My house’s northern exposure is a barren wasteland.
North: the land of shade, cold and damp. North, the land of the Great White Wall with No Windows, nor trees to break the evil winds. My power company loves my north wall.
This year, enough was enough. Time to take action. Time to install a new flower/perennial/shrub bed.
This is the first of several parts, since one epic blog post on putting in a garden bed would lose you faster than this weird Belgian Jared Leto movie called “Mr. Nobody” lost me the other night.
This is the kind of flowerbed where small trees, shrubs and perennials can live and liven up your home over the long term. There are many approaches–this is just mine.
Anytime you’re thinking of doing some landscaping, keep in mind that this is a renovation for your yard. It’s like putting an addition on the house–the placement of the bed and how you build it is utterly critical to its look, feel and success.
Though it ended up only taking me two days to actually install the bed, I’ve been thinking about this for many, many months. In total, I’ve watched the space for about three years now, but mainly because I’m poor and couldn’t do anything about it. It shouldn’t take you three years, but if you have a spot you want to renovate, take the time to carefully observe it. Try to visualize the space in all four seasons.
Some questions to ask:
- What are your soil conditions like? Moist or well-drained? Sandy or clayey or somewhere in between?
- What are the light conditions? Does the area get full sun, part sun or shade (see this related blog post.)
- How is the light different in winter from summer? Where do the shadows fall?
- What is the spot like in each season? Are there high winds? Are there competing tree roots nearby?
Plant Research & Selection
Landscaping from scratch is a considerable challenge for anyone, experienced gardener or no. Challenges for me, on top of it being a north-facing wall, included the Native Handicap (trying to stick with mid-Atlantic natives) and the husband’s request that there be lots of evergreens so it “looks good in winter.” I had myself a doozy of a job.
When you tire of staring at the blank spot in your yard trying to imagine what it might eventually look like, it’s time to think about the plants you want to put there. Two big questions:
- What kind of feel or effect do you want to create? (Hint: the Lowe’s Bargain Cart can only take you so far.)
- How will the finished product look as you walk past? From far away?
- Do you want to invite people in, or keep them out?
Weeks Months of searching for things that tolerate/thrive in shade, but that are also evergreen and native turned up a very short list of plants. This is one I’m really happy to have:
But I know where to look. Where can a novice find reliable, easy-to-understand information on what to plant in the landscape?
A few places to start:
- Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center — searchable database of recommended native plants for the home landscape
- Fine Gardening’s searchable Plants and Inspiration feature
- Gardening magazines. Flip through things at the bookstore and make lists of things that appeal to you.
- Your library. Do what I did: earn subdued looks from the librarians as they watch you waddle away with two reusable grocery bags screaming at the seams, stuffed with landscaping and gardening books.
Okay, enough for one day.
Your homework: Go outside. Look at your space. Browse some of these links. Make a short list of things that appeal to you, in a variety of heights and sizes.
Next, we’ll talk about what to do when the hard thinking is done: finding good plants, drawing lines in your yard and digging out that new bed.