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Flowers, Fruits, and Frass

Local and statewide information on a variety of current topics for home gardeners and market growers.

Confessions of a new homeowner- Landscape Design


BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – Creating a new landscape or renewing an old can be a daunting task for homeowners. However, if one looks at it as painter's canvas and envisions the design, it can be energizing at the prospect of creating his or her own garden oasis. University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator and brand new homeowner, Kelly Allsup, is excited to transform a bland landscape into the garden of her dreams.

Being, a horticulturist, she understands the process that must take place and encourages homeowners and gardeners to enjoy the process as well as the outcome. "I was thrilled to feel the soil in my hands, to envision where I might plant my vegetables and where I might place a bird bath. My list of plants that I want to grow is long," states Allsup. "I have lived in the home for almost a month and have yet to plant a single plant because I know the process and want to be thoughtful about it." Create a vision for that space in your backyard and use these steps to make your vision a reality.

  1. Understand your soil. It is important to know what kind of soil you have to understand what plants will grow well in your yard. You will often hear horticulturists say, "You must have the right plant for the right place." I will purchase a load of compost for two reasons. The first is I must regrade my yard to have the water flow away from the basement. The second is that I want to build up the soil so I can be successful in growing lots of flowers.
  2. Identify the keepers in the established landscape. I plan to keep roses and ostrich ferns. I will remove the lilacs because they are not getting enough sun and the burning bush because it is a landscape invasive and a detriment to native areas. At first, I was disappointed about the silver maple cascading shade on half of my backyard, but it has grown on me. The bark is beautiful and stately, and there is a plethora of wildlife there to greet me when I am mulling around in the backyard.
  3. Put it on paper. Section out your landscape to lay out exactly how you will use your garden space. The sunniest area is always reserved for the vegetable and herb plants. The area outside your dining room window should account for the view inside. The front yard should use foundation plantings that emphasize your house. Always think how you will use the space. I have sectioned out where I would like to grow prairie natives, shade perennials, herbs, and vegetables according to my sun exposure.
  4. Do the hardscapes first. Paths, porches, arches, and patios should be drawn in before implementing plants. The homeowners before me mulched a third of the landscape with rock. Since you cannot grow plants in rock, it must first be removed. I will remove all the rock and relocate it to the side of the garage. There are various stones and pavers located throughout the landscape that will be used to build a patio so that we can eat dinner in the backyard there.
  5. Start from scratch with the rest. Kill off grass by using pesticides or digging up old plants and lawn. It may take one to two weeks for turf or weeds to die from chemical treatments, but you can plant shortly after. However, in this eco-friendly world, digging up the sod, adding organic matter and tilling may be a bit harder but allows you to avoid using chemicals. I plan to use a shovel to dig up grass.
  6. Account for the mature size of the plants. The biggest landscape fails are when gardeners are not patient enough to give plants the proper plant spacing. Most perennials take about three years to become full grown, and trees may take much longer. If you need a fuller bed, you may want to plant annuals between your perennials. There are already plants on my list that have been eliminated because they will not have enough room to grow to their full potential. I decided that I will not plant plants this year but rather grow a cover crop of buckwheat to build up the soil, prevent erosion and give me time to save money for all the plants that I want to invest in for upcoming growing seasons.
  7. Use arcs. For instance, at the end of turn in a sidewalk, there may be a tree planted (a focal point). Use the tree as the center of the circle and create the planting bed within that arc. The focal point can be an ornamental grass, birdbath or a statue. My patio and landscape beds will follow this design element.
  8. Pick native plants and grasses that are easy to care for and thrive in Illinois' climate. Think about when things are blooming; every garden area should have a spring, summer and fall bloomer. I will fill in my sunniest places with spring blooming native perennials like wild geranium, shooting star, golden alexanders, summer-blooming native perennials like white wild indigo, butterfly weed, purple prairie clover, blue vervain and royal catchfly and fall blooming perennials like black-eyed Susan, liatris, and smooth blue aster. My shade garden will be filled with spring blooming native perennials like Virginia bluebells, Jacob's ladder, columbine, celandine poppy, summer-blooming native perennials like lobelia, lupine, Solomon's seal and wild geranium as well as fall blooming native perennials like mist flower, turtle head, and obedient plant.
  9. Do not forget about textural plants. I will implement grasses, sedums and lamb's ear to add texture to my garden.
  10. Tackle a little at a time. The entire landscape does not have to be installed in two weeks but can be spread out over multiple years as mini projects that one day will be your very own backyard design.

For any questions or accommodations, please contact Kelly Allsup, Extension unit educator, Horticulture-Livingston, McLean and Woodford Counties at (309) 663-8306, kallsup@illinois.edu.



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