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Space is the breath of air

April 18, 2012

Frank Lloyd Wright. The space in your yard is just as important as the space in your home. Rooms can be created by themes and purposes outside in the yard just as they are inside allowing for a space to enjoy silence, a space that allows for entertaining guests, or a space that allows production of fruits and vegetables for use in the kitchen. The idea is to create or utilize livable and usable open areas in a yard, not congest them. Let’s examine this concept and see its relevance as the beginning step in design. Space is valuable so make some notes on what you have to work with. Boundaries help to create rooms, and while walls are the easiest boundary to find don’t forget the ceiling, which can be in the form of a tree canopy or trellis. This may inalude new space that has not been used, such as porches, but don’t forget to think outside of the box including roofs, walls, and even windowsills. Think about the space as a whole; it is not just surrounding an area with beds but more of integrating the beds with the underfoot space of turf/ patio and walls. The next step is to think about the use of the space – its purpose. What do you envision or want to see happen with that space? Is this a place no entertain guests or quietly read a book? Would the space be formal or informal? The informal American cottage garden provides a different emotion and atmosphere than a formal English border design providing symmetry.

Think about the views to and from the room you are creating; do you want to hide your space or open it up. How long do you want the space to serve its purpose? (Many people enjoy changing their beds and designs annually, while some have a more permanent vision in mind) (At this point it is good to revisit what has worked in the past and what has not, the past failure could be remedied with a small tweaking of your design or maybe it is time to start anew) Once the purpose of the space is decided you can now think about adding new structures if necessary. Keep in mind that adding a structure can create new textures in the proposed space (such as curves, straight lines, and new horizontal and/or vertical planes). Would the proposed structure clash or compliment with its surroundings? (This includes hardscape elements and pieces of art. While bricks would add something that stone could not and vice-versa, they may not look good together or near each other. But don’t worry; these issues can be remedied, as there are always exceptions. Matching colors could alleviate and even cause the textural contrast of brick and stone to be quite pleasing together) Notice, we have not even mentioned plants yet… Soil plays a big part of space, space that is available underground for the likes of water holding capacity, drainage, nutrient holding capacity, and allowance of root mass growth. Be sure before choosing plants you consider the soil in which they grow. Some plants are picky about where their roots grow while others are not. And while it is a good idea to know what soil you have for the!plants sake, it is also good to know what your ground is made of because it is your yard. Knowing your soil can guide your decisions, which in turn can make your area more manageable and sustainable while cutting expenditures on replacing dead plants. Test your soil ph (this will allow you to see what nutrients would be available and what nutrients might be locked up or unavailable and how to remedy this) Dig down and look at your soil profile to get an idea of what you are dealing with (you might find sand, clay, rock or a combination- these all provide different water holding capacities and dictate how far down the roots may or may not be able to go) Plants can enhance or ruin the atmosphere and mood of the space. So, when you are finally ready to start thinking plants, make a list of plants you would like to use in your yard rather than immediately drawing them into a design. Upon looking over your list you might discover good plant combinations that would have been missed had you just went right into the drawing phase or just the opposite, instead realizing the combination of certain plants might change the whole purpose or function of the space. Remember that plants can be used for their structural and textural appearance as well as their other gifts of flowering, producing fruit, and producing seed. This is especially relevant in the winter months when deciduous shrubs, trees, and vines are stripped down to reveal their bark and stems which can provide a new interest to the space in the garden. All these steps might seem a bit much, however it is worthy to note that the amount you put into something reveals how much you value it. Above all, be bold and extravagant in your creative process, it is after all your space.

Resources: Toledo Botanical Garden is a tremendous asset to get new ideas on utilizing the space in your yard from our open turf areas to our intimate displays and themed beds, and let’s not forget our integration of art in the garden – all at your disposal to get those creative juices flowing. The Shipman garden at Wildwood Metropark can also provide some fantastic concepts of utilizing space including plant beds, paths, fountains and patios. Taking a stroll at a park, or even down the street can provide new perspectives on utilizing spaces and structures that are both natural and man made in your yard. Soil testing kits can be purchased at some local garden centers and can provide basic info about your soil. For a more detailed soil test, contact your local Ohio State Extension Office for options. OSU Extension at Toledo Botanical Garden phone # (419) 578-6783. OSU Lucas County Extension Email: Books:The Artful Garden, James Van Sweden, Random House (2011) Garden Style, Penelope Hobhouse, Willow Creek Press (1988) Garden Masterclass, John Brooks, DK Limited (2002) The Garden A Celebration, Howard Loxton, Barron’s (1991) The American Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Gardening, Christopher Brickell, DK (2003) Residential Landscape Architecture, Norman K. Booth & James E. Hiss, Pearson (2008)

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