Troubleshoot Your Landscape

from Landscape Solutions
Identify the problem and find a solution to make your garden an ideal retreat. For example, gain privacy by learning how to build garden border fences.


Every yard offers challenges. Check out these approaches to overcoming some common landscaping obstacles.

Side-Yard Sanctuary
Problem: Side yards often are afterthoughts: places you pass as you’re heading to or from the backyard. But with a little imagination, you can make getting there half the fun. Sometimes an inviting path and colorful plants are all it takes.

Solution: This side-yard retreat does double duty: The 8-foot-wide garden
offers a tranquil spot for a secluded stroll and insulates the house from a busy street just steps from a main-level bedroom window.

Washed river rocks, placed Japanese style, create the appealing look of a dry streambed. A lattice fence fronted by a thick Pittosporum hedge adds privacy and minimizes street noise. Clivia azaleas, impatiens, and sweet potato vine supply color.

Doggy Trailblazing
Problem: Man’s best friend can be a gardener’s worst headache until the two learn how to peacefully coexist.

Solution: Give in to your dog, and create an attractive path that suits your pet and protects your plants.

One family transformed their dog’s favorite route into a decorative pathway and landscaped around it. The path is grass in some places, soft mulch in others. To keep the dog on track, beds are bermed, but any type of raised bed or ornamental fencing would work.

Dogs, like people, are all different, so you may need to experiment to see what works for you and your pet. Remember, dogs think their behavior is perfectly normal and see you as the one who’s not cooperating.

Layered Foundation
Problem: Rooted in the past, a single row of shrubs — usually evergreens — lined up around the base of a house is still common. Unfortunately, this approach to foundation planting separates the structure from the landscape rather than tying the two together.

Solution: Planting around a house house soften the structure’s angles and help it blend in with its surroundings. The multilayer design features flower and foliage plants of varying shapes, sizes, colors, textures, and forms. Plant heights are staggered, with low-growing impatiens and cranesbills (Geranium spp.) in the foreground, color-splashed coleus in the middle, and lilies in the background.

A Swale Idea For Drainage
Problem: Faulty drainage can play havoc with the best-laid landscaping plan. If you find surface water puddling or turning a low spot in your yard into a swampy pond after a rainfall, it’s time to take action.

Solution: Whether you call it a drainage swale, dry creek, or ditch, this feature is the workhorse of surface drainage. A swale across a site, or from front to back, directs runoff to storm sewers or other natural drainage areas. It can be an attractive landscape feature in its own right.

A dry creek channels runoff from the property. Resembling a rock-lined streambed, the swale becomes one only during and shortly after a downpour, when draining the site.



Utility Screen
Problem: Unsightly but necessary features such as air-conditioners and utility meters can stand out and detract from the landscape.

Solution: Screening is the best solution for unattractive but necessary features. An easy way to camouflage an air-conditioning unit is to place a trellis such as this lattice-style structure in front of it.

Densely planted bed of colorful flowers — sweet peas, foxgloves, lilies, Dianthus, pansies, delphiniums, geraniums, roses, and Clematis — supplies additional screening and provides a lovely distraction. Plants are far enough away from the air-conditioner to prevent damage from hot air.

Arched Entry
Problem: Although the front door is often the architectural centerpiece of a house, the entryway is sometimes overlooked in landscape plans. That’s too bad, because an entry garden sets the mood. Like a welcome mat, it helps make a visitor’s arrival a pleasing one.

Solution: An arbor is an attractive way to mark the entry to a garden. Elaborate woodwork and pergola-type top make a gate a stylish formal entry. The arch in the middle suggests an entry door; the trelliswork resembles muntined sidelights.

Further extending the welcome is brick hardscaping, softened by restrained greenery and container plantings. Potted plants, which fill the space with color and fragrance, can be changed with the seasons.

Walling a Slope
Problem: If you have slopes on your property, you know they can pose landscaping difficulties. But they also offer wonderful opportunities for creativity. Properly developed, slopes add interest to a landscaping plan.

Solution: Here’s an appealing approach: a mortared retaining wall built from recycled concrete. Important design features, mortared retaining walls also can be built of brick or stone fixed in place with mortar.

The sloping ground on both sides of the wall provides gallery space for presenting plants. Here you can showcase beautiful flowerbeds, specimen trees, favorite groupings of shrubs, or naturalistic combinations or rocks and plants. In this yard, the gently sloping lower area is planted with grass. The upper level features mixed plantings in varied shapes, sizes, and colors, including sweet alyssum, Nemesia, Penstemon, and spires of foxgloves.

Tree Ring
Problem: If you’ve tried growing grass under a tree, you know how tough it can be.

Solution: There’s a quick fix for a tree that chokes out the sunlight and, with it, any hope of growing grass: Encircle the tree with shade plants. Hostas, ferns, begonias, and lilies ring the tree in this yard.

When adding under-tree plantings to create a lovely landscape, observe a few precautions. To avoid severing or damaging tree roots, do not dig under a tree’s canopy. Instead, spread a layer of topsoil no more than 4 inches deep over the ground. Cover this layer with a 2-inch-deep mulch of chopped leaves, which will decompose into a rich humus. Dig your planting holes in this new medium, being careful not to damage the tree trunk.

Growing Privacy
Problem: With other houses close by, your yard may feel like a fishbowl. However, there are ways to create privacy and give your yard the look and feel of a secluded haven.

Solution: For this yard, the solution was to combine a fence and plants to create a feeling of seclusion and privacy. Plantings soften the lines of the fence, delivering privacy without looking imposing.

By planting species with different mature heights, shapes, and colors, plants are layered into a beautiful mosaic. The tiered branching and large leaves of the spreading umbrella magnolia (Magnolia tripetala) provide ample coverage, despite the tree’s modest size. Other artfully arranged plants include sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis), Astilboides tabularis, and smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’).



Brighter, Better Shade
Problem: Shade gardening can be daunting. But, instead, think of it as an opportunity for creative enterprise.

Solution: To determine what types of plants you can grow, first assess your shade. There are several degrees of shade, from light to dense. Light shade is brightest; densely shaded areas receive little sun. An area of partial shade, such as this bed, receives about four hours of sun each day, either directly or indirectly.

For best effect, use a mix of plants, all of which love light shade to deep shade, including groundcovers, flowers, and foliage plants. Red and white tuberous begonias, Swedish ivy, astilbes, hostas, and variegated lilyturf (Liriope spp.) flourish in this shady setting.

A Narrow Escape
Problem: You might have narrow strips of space you don’t know what to do with. Typically, these are found between a fixed structure, such as a house or garage, and a paved area, such as a driveway or sidewalk.

Solution: Rather than ignore the area or relegate it to grass, add it to your garden repertoire.
Once a no-man’s land, the area between this house and driveway uses every bit of available space. It looks and lives larger than its pencil-thin dimensions, thanks to color and interest at eye level as well as on the ground.

Hanging baskets brim with fuchsias, Argyranthemum, begonias, and licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare). English ivy decorates a section of wall. Geraniums, Lisianthus, ferns, double impatiens, and columbine line the brick walkway.

Casual Corner
Problem: Most yards have corners. Whether a corner faces inward or
looks outward, you can turn it into a charming spot.

Solution: Set against the backdrop of an L-shape, split-rail fence, this inward-facing corner bed showcases a bevy of ornamental grasses—Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ and ‘Overdam’, Miscanthus purpurascens, and Schizachyrium scoparium.

These lush fountains of foliage are lovely in spring and summer but spectacular in fall, when their feathery flowerheads sway in the breeze. The buff-color plumes endure into winter, too, keeping the garden attractive when all else has gone dormant.

For contrast, this bed includes stands of long-blooming, golden-yellow Rudbeckia. A large boulder reinforces the naturalistic planting scheme.

Controlled Growth
Problem: When planting an empty yard, some homeowners yearn for the look of overgrowth. Others see it too soon and do away with possible treasures.

Solution: The secret is to strike a balance between a lush and tidy landscape. A successful mature landscape such as this one is the result of smart plant choices and regular maintenance. Shrubs and trees are most likely to produce a jungle look.

If you have an overgrown landscape, go slowly. Study existing plant material before removing it. You might just need to prune the shrubs to bring them into scale. Carefully trimming a tree to create a higher canopy can increase sunlight and air circulation while preserving the tree’s form, silhouette, and shade.

Causing a Ripple
Problem: All landscapes need focal points, but what do you use, how many do you need, and where do you put them?

Solution: A focal point can be a single spectacular plant; an attractive object, such as statuary or this water feature; or even a structure, such as an arbor or a gazebo. It can occur naturally in the landscape or be placed there as a garden centerpiece.

A small garden may need only one focal point; a larger space may need several. Place focal points where you want eyes to settle first.




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