you that dividing your yard into smaller “rooms” is a great way make it feel even larger.

Lean and Clean

To be completely accurate, Foolproof Plants currently contains a data base of 98 plants categorized by more than a dozen design uses like colored foliage, privacy screening, drought tolerance as well as by floral colors. I say “currently” because the program has already experienced one growth spurt and more are likely to be on the way.

And although Morrison hails from the benign growing conditions of the San Francisco Bay Area, she was savvy enough to draw on the expertise of other horticultural experts from around the country, so the list ranges from USDA Zone 10 down to 5 and even tips its hat to a few great plants in 4.   

List screen shot Sorting list
Find your USDA Zone  List of all app features

Now, before you start getting all “but I’m not into tech gadgets” on me, let me put your mind and finger tips to rest. You’ll be up and running in minutes, discovering great plants for your garden. This is software with great power while being extremely beginner-friendly, not just from a navigability perspective, but also its horticultural content.

ToMAYto or ToMAHto?

Foolproof Plants lets you search based on your USDA Zone, then breaks that list down by categories – trees, shrubs, vines, groundcovers and lots more. For example, under “grasses” for Zone 7, I found nine choices and tapping on Pennisetum orientalis / Chinese Fountain Grass, I arrive at a gorgeous photograph of the specimen and lots of valuable information to help me decide whether or not to invite this plant into my garden: water and sun needs, size and zones (including Sunset), a pronunciation guide with Morrison’s clear, soothing voice (saving you embarrassment at hoity-toity horticultural cocktail parties!), design uses, cautions (This one rarely self-sows, but check in your zone to make sure it’s not invasive) reliable maintenance tips (Cut back to 3″ in midwinter; divide when clump becomes too large) and similar cultivars.

Chinese Fountain Grass
Grasses for Zone 7 Oriental Fountain Grass Data

Wait, wait! This is so cool. If you decide you can’t go on living without at least one oriental fountain grass in next year’s garden, there it is, glowing at the bottom of the screen, beckoning you to tap. Yes, “Purchase Online” links you to a nursery website where you can close the deal!

There are other ways to use Foolproof Plants. “Take it with you when you visit the garden center,” recommends Morrison. “Nurseries don’t organize their stock based on size, so this way you can narrow your hunt.”

Lovely to Look At

Caryopteris photo
Great photos!

The photo library is another way to track down the right plants for the right place. When I’m developing plant palettes for a garden I’m designing and my brain isn’t cooperating, I usually reach for my printed books and start flipping pages. Sometimes I find the right plant, but just as often I see a picture of a plant I can’t use but it reminds me of the one I need. That’s what you get flipping through a colorful grid of hi-resolution thumbnail photos until you find something you like. 

If that were all this app did for less than the price of your morning latte, it would be a marvel. But it also lets you create a “Favorites” list so you can keep track of your best candidates. Need more features? How about emailing the plant’s info directly from the app to a fellow garden lover. Another bonus, you can post a comment or question about a plant so Morrison can reply.

One more great feature for beginners, as well as seasoned gardeners, is a surprisingly robust source of useful, concise horticultural information about soil, planting basics, soil testing, soil amending, with most articles accompanied by clear photographs demonstrating the topic.

Simple to Purchase

The easiest way I can think of to put this great tool on the smartphone of your choosing is to purchase either an iTunes or Google Play gift card. Then put it in an envelope with a note clearly stating “For the Purchase of an Uber Cool Garden Design App” and devote a few sentences gushing about Foolproof Plants for Small Gardens, developed by Sutro Media. Then launch it on your own electronic device and get ready for spring planting season.

itunes card Google Play card

Do you already have Foolproof Plants on your smart phone? I’d love to hear about how you use it or any other thoughts you could share with my readers. Spread the wealth!




Downton Abbey Meets Madmen in a Santa Barbara Garden, Pt. II

October 9th, 2013 in blogs

4 users recommend


In part one of this article (read it here), I introduced you to a not uncommon situation I’ve encountered in my design work: the “Women Are From Venus and Men Are from Mars” dilemma that occurs when partners have differing opinions about garden styles.

My long-term Santa Barbara clients, Jessie and Tim, had recently moved into a new home with a garden that was conveniently separated into two large areas that could not be seen at the same time. And it’s a good thing, because her ideal garden fell along the lines of informal “cottagey” beds of color. Working with the bone structure of the garden we inherited, I think I did a pretty good job of making Jessie a very happy lady.

And him? Let’s have a look at how I met Tim’s desire for a very different vibe…

…Don Draper at the Beverly Hills Hotel for Him

I’m perfectly happy designing traditional gardens, but when we got to the back yard, my pulse raced. Although the plantings they inherited from the last owner was a bit of a hodgepodge, there was also a decidedly Mediterranean plant palette that inspired me. Tim and I riffed on the idea of a bold, mid-twentieth century modern look for the area around the swimming pool, with a side order of Asian-influence to complement the Buddha statue that adorned the covered fireplace terrace of their last home.

Mature palms and blue sky
Neighbors’ palms were welcomed into the garden.

We did another round of remorseless plant demolition while sparing the lives of various palm trees (and “borrowing” the skyline palms of the neighbors) and a striking tree aloe (Aloe barberae, formerly A. bainesii). The pool deck sits above a spacious lawn surrounded by tree ferns, large rhizomatous begonias, variegated New Zealand flax and giant New Guinea impatiens. A broad set of brick steps connects these spaces. The transition needed to be flanked with something boldly exotic – sentinel plants acting as a portal to this lounging and entertainment area.

Tree Aloe Kalanchoe cluster
Existing aloe was preserved.  Succulent “salad” flanks the stairs

The star players in the two matching beds (the owners think it looks like a coral reef) are felt elephant ear (Kalanchoe beharensis). The leaves give it its name – blue-grey, fuzzy undersides and cocoa-colored tops, with a crisp wavy edge that make it an otherworldly stand-out. In a few years, when the Kalanchoe spreads its canopy overhead, the bluish fan aloe (Aloe plicatilis) will be reaching chest high, along with the soft, grassy texture of chartreuse-foliage New Zealand Flax (Phormium ‘Duet’). Below, chunky, succulent Aeonium canariensis amps up the visual texture.

Buddha Becomes the Focal Point

Buddha's home before brick removal Buddha in place
Brick paving was removed Buddha nestled in his jungle

The other sweet spot adjacent to the pool is the new home for Buddha. All the brick paving was removed making space for a lush jungle of Mexican weeping bamboo (Otatea acuminata ‘Chico’), papyrus (our one thirsty plant), palm grass (Setaria palmifolia), and for a splash of color, purple cane orchids (Epidendrum ‘Purple’)

 Buddha from behind overlooking pool Detail of bamboo and palm grass
 Buddha watches over the pool  Mexican bamboo and palm grass

So what’s the point for my loyal readers who stuck it out and read this article to the end?

The point is, there’s no rule, no committee from the Taste Police who require that once you commit to a particular style in one part of your garden, you have to expand that style to fit your entire property. If Disney can put Fantasyland shouting distance from Tomorrowland, then why can’t one partner have their native woodland ferns residing on the same property as the other’s Japanese-inspired gravel garden? The challenge, though, is assuring that the final outcome doesn’t look like ten different committee members did their thing without talking to anyone else on the crew.

My advice? It’s the same as any counselor would suggest: Set aside a quiet weekend evening, pour a glass of your favorite libation and talk it through.




Downton Abbey Meets Madmen in a Santa Barbara Garden, Pt. I

October 1st, 2013 in blogs

9 users recommend

 Click the image to enlarge.

I’m not a marriage and family counselor. I don’t even play one on TV. I’m a landscape architect, but sometimes I’m put in the “Women Are From Venus and Men Are From Mars” squeeze. Perhaps you’re dealing with a similar situation in your own yard.

The first time I encountered this collision of visions was when “she” showed me a picture of a quaint southern-style garden, complete with white picket fence, pink roses and masses of lavender. Him? He took great pride in his potted succulent collection and wanted to gaze upon it during his outdoor meditation sessions. We worked it out, as you can see from this bubble diagram.

schematic of his and hers garden
A mass of shrubbery separates her vision from his.

Well, it’s happened again, this time for a long-term client who recently downsized from a five-acre estate to a more manageable, but still grand property. We’ll call them Jessie and Tim. When we worked together on the first project, there was an ongoing, though loving, tug of war between Jessie’s “just give me lots of pretty flowers” English garden aesthetic and Tim’s desire to go native. We made it work.

Recently, they moved to a two-story Arts and Crafts-era house, constructed in 1900. It sits sideways on a deep lot, so the “front door” faces the side property line instead of the street. Behind the house is the active family area with a swimming pool, dining terrace and lawn, all visually disconnected from the front. Lucky for me.

Given the age of the house, there’s lots of existing vegetation we had to live with. The out-of-character bamboo successfully screens the neighbor’s second story windows, but wouldn’t be my first choice behind an English-style garden.  

Building On What You’ve Got

But the rest of the west garden lent itself nicely to Jessie’s taste. We kept the purple leaf plum, espaliered ornamental pear, a towering Canary Island pine tree, some deep burgundy-foliage Loropetalum, a pair of star jasmine vines climbing the porch posts and a few other “style-neutral” shrubs.

Front door from side property line Front door viewed from path approach

But what to add? The challenge for pulling off a convincing traditional plant palette in surfer country is finding plants that fit the style but also pass my test of being sustainable in a Mediterranean climate.

To compliment this canvas I brought in a pair of Canadian redbuds, a few ornamental grasses (Pennisetum ‘Fairy Tails’ and red fountain grass), Fairy rose, Waverly sage, and Japanese barberry, along with dabs of catmint and cranesbill to cover the ground.

Downton Abbey for Her…

The key to putting a smile on Jessie’s face focused on the simple concrete fountain that aligned with the axis of the front door and porch. This would be the first thing Jessie saw each morning, so it had to hit all the right buttons.

Fountain and warm-colored perennials Fountain close-up with penstemon and achillea

The golden bamboo was tamed with some heavy-handed rhizome removal and as insurance, a dense hedge of Pittosporum ‘Silver Sheen’ went in front of the bamboo. Now we had a more stylistically appropriate backdrop for the focal point. In front of this beefed up screen – for additional “muscle” – I used groupings of Waverly sage with its delicate wand-like flowers, Goodwin Creek lavender and fairy roses to unite the space with the front door plantings.

After centering the existing fountain on the axis and constructing an understated keyhole-shaped path of shale and used brick, it was time to take out the box of crayons and create a little intentional chaos. Without a lot of space to work in, the palette leaned heavily on upright growers like beardtongue (Penstemon ‘Hidcote Pink’), Moonshine yarrow (Achillea ‘Moonshine’), blue fescue (Festuca ‘Elijah Blue’) and daylilies.

Up next… a garden fit for Don Draper at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Circle back in a few weeks and see how the pool area turned into a tropical paradise fit for any mid-century-modern yard. Read it now.




Comment on Enclosure vs. Exposure by Linda Lehmusvirta

To enclose or not to enclose, that is the question…

With all apologies to The Bard, today on Garden Designers Roundtable, our designers offer their thoughts on whether to enclosure a space, and create intimacy and security, or to expose a space and borrow from the surrounding landscape, possibly creating a sense of awe.

Which would you prefer for you little corner of the earth? Follow the links below to see what our experts say then let us know!

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN

When You Buy a House, You Buy A Garden, Part 1

July 18th, 2013 in blogs

8 users recommend

Beautiful plantings are great, but be sure your new yard is also a space for living.

Beautiful plantings are great, but be sure your new yard is also a space for living.

Billy Goodnick

Things might look great from your car window, but you owe it to yourself to dig a little deeper.

Things might look great from your car window, but you owe it to yourself to dig a little deeper.

Billy Goodnick

Pay attention to sun and shade patterns -- they affect your plants and your comfort.

Pay attention to sun and shade patterns — they affect your plants and your comfort.

Billy Goodnick

Beautiful plantings are great, but be sure your new yard is also a space for living. Click the image to enlarge.

Beautiful plantings are great, but be sure your new yard is also a space for living.

Photo: Billy Goodnick


In the past year, lots of people have started breathing easier about their financial situations. Hopefully, you’re one of them. They’re sticking their toes into the real estate pool. (The daring ones are cannonballing off the high dive.) If you’re a garden lover and shopping for a home – whether to expand your living space, down-size or because you’re relocating to a new community – bear in mind that you’re not just buying lumber, stucco and shingles.

If there’s any outdoor living space within your property lines, you’re also buying a yard, be it a postage stamp or some serious acreage. And there’s a good chance that not everything in the sellers garden suits your taste and lifestyle, so it’s helpful to consider what’s an easy fix and what might give you pause for thought.

In a previous two-part blog, I offered tips to sellers on how to make their house and garden more appealing to potential buyers. Now it’s time to share a few tips for shoppers.

The Limits of Curb Appeal

Smart sellers go to great lengths to make a good first impression with a splash of color or burst of drama as curb appeal. That’s well and good, but pay attention to whether that same level of care extends to the rest of the yard. Keep a sharp eye for areas of the garden that will need extensive investments of time and money to bring them up to your standards.

Front yard with brick steps and plantings

And plants that were recently added to fill bare spaces might be packed too tightly for the long-term good of your garden, requiring you to relocate or completely remove them to avoid a horticultural pile-up.

Spaces for Living – Do a “Needs Assessment”

It’s my firm believe that first and foremost, yards should provide spaces for activities like family dinners, entertaining guests, safe play for kids and pets, or just somewhere to lose yourself in a trashy paperback. As you explore the garden on open-house day, imagine a year in the life of your family and how you’d live in this garden. Space limitations and the cost of constructing patios and get-aways can add up fast.

Mexican patio with roses and fire pit

Now dig a little deeper and consider how comfortable the existing spaces will be. If you’re a shade lover but the dining terrace gets blasted by afternoon summer sun, you might not feel compelled to take advantage of an otherwise accommodating spot.

Some Things You Can’t Change – Site Analysis Basics

And speaking of sun, before taking off on your open house cruise, use your computer’s search engine or smart phone GPS to figure out the orientation of the property so you can better understand sun patterns. These will affect not only your comfort but also which plants will be happiest around the property. Ask the current owners where pleasant breezes come from and where the cold winter winds originate. (Look at the shape of mature trees for clues about prevailing winds.) And if you’re in a new community, find an experienced person at the local garden center to explain unfamiliar climate conditions that might affect your garden.

Puffy cloud with light rays

A few things you have less control over are soil and off-site views, good or bad. When it comes to the dirt under your feet, you can add amendment to the planting hole and use best management practices to improve drainage and fertility in your beds, but that takes time, money and a strong lower lumbar region. Maybe not on your first visit, but once a house makes your short list, consider doing a little digging (literally) to check for soil texture (clay, loamy, sandy) and perhaps even send off a sample for a lab test if the existing garden looks troubled.

If the house is blessed with good views, that’s great, but will they last? Are there young trees on neighboring properties that will grow up and spoil the fun? And what about the stuff you’d rather not look at: billboards, utility poles, and such. Is there enough space for screening plants? Can you “re-aim” your outdoor rooms to draw attention elsewhere? Pay attention to where your neighbor’s windows face and consider whether you’ll want to increase your privacy.

Stylistically speaking, my favorite gardens are those where the architectural style and garden support one another: Tudor house + cottage garden; Tuscan villa + Mediterranean garden; Neolithic man-cave + tundra. Ask yourself if the garden of your dreams would make aesthetic sense with the house you’re about to buy. If not, can you picture yourself undertaking a new garden that does work with the architecture?

Read on
Click through to Part 2 for tips about the practical side of gardens: hardscape, utilities and your safety. Part 3 show you how detect maintenance “black holes” and shares other cost-saving ideas.