1. lacking in special interest, liveliness, individuality, etc.; insipid.
aka: bor·ing (bôr’ĭng, bōr’-) -adj. Uninteresting and tiresome; dull.

The Problem

Is this how you want your brand new yard to feel to yourself or those you invite over, upon its completion, to show it off? Is this the impression you want after spending thousands of your hard earned dollars and having a substantial portion of your yard torn up and full of machinery for days/weeks (months)? Didn’t think so.

I’m not saying to go ‘Vegas’ on your yard. No, that would be WAY over the top (but if that IS your bag, then I’m already preachin’ to the choir). How about somewhere in between? All together now: ‘Ahhhhhhh.’ That’s more like it.

Bland means 100 of the same plant. Masses of the same color or texture. Things that bloom during the exact same two week window during early summer, then retreat to that comfortable shade of green that just about disappears until fall, if you’re lucky enough to have picked the right plant to produce a fall color.

Usually not, though. It was probably an evergreen, wasn’t it? A yew? An arborvitae, hosta? Thought so. They’re so easy; so conservative. Wouldn’t want the neighbors to think we’re doing anything fun over here. Don’t want them to approach the HOA and report us. God forbid, we may get a WARNING LETTER on our front door for being too creative or too individualistic. Wait, who am I kidding. Nobody goes to the front door anymore (except for me!!). It would be an email, probably Cc’d to everyone on the street. That’s more effective. It lets everyone adjacent know that you’re upsetting the system, unbalancing the machine.

When HOA’s began governing and limiting your creativity, cookie-cutter became the norm. It’s time we break out of our collective shells (but still stay within the HOA’s guidlines).

The Solution

Just because you have a list of do’s and don’ts from your HOA, that doesn’t mean you’re bound to be boring. Quite the contrary, in fact. Forget style preference for a minute, because all of these suggestions can apply across the board, whether you’re wanting tropical, cottage, modern, classical, formal, etc. So, without further adieu, here are some characteristics to avoid letter ‘B‘ of my ‘avoidable alphabet.’

Scale: I guess I’ll start with the most complicated one first. Scale is determined primarily by the structures/buildings adjacent to where you’re about to plant. And scale can be measured in three dimensions. Duh, you knew that!! But let me explain. As you are looking at the elevation view (front view, looking side to side), you may notice various elements such as windows, changes in building materials, view openings, etc. The plants you choose should respond to these variables (short ones in front of windows & views, tall ones on blank walls). Even if there is no variation in the backdrop or wall behind your planting bed, a good design will still incorporate some flow. Meaning, it’s a good idea to place plants of different heights beside each other to create interest, using larger shrubs or small trees as the anchors of the bed, and surrounding them with smaller shrubs and perennials. This principle translates to plan view (top view) as well. A mix of large and small, with the larger plantings serving as the anchors surrounded by the smaller ones. Now, let’s take a look at a section (slice from front to back) of the planting area, with patio or lawn at the front and build or structure to the back. In this dimension, the taller plants should occur in the rear, and each layer should ‘step down’ in size as you move toward the front, or ground plane. It may seem elementary in thinking, but this is a common mistake that is avoided by becoming familiar with the plants and their habits at maturity.

Bloom/Season of Interest: Now we’ll transition to the easiest characteristic. A good design should flow from season to season, revealing something new and exciting with each turn of the calendar page. Through careful planning, a garden can have waves of color consistently throughout the year, without huge, glaring pockets of emptiness. This is pretty easy to figure out, as most garden centers and plant books will indicate when something is most interesting. If you’re lucky (well, I guess luck has little to do with it at this point. Let’s go with ‘good taste’.), you’ll select plants that have multiple seasons of interest. For example, an Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) has some amazingly white, conical flower blooms during the summer, and incredible, almost tie-dyed-like reds and oranges during the fall. And, the best news is that its native to most parts of North America. For those of you that experience snow during the winter, this is a lost season in many gardens. But this can also provide the most dramatic backdrop to be displayed upon. A great mix of evergreens, ornamental grasses and specimens with interesting bark will liven up that otherwise dormant planting bed. That being said, now is a great time for a segue into the next characteristic…

Color: This is as important, if not more, than season of interest. I’m not a big fan of gardens that are monochromatic. I’m even less of a fan of gardens that have a mix of color, when these colors are segregated from each other. Having a red quadrant and a white quadrant is only appropriate in themed gardens. And most of you don’t have the space or intention to create sectors of any magnitude that will convey this effect. Mixing your yellows and purples and reds and their times of show will make you smile through the seasons. Trust me. And it’s ok if you hate fuchsia, for example.  There are plenty of other colors that will create a full pallet that you won’t be criticized for it’s lack of fuchsia. If you are, send them to me. We’ll go out behind the woodshed for a good talkin’ to. Don’t worry, I’ve got your back.

Structures: I’m already rambling, so I won’t belabor this point. Having some sort of structural element(s) in your garden takes the pressure off of your plants to hold everyone’s’ attention. Sometimes these focal points serve double duty as ornamental as well as functional. Pergolas are aesthetically pleasing and provide shade in the absence of canopy trees. Water features are also very pretty and they aid in masking unwanted noise, such as that from a nearby freeway. Knee walls retain soil on slopes and provide additional seating along with looking nice and marrying the garden to the building. You get the point. Structures are great, but their placement should be well thought out and have a good reason behind it.

Oh, and PLEASE don’t plant stuff too close to buildings. That REALLY bothers me. And it will bother you and your siding/stone/stucco too someday. I promise.

By keeping the above characteristics in mind, you should have a good leg up on creating a great garden space that will be enjoyed throughout the seasons, for many years to come.

If these principles still seem too confusing to implement, feel free to contact me directly at one of the many channels listed on the right side of the page. I’d be happy to further explain how each relates to your particular situation. Until next time, thanks for reading.

See you soon..

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