Carol Chernega owns a garden maintenance business near Pittsburgh, Pa., that specializes in hand pruning.

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5 Design Mistakes Home Gardeners Make (and How to Avoid Them)
by Carol Chernega    

Garden design and gardening are not necessarily the same thing. Here are the most common design errors, why they are ‘bad’ and how to change your ways.

Here are the top five mistakes I see most often in my work as a professional gardener. They’re easy to fix!

1. Shearing shrubs into balls. This not only looks boring, but it also leads to unhealthy plants. Shearing promotes dense outer growth, which blocks sunlight. Inner leaves fall off, leaving bare (sometimes dead) branches in the middle of the plant. Later, if you want to reduce the size of the shrub, you can’t do it because you’d be left with bare branches. 

Solution: Hand-prune one branch at a time, going down into the plant so you open it up and allow light inside. Only topiary and boxwood should be sheared, and even they will benefit from hand-pruning. Become familiar with the natural growth habit of shrubs and allow them to grow into that shape.

Shearing everything into the same shape creates a boring landscape.

This spirea has been pruned with its natural shape in mind, rather than tightly sheared.

2. Planting too closely together, or siting plants too close to your home or sidewalk. When shrubs start growing into each other, it looks like the landscape is engulfing the house. When they hang over the sidewalk or driveway, they reduce the usefulness of those paths. 

Solution: Plan for future growth. Read the plant tag. If the shrub has a mature width of 3-5 feet, then place it at least 3 feet away from the house, sidewalk and other shrubs. Also, when you first plant shrubs, fill in the bare spots with perennials, rocks or ornaments that can be easily moved as the shrub grows.

Shrubs too close to the house and to each other will need hours of pruning to get them under control.

3. Fighting nature. How many times have  you said, “The deer are eating my hosta!” Yep, they’re  deer candy.

Have you ever bought a plant that wants shade even though your garden has full sun? “I’ll water it a lot,”  you think. 

Are you planning to install a French drain because your lawn is soggy?

All of these scenarios have a common theme — you’re trying to fight nature. Experienced gardeners know nature will always win.

Solution: Work with nature instead of against it. If the deer keep eating your hosta, stop planting hosta! There are many plants deer won’t eat. Research them.  Follow the recommendations on plant tags. Shade-loving plants may survive in full sun, but they won’t thrive.  Create a bog garden instead of installing a French drain. Plants that love wet spots will be happy there.

4. Improper scale. Most people err on the side of too small rather than too big. Picture these: Pots or garden accessories that are so small they’re not even noticeable, or 12 daffodils rather than 100.

Solution: Think big! Plant sweeps of bulbs, perennials or annuals. Have one big container by the front door instead of three small ones. Invest in one stunning garden accessory instead of many small ones scattered around the garden.

Improper scale — the two pots flanking the front door look tiny compared to the size of the home.

5. Lack of a focal point. This is the biggest design mistake I see. The garden is neat and tidy, but it looks like every other landscape in the neighborhood.

Solution: A focal point is what takes a garden from nice to wow! A formal garden should have a focal point at the end of a straight path. An informal garden should have curves with the focal point around the bend, so there’s something to surprise you. The focal point can be a sculpture, birdbath, bench, urn, water feature or an element that reflects your personality or interests.

Left: These pots and their plants match the scale of this front entry. Right: These Victorian forcing pots create a simple yet interesting focal point, and reflect the owner’s interest in antiques. This photo also illustrates proper scale — one pot would be lost, whereas multiple pots really draw your eye.

Follow these guidelines and your garden will be the focal point of the neighborhood!

From State-by-State Gardening September/October 2013. Photos courtesy of Carol Chernega.


Posted: 12/03/13   RSS | Print


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