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It's only natural ... to let nature guide your outdoor space--whether a large backyard or a small patio--says Dena Shelley.

If you find yourself looking out your window lately and feeling disconnected to your outdoor space, don't worry. It's easy to spark that connection again, as long as you've got the inspirational teacher nature by your side. Here are three steps to get the creative landscaping and gardening juices flowing.

1. Notice how you interact with your space.

The first step in creating an outdoor space with which you Better connect is to think of how you already interact with it. Pay attention to your daily routine and jot down your interactions. For example, do you love to gaze into the garden from your favorite armchair, walk to get the paper and admire planted flowers along the driveway, or practice yoga outside on the porch at sunrise?

2. Journal out in nature.

Next, take a morning or afternoon and visit one of your favorite natural settings. Soak up all that you love about the special place--its sounds, smells, sights and textures--and jot your observations down in your journal. Pay thoughtful attention to the layers of the landscape around you: ground, shrub, sub-canopy and canopy. Also note the differences between areas with intense sun, shade or other microclimates. If you have a shady, north-facing yard, for example, you'll want to study the plants and textures relevant to you (bring a Camera along if you have one).

3. Apply what you know.

Once you're back from the park or trail, take a seat outside and break out your journal. Use what you've learned about your favorite place in nature and envision how you can Bring its elements to-your space at home--whether you've got a backyard, porch or planting container to work with. Think of the big picture first: how to weave together the look and feel of your favorite setting with the way you already use, or want to use, your outdoor space. Then, have fun with the details to enhance the sensual experience of your landscape.

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For plantings, use a native plants to recreate layers from your favorite setting, planting in naturalized "drifts." Include your personality into each phase as you create. If you felt entranced by nature's mystery at your favorite place, try using plants that vary in bloom times, drifting color in and out with the seasons. If it's a sense of excitement or intensity you want to nurture, plant blooming companions together. Try picking contrasting colors that enhance each other. Utilize form and texture by mixing in coarse and fine leaves with interesting bark, such as the smooth muscle tone of ironwood or the shaggy exterior of river birch.

Think outside of the "visual" box. I love to use plants that move and rustle with the wind, especially near my bedroom window, so I can enjoy them as I start my day. If you begin each day with a barefoot trip to the mailbox, try planting a little lemon or wooly thyme to add a sweet-smelling cushion to your morning step.

If your favorite insect is the red-spotted purple butterfly, plant some wood nettle and milkweed (host plant and feeding plant, respectively). Try including dogwoods or holly in your palette to attract flocks of fruit-hungry cedar waxwings. Play up your own interests when it comes to planting edibles. If you turn into a kid every time it's morel or blueberry season, transform your desire to forage into a powerful landscape element. Plant a couple of serviceberries or spruce up your walkways with drifts of red pepper plants or tasty mounds of red kale.

And remember that it's okay to add personalized touches that move beyond the classic definition of a garden or landscape. Some of my favorite spaces inspired by nature have artwork or symbolic references mixed in, such as wind chimes or instruments in gusty locations, painted stones leading to secretive nooks, and scattered shimmers of light reflected off water.

Nature is a fantastic teacher. Use it as a tool of inspiration to renew your outdoor space and soak up nature's benefits when you can't make it away from the neighborhood to your favorite spot.

Dena Shelley is a landscape designer and LEED AP at Equinox Environmental Consultation & Design, Inc. in Asheville. She welcomes questions regarding personalizing landscapes at dena@equinoxenvironmental.com. For more information regarding landscape design and environmental consultation services, visit www.equinoxenvironmental.com.
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Title Annotation:DIGGING IN
Author:Shelley, Dena
Publication:New Life Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2009
Words:721
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