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Zoning in on landscaping your place

Yards to Paradise by Max Phelps

Many folks begin landscaping by shopping. Others by hiring someone. Some can afford to spend ten percent of the value of the home, while others can just make the payments with little budget for the landscape. I’ve always liked the old concept of “killing two birds with one stone”, and would suggest it in landscaping. I’d like to explain ways of doing that, and also making a plan, and picking a ‘zone’ for getting started with landscaping your place.

Let’s begin with a plan. Decide on what you’d like, make a ‘wish list’ to help. It may be a 5 year plan or a 25 year plan—just put things you would eventually like to have or see in your landscape down on paper. For most of us, we can only complete a portion now. Perhaps we can break the master plan into what’s most important, or into sections I’ll call ‘zones’ and pick one or two and get started.

A list is good. A simple drawing is better. On a drawing (and it can be a simple little drawing on a piece of graph paper or copy paper) try to sketch in the house, the driveway, walks, etc. Also big trees, patios, outbuildings, and so on. How about a garden spot? Or, maybe you would like the practice of permaculture—a permanent planting that needs little care and produces food or other products besides just serving as landscaping or woods.

Multi-purpose or multi-use landscaping elements could include some of the following. Let’s say you need a tree for shade. Could it also have pretty blossoms or maybe bear fruit you could eat (or at least that would be a treat for the birds)? If a hedge along a property line is desired, could it be planted with edible plants or fruit-bearing plants? Or, possibly, for security, could it be composed of closely planted thorny plants?

Rather than a traditional foundational planting, could you use berry bushes instead of boxwoods and taxus? Certainly you can. And it might surprise many to know that there are edible landscaping plants that will look as good as more traditional landscape shrubs.

Frequently when a new owner begins with a new home, he wants to begin making it look pleasing and lived-in, but the landscaper he calls comes up with a fanciful plan that is not do-able with the financial limits the new homeowner must live with.

To the extent possible, the size of plants can be shrunk, and perhaps a cheaper mulch can be used than one might prefer. However, often the problem is much worse. If you need retaining walls, shade trees, a patio, a work shed, a fence or hedge, a paved drive, storm cellar, garden beds—simply trying to use cheaper materials may not be the solution. Even doing it yourself rather than paying someone else may not be the solution.

Picking a zone to begin this year, many a large and lovely landscape can be put in place within just a few years. Whether starting with drive and patio, with shade trees or with foundation plants, with a fence or a hedge, with perfect lawn including sprinklers, with a terrace or a playset for the kids, a well-thought-out decision on where to zone in and begin can get you on the road to the paradise you dream your place can be.

The author, Max Phelps, is a landscaper. Email: [email protected] or visit