Here's what happens when a landscape designer or architect visits, if you're lucky – free and free-wheeling advice. So I shouldn't have been surprised when Billy Goodnick visited my garden briefly last September and immediately pointed out to me the errors in my decidedly amateur attempt at design. (I kept wanting to offer a lame defense – "I knew that!" – but refrained.) No matter that the plants he knows and grows in Santa Barbara, CA are totally alien to us Easterners because the basics of design – line, massing and structure – are universal.
And as much as I sure prefer compliments to criticism, I knew he was right. I wasn't happy with the design of my back garden, either. I needed some coaching. So as soon as Billy got home I send him this extremely crude drawing of the view from the house looking into the woods, with the larger plants indicated.
Note that Billy is suggesting I give up the wide open lawn (or lawn substitute) surrounded by borders effect and turn the space into something more interesting. So the left border becomes larger, less border-like, and even jumps the dry streambed – something I'd never have thought of doing. And instead of seeing the entire garden from those chairs in the lower right, with this design I'd be lured into walking through the garden. And oh, notice how many more plants I'll have!
Designing is a fun!
So Coach Billy, here's my progress report. You titled this a "massing study" but of course what comes before massing is line, so I've gotten busy creating the lines, following (more or less) your inspiring sketch. No, I didn't use garden hose – the most frequently recommended and WORST possible method for trying out new lines. Instead, I grabbed my bucket of stakes and planted those suckers along the new lines, then ran up to the deck to see the effect from above. When I was happy with the staked lines, I sprayed marking paint along them and ran up to the deck again to look. Then I checked the new lines from the chairs and while walking through the space, and tweaked 'til I was happy. Man, I am loving the whole process – and the new look.
Next up, massing, and this is where it gets tricky for gardeners without deep pockets. Purchased in the typical starter sizes, most plants need YEARS to become respectable masses, so I'm scrounging my garden for full-grown plants that can be moved for quick effect, and have found a few. Not enough to show you the exciting "after," but hopefully by spring.
The pressure's on
Make that definitely by spring because somehow I agreed to have my garden on the Garden Conservancy Open Days tour next May – yikes! Visitors will be paying $5 for the privilege, you know.