One of the things one has to give up as a garden designer is an attachment to the way a garden develops after the crew leaves. When the wrong gardener is chosen, whether it's a maintenance man with a hedge trimmer or a do-it-myself home gardener who doesn't do it themselves, the results can be disappointing. But with the right team in place a new landscape has a fighting chance to be fabulous!
before; I consider it one of my best efforts at transforming a traditional lawn-centric suburban garden into something really different and interesting. Here's a report from its third spring, as seen on an unseasonably rainy day in late May.
Soft shrubs like Dodonea purpurea, Leptospermum 'Apple Blossom' and Rhamnus alaternus variegata form a soft curving buffer at the right of the garden. The largest arbutus was placed squarely in front of the porch window, to protect it from the strong western sun in the summer, and curious passers-by on the street! A strong edging of ledger stone separates the garden from the gravel parking strip (no sidewalks on this side of the street).
Design note; if I had "played it safe" with color and used lots of purples, blues and silvers to cool down the strong color of the house, the effect would have been rather drab, kind of like the picture above. Consider instead where we chose to go:
[Insert mini rant here] Too often I see this shrub looking dreadful...awkward and sprawling. This is not the plant's fault; it's just lack of early training. So designers, listen up and help your clients give their Coprosma the tough love they require, or be prepared to do it yourself!
On the care and training of Coprosma:
This is a plant that you need to be firm with during its youth. It wants to send up exuberant, luxurious plumes of gorgeous leaves in random directions; and these MUST be cut back hard to help you form the basis of a neater mature shrub. Once or twice a year should do it (and I'm talking about being a MAN and taking your clippers and cutting it back to a nice pair of shoots or buds at your desired shrub-level. I'm NOT talking about shearing; don't be lazy!) Use them in a flower arrangement, if that makes you feel better!
As the side shoots start growing, pinch their tips. The more pinching, the denser the shrub. The one above gets pruned/pinched a few times a year, so it's rather free form. If you think that sounds like too much maintenance, would you rather mow/edge/weed a lawn or give your fingernails a little workout?
Be brave. I know, it's hard. I'm much more daring with my client's plants than with my own, I KNOW the "it's still got one flower on it" syndrome. Get over it. Sometimes good horticultural practice is to prune; for balance and to stimulate growth where you want it. It's an art. Think of it that way; plants as the medium, shaped by your touch. Good plantsmanship is one of the best skills a designer can bring to the table.
Part of the reason this garden looks so good is because I personally visit it several times a year (at the owner's request) to clean up; shape, train and evaluate. We include his arborist and landscape contractor in our discussions to take care of the heavier tasks. It doesn't take long, and it's nice when the client joins me to clean up the daylilies and give everything else a once-over.
Even after three years there are still many plants in this garden that I've never had to touch. That, to me, is a landscape that's working, and my client agrees. As I left that day, he said "You done good."