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Landscaping from scratch.

About four summers ago I decided to put in a landscaped flower garden. I had bought a new book and was so inspired and edified, I just started right in. In May.

The area was the site of an old orchard with only two very old pear trees and a small apricot left, and a hard turf of rough grass. Some San Augustine, a lot of bahia, and a lot of wild strawberry covered a slight slope and drained down toward a hand-dug goldfish pond. About half of the area was damp shade and the other half was hot open sun.

This area had been planted through the years with several different things, miscellaneous rows of this and that, but had never been pretty. Mostly it was just about a quarter-acre area to mow. A hedgerow grown up in a chainlink fence almost totally obscured it from traffic along Gum Slough Road.

To start: a diagram

My first action was to get a big piece of poster board and very unartistically make a diagram of what I had. The borders were laid out and all the existing trees put in their approximate locations.

Then, with information gleaned from my new landscaping book, I began to visualize the feeling I wanted to create. This area is seen from my bedroom windows and flows from the house, diagonally, down to the pond. My vision was of the meandering curving flow of running water.

With a pencil, I began to trace curves. Long curves following the existing trees; a horseshoe curve; circles and ovals filling the centers of these plats. When I was satisfied, finally, I drove some stakes to locate these points and with my tiller tore up the turf in curving rows. There are three long rows, totally unsymmetrical, but they all lead from the "top" of the garden down toward the pond.

After going over all the projected beds about three times with the tiller, I covered all the tilled areas with thick continuous mats of pine straw, leaves and moldy hay, covering all the torn-up grass. I used this assortment of mulch because that's what I had.

Seeing the flow

When it was all covered, I could really see for the first time the "flow" of my landscaping. By this time it was June and the vegetables claimed my attention. About the middle of july, I pulled back the mulch and all the torn-up turf underneath already had a moldy, composted smell.

The first plantings were small shrubs that had been collected for two to three years and just randomly planted around the yard, not really making a showing anywhere. These were penciled in on the well-used diagram, taking into account their projected adult size and whether they needed sun or shade. The last four years have pointed up mistakes I made, but at the time, I planned as I thought best.

Some mistakes and setbacks

Some of the shrubs have grown much faster than I planned. Some were killed in a hard winter freeze and some have been overshadowed by their rampant-growing neighbors and have had to be moved out into more sunshine. My knowledge of what to expect and of all the unknowns present in dealing with nature has been greatly increased.

Between the middle of July and September I moved about twenty shrubs into their new beds. The mulch was just moved aside far enough to dig the proper size hole, the hole dug, then the shrub was dug and quickly carried to its new hole with as much dirt as possible and mudded in. This means filling the hole completely with water and slowly adding the dirt back in. No air ever pockets around the roots. All the dirt is piled around the trunk of the shrub, being careful not to plant it deeper than it was. Then the mulch is pulled back to completely cover the dirt.

During these hot, dry, summer months, I lost not a single one of these plants using this method, and did not have to water again. I watched them carefully and in a week or two all sign of shock was gone and new growth had begun. Most of them dropped some leaves but soon looked like they had been growing in their new locations for years.

Through the fall, winter and spring I gradually added many new plants. A lot of them are wild perennials, the result of ditch-digging, with an eye to color and almost year-round bloom of some kind.

There are several points I want to make with all this detailed description of my new "landscaped" garden.

First, look at what you have, decide what you want, then make a working picture of it, preferably on at least a two by three foot card to be able to get a good overview.

Second, the tilling and mulch takes out most of the hard, back-breaking work of putting in new beds. By the next spring, when I put in bedding plants for

color, the grass had all composted and worms had gone a long way in loosening that hard turf ground. A minimal amount of digging was necessary to prepare the spots between the shrubs for the tiny delicate bedding plants.

Don't listen when they tell you that all grass has to be dug out to make a new bed. In fact, if you do throw away all the grass and roots, you are throwing away a lot of good humus that will act as loosening agent and nutrients in your soil.

Third, if the proper methods are used, almost any shrub can be moved almost any time of the year. I once read in answer to the question, "When can a shrub be moved?", the answer was "Anytime it can be dug out of the ground".

Of course, common sense tells you the difference between planting in winter and summer. The hole must be prepared, full of water, before the shrub is dug up. And if you have to transport it across a wide yard, cover the dirt ball with a damp sack. And do not put any fertilizer in the hole or around the plant. I know there are transplanting mediums on the market, but they are tricky and I feel the safest way is just plain water and the dirt that came out of the hole. Time for fertilizer is later, on top of the ground, when the plant is established.

And fourth, and very important to me because I do all my own mowing, the paths between all these beds are curved and can be smoothly mowed in a continuous fluid motion. No pulling back and having to go into and around corners. Some of the paths are wide enough for the tractor mower to go through and the trim mowing with the push mower takes only about thirty minutes. All the borders are cared for with a Weedeater about once a month, and if I keep mulch on all the dirt areas, weeding is a very light, simple chore.

In 1992, four summers later, my curving meandering beds were so satisfyingly beautiful. Each morning at daylight my first view of the day was out into the rich greenery, with some color glowing in the early morning light almost year around.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Countryside Publications Ltd.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Ferguson, Mary C.
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:May 1, 1993
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