All the Garden Stages
By Chris Hamilton
Stage One: Develop a Long-Term Plan
Designing and planning a landscape for your yard can be a daunting task. So much space to fill, but with what? Choosing from over 600 varieties of shrubs alone could take an entire summer! But don’t despair—the truth is, designing a great yardscape can be done within one day.
Growing the landscape, however, will take years. There are many aspects to consider: maintenance time, budgets, the presence of pets and children... for a yard that will last a lifetime, you need a long-term garden plan. Think of your yard as a changing, dynamic entity that evolves over time, rather than as a static creation that endures for years without change. As you age and the composition of your family changes, so too should your yard change.
Stage Two: Provide a Framework
I’ve done a lot of landscape designs for newlyweds and new homeowners, and whether they were moving into a new home or an older one, they always seemed to have some common desires: low maintenance, lots of colour, not a lot of lawn, no weeding, no pruning... demands that would make a seasoned gardener chuckle. In response to these suggestions I always want to say “Condos are nice...”
But seriously, the first thing to do is provide a framework for the yard. The first step in building that framework is get the big stuff in! A landscaper and his client have to decide on the best spot for the deck, the patio, a fire pit, pathways, large trees, swingsets, evergreens, and shrubs. Not all of these features will go in at the same time, but you should know where and when you will install them. Keep an eye out for powerlines and other potential obstructions. Map out shade patterns in the yard; that will give you an idea of where to put a shaded bench or the sun-loving annuals. One more tip: don’t pinch pennies when choosing building materials. You’re in this for the long haul, and remember that your return on investment for a well-landscaped yard is large—anywhere from 100-200%! Once you’ve decided where all of this stuff goes and when it’s going in, it’s on to the next stage.
Stage Three: Maintain a Great Lawn and Simple Yard
Some of the homes I visit are “owned” by kids. The parents are there too, of course, but the kids run the show! Keep their habits and needs in mind when growing your yard. Most yards aren’t too complicated at this point—a lot of lawn space is essential to provide ample room for horseplay. For the petunias’ sake, don’t plant between the goal posts! Your main jobs during this period will be mowing, fertilizing, watering, weeding, and pest control—routine tasks. Any plants you put in should be able to withstand a little damage from wayward kites, frisbees, etc.
Stage Four: Time to be Ambitious and Experimental
Once the kids are older (and able to do the mowing), there is generally more time for gardening. That’s a good thing, because this is also the stage where the yard requires more work to really look good—this is where true gardening often begins. The pleasure of weeding your prize rose garden, the amazement at the incredible size of your Atlantic Giant pumpkin, the heartbreak of fire blight on your apple tree...the garden is full of drama! Some grass can be removed to make room for perennial borders and beds, and perhaps a small vegetable garden. It might be a good time to add a gazebo or pond, since the kids are on hand to provide a little extra help. This is the best time for planting annuals—you still have lots of energy and there are plenty of hands around to help water and weed. (All joking aside, I’d always recommend encouraging, not forcing, kids to help in the garden—they’ll be far more enthusiastic if gardening is something they do by choice.)
Stage Five: Reduce the Workload
Soon enough, your babies are off to college, and the annuals have never looked better! It sure helps not having the soccer ball crushing the blossoms. As you struggle to pay the university bills, you might find that you have less time for gardening; annuals may become scarce in the yard, to be found only in pots; perennials continue to grow faithfully in established beds. Your children might be married by now, and they may have figured out that perennials can be divided. When they come knocking for your plants, make a deal—if they do some weeding, you’ll hand over your cuttings.
Stage Six: Relax and Enjoy Gardening
Finally, blissful retirement arrives. Nothing to do but putter around all day in the garden. Most of the “senior gardens” I lay out focus on low maintenance. That means fewer annuals, and perhaps a rock garden (or even a parking stall for the r.v.) in place of the vegetable garden. That deck you built back at stage one sure comes in handy now as you sit back, sipping on mint juleps while admiring your simple, but attractive, garden.