Blank Canvas


Old 12-20-02, 08:29 AM
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Talking Blank Canvas

Hello, I've just bought a new house with a medium sized garden. At the moment it is basically a black canvas and I would like to know if anyone has any tips for starting a new garden (ie what are good focal points (preferably relatively inexpensive), and whether I should group certain plants together, and how I could add depth).

I would really love a country garden, but am a complete novis when it comes to gardening.

The garden is south facing. We have a small patio outside of french doors (leading from the sitting room) and a door from the kitchen with 3 steps leading onto the lawn. We have a boarder on the left hand side with a small tree which seems to fade out into grass. We have a wooden fence adjoining the neighbours. The back of the garden backs onto our garage (brick) (which I would love to grow a Clematis over, but would like to know if it would damage the brick work). In the middle of the back wall is our gateway to the garage. On the right of the back wall we have a few shrubs (I take it that it is because it is more shady), and not very much down the right hand side which is a brick wall.

We don't have a big budget to start the garden with and was wondering whether there are any plants which would thrive in an alkali clay soil that would grow to make the garden look "lived-in" for the summer? I could do with all the help I can get and thanks for any advice in advance.
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Old 12-22-02, 02:44 AM
howiek's Avatar
Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: Acton, Ontario, Canada - Zone 6b
Posts: 413
Hello gemmap104 and Welcome to

Hopefully Marturo and others won't mind if I take a stab at your question and give you a bit of advice I have always given my clients.

It is hard to give ideas about what you should be doing with your landscape without having a real feel for your likes and dislikes - for specific plants and soil/environmental conditions there are some guidelines which will help you make selections which will survive - often a good catologue from a nursery or gardening books will give you lists of which plants do well in what situations in your area.

My experience with Clematis is that they cling to supports by tendrils that wrap around things rather than anchoring themselves into the support. You should provide a trellis or mesh for them to climb. They also like full sun, but need their feet (roots) shaded to be happiest.

You are very fortunate to have a blank canvas and to be able to make a fresh start without having to eliminate what's already there.

The most important thing I have always tried to relate to potential clients, friends and new owners is that the only timetable that you have is self-imposed, so it's easier to have a masterplan before you start than to be putting things in hap-hazardly and end up moving them as more things are added.

Look at books, other landscapes, television, photos, anything that will give you ideas. Make lists of what you love, like, are neutral about, somewhat dislike and absolutely hate. It is important to keep a record of all 5 categories. List materials (plants and hard landscape features), colours, moods, uses, themes, etc. - whatever comes to your mind at the time.

After you have made your lists, do a physical inventory of your property. Make a scale drawing (it doesn't have to be fancy - just good enough so that you can understand it) and put on it all the existing features including buildings, views, topography, existing trees and shrubs, sculptures and/or fixed furniture, drainage patterns, sun angles in different seasons, existing shade patterns, prevailing winds, etc.

You can now take a piece of tracing paper and start removing (on paper) things you don't want and moving items that you have decided that you just have to have onto the landscape.

Play with the design a bit - it's a lot easier to do it on paper than in the field. Go out to your yard and try to envision the features as you would place them. Often it is helpful to create 'rooms' and spaces within your landscape where you move from one area or theme or feeling to another - start at your entrance, you might want a welcoming view or overview of your yard, maybe a patio or entertainment area; there could be a feature such as a pond, gazebo or sculpture that dominates the yard; as you move around your landscape, you want to create surprises around each corner or with each turn - a patch of lawn or a quiet reading area, Peter rabbit's veggy patch, your prized perennial collection, a corridor or frame to that million dollar view of the Village Common next door.

Your plan doesn't have to (although it can) include details like specific plant materials or landscape elements - just the ideas or proposed uses and the general area where you want them to occur. (Entry area here, patio or lawn there, beautiful view I want to enhance in this direction, block off the view of the City Dump over there, a veggie patch here, a quiet reading area there, my Henry Moore sculpture over be the conservatory - you get the idea... ) And if you happen to see an item at the local flea market or on your travels to Europe that you just-have-to-have, you can make adjustments to that masterplan or place them more effectively knowing what you have planned for the entire landscape.

By creating a Masterplan, you have now given yourself the freedom to prioritize your projects. Remember that you do not have to do everything all at once - You can decide what's most important and begin that project. Move on to the next after the first is complete and as your own budget, resources and time allow. You won't become overwhelmed and give up on the whole yard if you take it a bit at a time and by completing one task at a time, you will see encouraging results more quickly than if you were to try to do the whole thing all together. Do the hard landcape first (grading and larger permanent features) and then place your secondary features and plant materials.

Half tha adventure and joy is in the creating, so take your time and experience it for all it's worth! (especially if you can do a lot of it yourself... ) Remember that list? If you decide that you are going to have a professional design your yard for you and then maybe try to do some of the work yourself, this will help them more than you will ever know...

Sorry 'bout the mini-novel Hope this gives you an idea about one way to go about your project that I have found will help to get to a satisfying result without too mush stress or financial hardship.

Good luck with your landscape!

Over to you, Marturo, and others...

Old 12-22-02, 12:58 PM
marturo's Avatar
Join Date: Jun 2001
Posts: 1,448
Smile Good advice is worth it's weight in Gold.

Hi' gemmap104 & Welcome to the DIY Garden forum

I would say you got the Royal treatment from howiek. I can't think of anything, I would change in what howiek has advised you in.

Howiek as you know my friend, you are as much a part of Gardens as all of us Your experience & knowledge are very welcome here, always.

gemmap104, up top in a Sticky we have a (helpful Garden Links). You may have to copy & paste in your address bar to visit, this wealth of information. There is a wealth of help in there for all to see & learn from.

Allways remember we are do it yourself gardeners here, & love to be outside looking back at what we did ourselves. Their is no satisfaction, quite like doing it yourself

Merry Christmas to you and yours.


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