In this video, Beverly is joined by Angela Chandler of The Garden Academy. They discussed landscaping and the steps to take when planning your own!

Once you have decided which area you wish to landscape, you will need to determine its sun exposure. This will help you choose plants that are suitable to that location. Sun lovers will struggle in shady conditions, and shade lovers will suffer in a location that is too sunny.

If your site is located east of your home or structure, you will have morning sun. This is a good location for plants that favor “full sun”, but do not appreciate the harsh sun of a summer afternoon. It is also a place that many “part shade” plants can thrive in as long as they are not in direct sun after midday.

A north exposure is usually suited for plants that require more shade. They may have some reflected light in the early morning and late afternoon, but it will be quite shady most of the day. Shade trees will also make a difference. Some have a dense canopy, creating more shade than those with a lighter canopy. The sunlight under some trees is still sufficient for many plants since it is filtered by the foliage, but still provides enough light for good growth and bloom.

A south or west exposure will keep sun lovers happy. But remember that the sun in the South latitudes is more intense than in the North. Many plants that are defined as “full sun” for some parts o f the country will enjoy a little relief during some part of the day in our exposure. Here is a quick definition of sun & shade exposure to help you decide:

Full Sun – at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight
Part Sun – 3 to 6 hours of direct sunlight
Dappled Sun – sunlight filtered through the canopy of a tree
Part Shade – dappled shade, half shade, medium shade, semi-shade
Full Shade – shade all day; no direct sun on plant, only reflected, indirect light

Drainage can best be assessed right after a rain. There are two types of drainage, external & internal. External drainage is the visible surface drainage after rainfall or irrigation. If water sheets off of the surface shortly after a rain, you have good surface drainage. If water stands for several hours, drainage should be improved.

Internal drainage can only be assessed with a drainage test. You can do this yourself by digging a hole that is 12” deep and 12” square. Fill the hole quickly with water, and let it drain completely. Then fill it quickly again and track the length of time it takes for the water to drain. If it drains in less than 6 hours in clay soils, it is acceptable internal drainage.

In all cases, soil drainage, texture, and fertility can be improved by adding Arbor Gate Organic Soil Complete. This blend is a combination of aggregates, compost, and supportive supplements. It can be worked into your existing soil, or it can be used to build raised beds where it is the base soil for the entire bed.

Anchors/Foundation Plants
The next step is to choose the anchors of your new garden. These are most often called “foundation plants” – meaning plants that are a permanent part of the landscape and create the foundation on which the rest of the garden will be built.

Choose a focal plant first. This is usually a plant with height and dense foliage so it will lead the eye into the landscape and begin to define the space. We most often choose evergreens for this purpose, but it could be a deciduous plant as long as the selection has obvious winter interest, such as colorful bark or a sculptural trunk. It needs to have presence. Columnar plants work well at an entrance or near windows where a view must be preserved.

A secondary anchor will define the opposite perimeter of the landscape. This can be the same plant as your focal specimen, particularly if your space, or your style, requires symmetry. You can also choose a plant that is complementary to your focal. A complementary anchor will have some similarities, such as texture. But it should have its own primary interest so it also draws attention and defines the space. In our demonstration, we chose a shrub that is a golden green, is about half the height of our focal, and will be wider at maturity. It commands its own attention, without detracting from our focal.

Once the foundation of the area is established, plant additional layers to complete the landscape. Layers should take the eye through the landscape as people stop to enjoy it.

The height of the landscape was established with the focal plant. From this height, you will want a transitional middle layer. Shrubs, medium-sized grasses, and large perennials are good choices here. Your last layer will usually be comprised of smaller perennials, herbs, and shorter grasses, although there are some dwarf forms of shrubs that will work well.

Choose a variety of textures to make these layers more appealing. Growth habit can also be a source of interest, such as that found in cascading or mounding plants.

Textures you might consider:
• Sword-like leaves
• Deeply serrated leaves
• Large broad leaves
• Feathery foliage
• Foliage color & variegation

If your landscape is in a traffic, entertainment, or sitting area, plants that offer fragrance are a wonderful addition to any layer of your landscape. Most plants get their fragrance from their blooms, but some have foliage that offers fragrance. Plants with fragrant foliage are usually best when planted a long a walkway where they can be brushed to release their fragrance as one passes by.

Putting it all together
Landscapes are more appealing when odd numbers of each variety are grouped together. Your anchor plants are considered “ones”. Plant the rest of your landscape in threes, fives, or sevens. Arrange the plants in triangles, sweeps (“c-” or “s”-curves), or drifts (cloud-like groups of plants). Set them out in their pots first and view the garden from several different angles before you install them in the ground. If it is an entrance garden, view it from your car and on the walk to the front door.

Leave pockets in the lower layers of the landscape for seasonal color. Changing color season by season keeps the landscape feeling fresh and timely, especially here on the Gulf Coast where the transition of seasons is not as defined as some parts of the country. There are so many wonderful annuals and seasonal bulbs available to us, in every color imaginable.

You can plant seasonal color in the ground or in containers staged within the landscape. If you choose to use some containers, you have limitless choices in shape, color, and height. You can choose a color theme, or you can indulge your love of color by mixing it up.

A large container can serve as an additional anchor in the landscape. They are sculptural and provide permanent color interest. Your large container can be planted, if you choose. Many can be converted to a water feature. Some containers are so lovely all by themselves that they can just be viewed as garden art.

We hope you are inspired to try your hand at designing your own landscape. But always remember that you can bring in your ideas and pictures and The Arbor Gate is here to help!