1. Unless gardening is a semi-serious hobby, you are probably more intimidated by your looming landscape renovation project than you were by your last kitchen renovation project. You know there are things you like and don’t like, but maybe you can’t quite put your finger on them. And all those plants! Your eyes glaze over by page three of “The World’s Thickest Book About Landscape Plants”.

Annuals for patio containers2. Landscaping your home is like remodeling your kitchen.

Like a kitchen renovation project, it can be either simple or complex.

There are decisions to be made about materials, especially patios and walkways. You have some ideas of your own, but you are counting on the designer to come up with something creative, maybe something cool that hadn’t occurred to you.

3. Landscaping your home is not like remodeling your kitchen.

Unlike kitchen features, which have names in everyday English, plants have names in, of all things, Latin. It’s bizarre secret code, supposedly needed for precision, but very intimidating to those who would dare venture into the “expert’s” world of quercuses and schizachyriums. (We’ll give you plant names in their botanical Latin, which the hard-core gardeners among you may have grown to love, as well as their common-language equivalents.)

It’s harder to visualize in three dimensions outdoors than it is indoors, so it was probably easier to see your imaginary new refrigerator and cabinets than your new Serbian spruce.

You spend a lot more time indoors than out, so you probably had already formed some strong opinions before you started on your kitchen/bathroom/basement project. You knew the vocabulary and you had made some critical decisions.

4. Your local library has 10,000 books on gardening, landscaping, design, how to landscape for your dog … Check out an armload of books. There will be plenty to choose from – the only other people at the library are asleep or using the computers. (Landscaping and gardening books are found in THREE separate sections of the library, and books are randomly assigned to them with no rhyme or reason, so make sure you look in all three places.)

Sit down in your favorite chair with your books and a pad of Post-it notes. Don’t worry about trying to pick out individual plants. Ignore the plant encyclopedia books. Think about the bigger picture. Look for residential landscape scenes like perennial borders, foundation plantings,and  patios that you like and flag them.

5. Check out the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe and the Morton Arboretum in Lisle. Not the websites. The actual places.

6. Unlike furniture, cabinets, and countertops, plants will change over time, sometimes quite dramatically. The typical foundation plant (i.e., a plant next to the foundation of your house) is too small when you first plant it, just about right for a few years, and then too large for many years thereafter until you can’t stand it anymore and have to cut it down.

7. You don’t know how to prune.

Sorry to be so blunt about this, but don’t take it personally! In fact, most guys you see driving around in landscaping trucks do not know how to prune. (Including the crew that does my neighbor’s “landscape maintenance” who’s truck says “Proffesional Landscap Services” on the side.)

A plant’s response to pruning is to grow even more aggressively, often in an ugly way.

The need for 90% of all landscape pruning arises because of our need to keep plants down to a scale that we think matches the scale of our house. Plan your landscape to minimize pruning.

8. What exactly is “landscaping”?

Residential landscaping is the design, construction, planting, and care of that space between your house and the perimeter of your property. To most people landscaping means lawn, trees, and shrubs – but it also includes things like the walk that goes to your front door, fences, patios, garden ornaments, decks, and even your driveway.

In thinking about your landscape, it helps to include elements that you can’t even control, like your neighbor’s dilapidated fence (and the barking dog behind it), parkway trees, traffic, overhanging nearby trees – anything that effects your “outdoor experience”.

9. What am I supposed to call this space around my house? Garden? Yard? Landscape?

They’re all the same thing. Sort of. Even though I often use these three interchangeably, I probably equate “yard” with “lawn”. But not always. Am I going to refer to a landscape that consists entirely of lawn and a few meatball-shaped evergreens lined up along the foundation as a “garden”? Probably not.

“Garden” is gradually becoming more prevalent in the U.S. as a word to mean this hard-to-name space between your house and property lines.

You probably attach your own mental imagery to these words. Call that space what you want. We’ll know what you mean.

(Then there is vegetable gardening, which is usually something you do in a rectangular shaped sunny spot carved out of your lawn. But vegetable gardening can be incorporated into your landscape/garden, especially on a small scale.)

10. Plants grow, die, spread, multiply, get run over by lawnmowers, dug up by skunks, and invaded by very bizarre life forms.

It’s a tough, mite-eat-mite world. As much as you try to match plants to site conditions, things happen – most out of your control.

11. You’re gonna have to weed (or hire someone to weed), especially perennial gardens. There’s no way around it. If you let this slip, the job will quickly become unmanageable.

I see a lot of landscapes in my line of work, and I often run across perennials gardens that are completely overrun with weeds and beyond repair. Sometimes they aren’t even very old. Where are you on the green-thumb-o-meter? Match you garden/landscape to your gardening/landscaping maintenance budget (in time or dollars.)

12. You’re gonna have to water. You will have to pay close attention and water diligently during the establishment period. After that, you will have to drag the hose and sprinkler out a half a dozen times during a typical summer to water traditional perennials. (That’s not really too bad, though, is it?) Trees and shrubs will be ok except during extreme drought.

Do you have an open, sunny spot where you’d like a low maintenance meadow-garden that you will likely NEVER have to water (after establishment)? Call us about designing a prairie garden for you.

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