Fall the season for landscape by design
The reason that fall is such a great planting season is that the soil is warm and there is usually a long period of moderate temperatures from September until about Thanksgiving in the Lehigh Valley.
It's true that many plants aren't producing much shoot growth at this time, but the roots of many plants continue to function long after shoots appear dormant. Sure, we'll have a frost in mid-October, but most years this is followed by many days of frost-free temperatures.
If you are thinking of new landscaping or updating the landscaping you already have, right now is the time to draw up a plan. There are no hard and fast rules for landscaping; each design is unique. But like other art forms, landscaping is based on certain principles of design.
Scale refers to the proportion between two sets of dimensions. Knowing the eventual or mature size of a plant is critical when siting it near a building. Plants that grow too large will overwhelm a building. Small plantings around a large building can be similarly inappropriate.
It is essential, therefore, to know the final size of a particular plant before using it in a landscape design. The mature height and the spread of a plant should be considered.
Balance refers to an aesthetically-pleasing integration of elements. It is a sense of one part being of equal visual weight or mass to another. There are two types of balance: symmetrical and asymmetrical.
Symmetrical balance is more formal. It has an axis with everything on one side being duplicated or mirrored on the other side.
Asymmetrical balance is achieved by using different objects to create equilibrium. For example, if there is a very large object on one side of a seesaw, it can be counterbalanced by using many objects of a smaller size, or one object of equal size, on the other. In each instance, balance is achieved.
If there is a large existing tree or shrub, a grouping or cluster of smaller plants counterbalances the large existing plant. Balance may also be achieved through color and texture.
A garden with too many ideas expressed in a limited space lacks unity. Too many showy plants or accessories on the lawn would claim more attention than the house itself. Too many accent plants, or plants with contrasting textures, form, or color, violates the principles of unity.
To achieve unity it is necessary to group or arrange different parts of the design to appear as a single unit. The design should create a pleasant picture from every angle.
Rhythm is a repetition of elements that directs the eye through the design. It results only when the elements appear in regular measures and in a definite direction. Rhythm can be expressed by color as well as form.
Every square foot of landscape does not have to have something in it. Objects like birdbaths and plastic yellow daisies are often overused. The design concept "less is more" holds especially true for landscape design. Keep the landscape simple and it will look its best.
Avoid cluttering the yard with unnecessary objects, including plant material, statuary and other items. If too many extras are introduced, the yard looks messy. Use statuary or specimen plants with discretion. The simplest landscapes are often the most attractive. Remember: create spaces, don't fill them up.
Accent, also referred to as dominance, focalization, or climax, is important in the total picture. Without accent a design may be dull, static or uninteresting.
Various parts, if skillfully organized, will lead the eye toward the focal point. This may be a garden accessory, plant specimen, plant composition, or water in some form. Emphasis may also be obtained by using contrasting textures, colors, or forms, or by highlighting portions of a plant composition with garden lights.
Do not confuse repetition in the landscape with monotony. A row of sheared hedges lined up in front and down the side of a home is not repetition; it is monotony.
Repetition is something more subtle; for example, curves in the landscape design. Curves may begin in bed lines in the front yard, continue in the side yard and be picked up once more in the backyard.
The repetition of right angles on a grid design can be used successfully to achieve unity in the landscape. The right angles may begin in the front yard, perhaps on the sidewalk, continue in the bed lines that go around the property, and be picked up again in the backyard. By subtly repeating such elements as bed lines in the yard, you can achieve continuity or flow within the entire landscape.
Be creative as you like, but keep these concepts in mind for a landscape you will enjoy now and in the future.
"Growing Green" is contributed by Lehigh County Extension Office Staff and Master Gardeners. Lehigh County Extension Office, 610-391-9840; Northampton County Extension Office, 610-746-1970.