Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Tips to Improve Your Landscape

The Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden
is a great place to get landscape guidance.
Photo by Robert Ayers.

By Erika Zambello

Each home has its own unique landscape. And a successful landscape requires design and forethought to align with the lifestyle and needs of the home. Jeff Evans, a licensed landscape architect and instructor of Duke Gardens’ “Twelve Ways to Improve Your Landscape” course, spoke to me about how to approach improving your own landscape.

Envisioning your future outdoor space and how it will enrich your life is the goal of landscape design. “Does the homeowner want more parking, a rose garden, more privacy?” Evans asks. Does the homeowner want to be actively engaged in the landscape garden, or is it primarily meant to be viewed? In addition to space-use concerns, a homeowner must consider whether there are potential site problems, such as drainage or a need for seating and entertaining areas.

The second set of questions homeowners must ask involves what challenges their properties may pose to their overall vision. Are the outdoor areas shady or exposed? Is there too much drainage or too little? Challenges, Evans tells me, are really opportunities to address how your individual landscape fits within the broader environment, and they are thus opportunities to be creative.

As an example, many homeowners are dissatisfied with their outdoor living spaces. Clients often come to Evans complaining that their space is uninteresting and too small, he says. How can this be addressed by altering the landscape?

To answer this question, you must ask another. A rectangle is just a rectangle, Evans says. “How can we take that space and make it better accommodate the way you want to use it?” If you envision a private enclave, divide a larger outdoor space into smaller areas using plants or other building materials. If you need a larger space for family and friends, you can still make it your own through creative use of materials. Instead of a concrete slab, use cobbles, bricks, stone or other interesting ground materials.

“Add personalized elements like a fountain or colorful furniture,” Evans suggests. “It’s a question of who you are.” Use fun fabrics, decorations, or natural objects on walls or other flat spaces. Plant special bushes or flowers for their color or fragrance. If budget is a concern, don’t be afraid to repurpose decorations, statuary or materials from other parts of your house, or from thrift stores or consignment shops.

“I love working with people,” Evans says. Asking the right questions about each home’s landscape priorities, he says, is the first step toward explaining what they can’t put into words.

If you want to learn more ways to improve your own landscape, check out Duke Gardens’ “Twelve Ways to Improve your Landscape” on Jan. 23, from 7-8:30 p.m. The cost is $15; $12 Duke Gardens members. You may register by calling 919-668-1707. To see additional class offerings and events, please go to our calendar page.

Sarah P. Duke Gardens creates and nurtures an environment in the heart of Duke University for learning, inspiration and enjoyment through excellence in horticulture. The Gardens receives roughly half of its operating budget from Duke University. The rest comes from people like you, who value all that this public botanic garden has to offer. Duke Gardens is at 420 Anderson St.

Blogger Erika Zambello is a graduate student studying Ecosystem Science and Conservation at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.

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